Does Working from Home Actually Work?

Companies have long debated whether working from home is beneficial or burdensome.  While it can be convenient for employees to set their own schedule and avoid long commutes, working from home can also cause issues like isolation or inefficiency.  Like most things, whether working from home actually works is dependent on the company and the individual.

Here are some questions you should ask to help you decide whether a work-from-home option makes sense for your organization:

1. What is the average work commute of your employees?

Do most of your employees live far away from work?  Is there always horrible traffic in your city?  If so, working from home may be a good option for your employees.  Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, tried implementing a work-from-home option to combat rates of attrition due to horrible traffic in Shanghai and the long commute for workers who could not afford to live in the city.  The results were staggering.  Remote employees not only made almost 14% more calls than their in-office counterparts, but employee attrition was cut in half among telecommuters.  They called in sick less than other employees, took shorter breaks, and overall took less days off.  Furthermore, they reduced carbon emissions that they otherwise would have generated driving to work.  If you know that your employees are enduring long commutes, offering the work-from-home option could improve their efficiency, attrition rates, and even help the environment at large.

2. Where is your office located?

Besides average commute, office location can impact whether or not working from home is a good option for employees.  If your office space is affordable, it makes sense to make room for your entire team.  However, if your headquarters are in a city where office space is at a premium, it might make more sense to let some of your employees work from home.  For example, when Ctrip implemented their remote-work option, they saved a whopping $2,000 per year on rent per employee.

3. What roles do your employees play in the office?

Working from home is more conducive to certain positions than to others.  Jobs that do not require much interaction with other employees and jobs that can be completed almost entirely online are great options for remote work.  For example, sales (which often already involves remote work), data analysis, copywriting, accounting, social media marketing, PR, web design and coding are all optimal professions for remote workers.  Furthermore, salaried employees are often better candidates for the work-from-home option, as it can be hard to calculate an hourly employee’s wages without supervision.

4. What kinds of personalities do your employees have?

Regardless of position, some employees are simply a better fit for remote work than others.  Working remotely requires self-discipline, organization, and the ability to be alone for long periods of time.  Only allow employees to work from home if you are confident that they have the initiative to complete all of their duties sans supervision.  For this reason, seasoned employees are usually better candidates to work from home than new hires.  Once you’ve selected which employees will be allowed to work remotely, make sure to help them set a work schedule, goals, deadlines, and virtual meetings or check-ins to keep them on track.

The main complaint of remote workers in the Ctrip study was loneliness – more than half said that they didn’t want to work from home 100% of the time anymore because of the isolation.  To counteract this issue, your company could offer employees the option to work from home on some days, but ask that they check in at the office periodically.  That way, they can attend important meetings, keep up with office events, and stay social with their coworkers while still enjoying the benefits of working remotely part of the time.

Whether working from home is productive or problematic varies by company and by employee.  It’s a privilege that can mutually benefit both parties when implemented correctly.  If you’re careful in your selection of employees allowed to work remotely, and you take the time to set up a thorough plan for their success, working from home has the potential to make your employees happier, more productive, and even reduce office space costs and carbon emissions.