Does Working from Home Work?
Remote working, also known as telecommuting, is the practice of doing work outside of the office environment, usually from home. This concept of work setup builds on the fact that most daily tasks in the office don’t require people to be present, and can rather be carried out from home.
Although many studies and experiments have successfully implemented flexible schedules and remote work, and have achieved great results, the general opinion is still reluctant to accept it.
Remote Working Experiment
Many cases of remote working exists in the real world. Here, we’ll study the experiment conducted by Ctrip, one of the largests travel agencies in China. The company had about 16000 employees at the time of the experiment, and took around 50% of the market share.
The experiment lasted 9 months and the participants were selected through a lotery system among 500 call center workers that volunteered to take part in the experiment.
Finally, 250 workers from the call centers in Shanghai and Nam Tong took part. Out of those, 80% of them worked from home during the experiment (treatment group) and the rest continued working in the office (control group).
During the experiments, the workers had to report daily how they felt working from home, as well as participate in weekly interviews to express their experience. Along this, quantitative data about their sales and performance was taken, with aims to measure the impact in work efficiency.
The general result of the experiment was extremely positive for remote working, both for the company and the workers. Some of the key results were:
- Workers could save about 10% more of their wage avoiding commutes.
- Performance in sales increased in 13% due to employees working more time a day, and more days in total (less sick leaves, ease to conciliate with personal appointments…)
- Turnover, which is usually very high in call centers, was reduced by 50% in the treatment group.
- The company was able to save up to $2000/y per employe.
- 20 to 30% increase in productivity was observed, as well.
With these results, Ctrip concluded that working from home was clearly a great option for their company. As such, they decided to implement telecommuting company-wide, allowing all their employees to work from home if they preferred it.
After doing this, Ctrip continued measuring the results, and reported that the general performance increased by 22% when the system was implemented.
Remote Working Today
Many different studies exist that show similar results to Ctrip’s. However, remote working doesn’t seem to convince us, fully. For me, the most impressive part about the experiment is that it took place in 2010 and 2011, 10 years ago now.
This means that we could have known about the benefits of remote working for the last decade (at least), but we keep choosing not to. This is specially evident in Spain, where it’s common believe that if you give people the option to stay home, they won’t be working.
Fortunately, the panorama is starting to shift away; and, specially in the terms of a forced lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have been exploring remote working during the last year.
It is specially refreshing seeing how some like ING, the Dutch bank, have decided to implement a flexible, 100% remote working solution, after realizing for months that it was a benefit both for employees and the company.
Bloom, Nicholas, et al. “Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 130.1 (2015): 165-218.