For many leadership teams the idea of receiving an extra hour’s work each day from each employee could seem too good to be true. Harvard Business Review (HBR) thought just that and so put recent findings from Stanford University about the increased output of remote workers to the test.
The Stanford study is the most robust large-scale study looking at the productivity of home workers in recent times and its findings were notable: people working from home completed 13.5% more work than staff in the office (the organisation was a travel service), in other words the company received almost an extra workday a week from their at-home workers. HBR talked to the study’s main author and found that at-home workers were also happier and less likely to quit.
Interestingly, one of the reasons the company took part was to persuade some sceptical leadership teams that changing our ways of working to accommodate flexible work arrangements wouldn’t hinder business performance. Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and one of the study’s key authors, told HBR “The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away.”
There are important factors that played into this productivity improvement: staff self-selected, the work was not intensely innovative or collaborative and the company kept an eye on the Workplace Experience, and the satisfaction and wellbeing of staff. The leading driver of virtual ways of working is cost reduction but the Stanford study clearly showed that under the right conditions work from home can also lead to significantly increased productivity.
If you are also willing to be positively surprised, it is best to give your employees the opportunity to self-select rather than impose remote or distributed ways of working.