Most of us have had those jobs. You know the ones. You’re sitting in your cubicle, trying your best to get your work done before the deadline, but you’re struggling to focus. Jeff in the cubicle next to you microwaved leftover fish for lunch, and Betty from Accounting is talking loudly in the hallway about her divorce, and Ahmed is tapping his pencil, and Wanda hits the keys on her keyboard like it’s a broken typewriter, and the receptionist’s phone keeps ringing (but they’re in the break room refilling their novelty Garfield “I hate Mondays” mug with fresh coffee), and there’s a motorcycle revving at the stoplight outside, and the A/C isn’t working right but the boss won’t call a repairman until next month because the monthly budget won’t allow it.
This isn’t an outlandish fantasy, but an everyday reality for millions of workers. It’s so relatable that Mike Judge’s low-budget comedy film Office Space has become a cult hit, and that’s a film that ends with the audience happy that the office building burns down. Modern companies and corporations want to avoid the mental image of their workers as mindless drones typing away in a tiny cubicle, broken spirits being asked if they received the memo that all TPS reports need a cover page. Some companies spend thousands of dollars on motivation seminars and speakers, some try putting daycare centers and fully equipped gyms inside their offices, and some spends thousands on PR firms to try and improve their public image.
However, there’s a new revolution happening in companies across the world. It’s an idea that may seem counterproductive at first glance, but is actually mutually beneficial to employers and their employees: Give your employees the option to work at home.
The most obvious benefit is to the workers themselves. A 2012 Forbes article points to ten benefits workers acknowledged about working from home, including a less stressful environment, avoiding long commutes and traffic (and saving gas), and environmental concerns. The number one reason given was a better work/home balance. From parent/teacher conferences to doctor’s appointments to going to the bank, many necessary activities to live life happen only during weekday work hours, where it can be very difficult (and detrimental to both employee and employer) to have to lose work time to these tasks. That’s why Care.com lists “working from home” as one of the seven things companies can do to help working moms.
But why should companies care that they’re employees are happy? How does that help the bottom line? Well, for one, workers are less likely to quit, and training employees tends to be very expensive. Not only do you achieve better company loyalty, you save money. Also, you save a lot of money on equipment/office space rental. Your employees also save lots of money, so there’s a real financial benefit to your workers without having to raise their salary by a single dollar. Without spending more money, you have a better sales pitch to prospective talent, and more benefits for current employees. The biggest hesitation with companies allowing working from home is a loss of productivity, but studies show that productivity is increased when employees work from home.
Judging the pros and cons obviously depends on the type of company and employee, but so far studies and company experiences seem to be overwhelmingly positive, with the pros greatly outweighing the cons. That’s where there is a sudden explosion of articles saying how great it is to work from home. In these days of social media changing public opinion of a company, a PR boost of genuinely caring about your employees (while simultaneously helping your own bottom line) is a win-win for everyone involved.
Honestly, it’s just common sense. Allowing employees to work from home saves the employee money, it saves the company money, it helps the company retain workers, and helps the image of the company. Imagine how much quicker that paperwork could be finished at home, without the distractions of the office (Goodbye fish smell! Goodbye pencil tapping!), and the constant meetings that never end because that one person asks a million questions, not to mention the mind-numbing hour of traffic you had to drive in just to get to your cubicle. Imagine how easier it would be to focus without other people’s phones ringing off the hook, and that necktie choking you every time you move, and waiting in line at the printer. Imagine your employees loving their job, working harder, and saving money on overhead expenses. You don’t have to imagine, all you need to do is let your employees work from home.
It is true, however, that telecommuting/working from home is not right for every person or every position. A smart executive or manager must weigh the benefits and costs for their company specifically. For more information, check out this list of pros and cons by Global Workforce Analytics. You can also check out the results of a study on telecommuting by the Association for Psychological Science here, or results from a study of a Chinese company here by the Quarterly Journal of Economics (and another summary of the same subject here by the National Bureau of Economic Research). And, here’s a couple more papers from the Journal of Organizational Behavior and from Social Science Computer Review. Although not substantially researched because of its relative newness in the business world, the early research coming in tends to be quite positive for both employers and employees. Did you get the memo?