Is Working From Home All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Are telecommuters more productive or less productive? Are they more creative or less creative? With so much research on the subject, it can be difficult to sort out the reality of working remotely.

Working from home often sounds ideal. You can cut down on commuting costs and time, which leads to better work-life balance. It may also reduce energy consumption, and some studies have shown that telecommuters are more productive than those who work in an office.

But is that all there is to the argument?

The ability of employees to work at home may actually allow employers to raise expectations for work availability during evenings and weekends and foster longer workdays and work weeks.

Some research suggests working from home or remotely might actually decrease productivity because people are more easily distracted, and other research has found that working from home increased the amount of hours telecommuters worked because they were always “on”.

If you’re considering the pros and cons of telecommuting, here are a few things to consider.

Teleworking might be a boon to creativity. A recent study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization found that people who worked remotely were more productive on creative tasks but less productive on dull tasks.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in order to measure productivity the researchers asked 125 participants to perform two tasks: one was a normal, repetitive task, while the other asked them to come up with as many unusual uses for ordinary objects as possible. Half of the participants completed the tasks in a lab and half completed them remotely.

People who worked outside the lab were 11 to 20 percent more productive when completing the creative task, as opposed to those who worked inside the lab. But those working remotely were six to 10 percent less productive on the repetitive task, suggesting some things might be better accomplished in the office.

Telecommuters in China were found to be more productive. A Stanford University study found that Chinese call center employees who worked from a quiet room in their home produced more work per minute than their counterparts in an office. Telecommuters were also found to take fewer breaks and sick days and were less likely to quit.

On the flip side, you might actually work more if you work from home. A study from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Iowa [PDF] found working from home can add five to seven hours to the work week. Because telecommuting relies on 24/7 communication technologies, work can often seep outside business hours.

“The ability of employees to work at home may actually allow employers to raise expectations for work availability during evenings and weekends and foster longer workdays and work weeks,” the study noted.

Meet half way? Maybe the solution is to meet somewhere in the middle, like the Professional Association of Innkeepers International did when it switched from a fully virtual workplace to a hybrid model where staff work from home two days a week and come into the office the other three.

“I really felt that we did lose … the group dynamics and the organic learning and the organic work that gets done just from physically being around each other,” said PAII President and CEO Jay Karen of the decision to return to the office at least part-time. “While [staff] might be able to get tasks done better alone in their own house, I think collectively we’re able to get more done when we’re around each other.”

What do you think—are there tasks you could be more productive on outside the office? Could your organization benefit from a hybrid teleworking policy?

(John Howard/Photodisc/Thinkstock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!