Our blog recently explored the disconnect between the media view on working from home (WFH) and the popular view of flexibility as expressed by most employees. Most people enjoy more flexibility in their work environment, so it sometimes feels odd to see the media – especially newspapers – saying that a return to 2019 is what we should all be wishing for.
The underlying question for employers and employees is really âdoes working-from-home really work?â
The simple answer is that it depends. The problem is that there are a number of variables measuring success. It may look different depending on your perspective, employer or employee? It may look different depending on the demographic mix of your workforce – parents have different needs compared to young employees just starting their career. It may also just be different because of the type of job – some types of career have traditionally relied in in-person mentoring and guidance and they may not have figured out a better way to train new recruits.
On top of all these uncertainties are the outcomes – how do you really measure WFH success? Are employees more satisfied? Do more of them stay for longer so your recruitment costs go down? Does it make you a more attractive employer so itâs easier to find people? Does it reduce employee stress?
All the above is true, but the emphasis will change from one company to another. Prior to the Covid pandemic we surveyed a whole bunch of WFH employees to see how they were feeling. The results are interesting because they highlight some of the WFH advantages that employees really value.
For example, 70.7% actively chose home working to improve their work-life balance. 68.2% did not want to waste their day commuting to work. In fact, 85.9% confirmed that they incur no work travel costs at all now.
50.5% confirmed that they can work multiple shifts during a day, which shows that WFH is about flexibility – not just avoiding a commute. By working from home it is possible to work a few hours, take a break to manage some other responsibilities (kids or other caring tasks), and then do another shift later in the day.
Only 2% of the survey respondents met colleagues in-person daily, which is to be expected as their work is based from home, but itâs interesting to see that 79.2% confirm that they enjoy in-person meet-ups with colleagues at least every month.
On the corporate side of the results, our survey found that business continuity works far better – Covid reinforced that point – scheduling flexibility is far easier with workers based at home, employees are happier and more productive, and there is a dramatic reduction in the corporate carbon footprint.
That was 2020. So what is the latest research saying? Professor Nick Bloom from Stanford University is one of the best-known experts on companies that use WFH employees – he and his team have been researching this in detail for over a decade now. They regularly publish their latest research on the website wfhresearch.com.
The latest paper was published in June 2023, so itâs still fairly recent. In terms of employee expectations it is clear that all over the world most employees wants flexible work arrangements. A survey of over 42,000 people showed that the average employee wants to work a minimum of around 2 days away from the office – most employers are still offering less flexibility than employees now want.
But WFH also changes attitudes to work. Professor Bloom published different analysis of how employees react to sickness. Of those expected to be in their office, 76% will push on and go to work even when they are sick. 39% will still work if they can stay at home. This demonstrates that the power of presenteeism remains strong – if work is office based then it remains important to just be seen, even if you are too sick to be productive.
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted that when itâs hard to find skilled people, flexibility over working arrangements is the easiest way to attract more recruits. Forget increasing pay, just allow your team the flexibility to stay at home when they want and you will attract more people.
European and US data on productivity is also closely correlated with an increase in working from home. The more that companies facilitate flexible working, the more productive their employees are. This has accelerated since the pandemic forced many more companies to explore home working options.
We know from discussions with our own clients that they love the WFH options provided by SensĂ©e. An often-repeated figure is an efficiency gain of about 30% when working with customer service advisers based in their own home.
But efficiency is not the main driver here. We started out by asking whether WFH really works? What are the academics saying? What is the evidence from detailed research and what are our own employees saying?
Itâs easy to find individual examples of employment that canât be performed from home. Anything that needs in-person attendance by default, such as a doctor or shop worker, canât even be discussed or compared. However, for office-based professional jobs – such as customer service – there is now a mountain of evidence showing that employees are happier with more flexibility and this also works out better for the employer too.
Pockets of the media are still calling for a return to 2019, but with all this evidence now available the simple response to all these headlines is now just a simple, why?