Over the last 15 years or so, what we call the office environment has seen an immense change. Before what I call the telephone revolution (that is before the coming of smartphones that packed the computing power of a 90s supercomputer in a chip half a centimeter wide), it was common to resume at eight, work for eight hours and close for the day.
During those years, almost everyone had a cellphone, but hardly anyone used it for work. Phones were for communication, that's all. In fact, what we call the internet today was still developing.
However, as the 2000s progressed, technology overtook us. The internet revolution picked up speed, Apple revolutionized the mobile phone, and social media became a phenomenon. Today, work hardly ends. Our emails follow us home, and instant messaging ensures that we are continually plugged in.
My Experience Working From Home
For the last 10 years, I've worked solely from home. It hasn't been easy, and there are times where I would put my face in my palms out of frustration.
While technology has made it easier for people like me to do our work remotely, it is definitely not easy to work from home. This is because you have to create an enabling environment. Working in an office is easy. You get there, your computer is already set up, you have a desk and an office or cubicle. Everyone around you is working, and you have little choice but to get on with your job.
Working from home isn't quite as easy. Oftentimes I had to create my own environment myself. Desks, computers and all of that had to be sourced and provided by me.
It wasn't all tales of gloom as working from home also had a number of advantages. One advantage of working from home is that you have the freedom to choose furniture that you find comfortable. For example, I always had back pain from sitting for long hours when I worked in an office. When I made the switch to start working from home, I decided to also switch from a regular desk to a standing desk. The change was immense, and before I knew it I was being more productive than I've ever been working. To add to my productivity, I got the workstation a friend recommended and my story of working from home has been a rosy one since then.
However, through all these, what was important to me was finding a life-work balance. If you've worked from home, you'd know that it is very easy for the line between work and life to get blurred. I've gone through high intensity periods where my productivity was near 100%. I've also been through periods where I stayed in bed for days because of a lack of motivation.
What Does The Research Say
A lot of studies have shown that having staff work from home, either on full time or part-time basis, is a great situation for workers and the company alike.
A Stanford University economics professor, Nicholas Bloom, and graduate student, Liang James, have carried out what some are calling the first impartial study on the effects of a work from home program on a company. The study is meant to measure the effects of remote work culture on the success of the company and the efficiency of employees.
To carry out the study, Liang's 500 employees in a call center in Shanghai were studied. Half of the group were allowed to continue working at the office, while half were asked to work from home.
The results of the study were interesting, to say the least.
Over the period of the test, the call center saved about $2000 per employee on office space. The workers who worked from home were 13.5% more efficient and reported fewer sick days, fewer breaks, and had less time off. The home workers also recorded 9% more job satisfaction than office workers and were more engaged as well. Importantly, the turnover of staff was lower for workers who worked remotely. There was up to a 50% improvement in the retention rate of the homegroup.
Who knows, perhaps the increased productivity of home office workers was because they could create their own work environment. Perhaps they worked harder because they had their own furniture— somewhat like how my standing desk converter helped me increase my productivity.
So working from home can be amazing for the workers and for the company as well. Today's working environment rewards flexibility, not rigidity, and the more comfortable workers are, the more productive they tend to be.