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Working in Pajamas

TelecommutingI enjoy “Idea Watch: Defend Your Research” in the monthly Harvard Business Review (HBR). There is usually thought-provoking discussion on various topics that may seem counterintuitive to many. Nonetheless, it does force one to ‘think outside the box’ when, on the surface, it may not seem practical.

The recent January-February HBR article,  “To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work From Home,” addresses one of these topics. On many different levels we can argue the pros and cons for allowing telecommuting. A typical ‘con’ is that employees will be less productive due to the distractions of home life, such as family members demanding attention, a mounting laundry pile that can no longer wait, the dog needs a walk, a favorite television show that was recorded earlier is too enticing, etc. Under such circumstances, how could anyone possibly get anything done at home in their pajamas? After all, who would hold them accountable in getting the necessary work completed?

Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, seems to have at least a partial answer to this very logical argument. Bloom and a graduate student, James Liang, who is cofounder of a Chinese travel website, decided to perform a study to learn how productive their employees were when telecommuting. The employees in the call center were allowed to volunteer working from home for a nine-month period, while all others would remain working from the company office.

The results: Employees at home were not only happier but also MORE productive – and less likely to quit.

It appears employees at home were more productive due to two major reasons:

  • Having a quieter environment to process phone calls.
  • Working more hours than those who work at the office.

According to Bloom, “The more robotic the work, the greater the benefits (for staying at home), we think.” The article does suggest that there is great value in having the employee work at home one to two days a week and spend the other time in the office. Not everyone is disciplined enough to work at home, given the many distractions they may confront throughout the working hours.

Knowing the composition of the workforce will also determine whether or not telecommuting will work. Employees who are older and have established social lives (parents, grandparents, married employees) may not feel they need to have the social contact found within an office environment.*

From a personal and professional standpoint, this makes sense to me. For some strange reason, I feel more motivated, creative, and yes, more productive when I am working on mundane stuff – at home!

I’m still not sure, however, about the pajamas!

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*According to results from the 2009 Iowa Employer Benefits Study, over nine percent of Iowa employers indicated they offer telecommuting for full-time employees. In addition, the top three workplace values reported by employees, based on results from the 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study, were: Respect, Achievement and Work-Life Balance. All three may possibly relate to telecommuniting in tangential ways.

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