As a seasoned home worker (10 years plus!), it won’t surprise you to hear that my ears pricked up at a Radio 4 Programme last week week (Positive Thinking) which considered whether or not working from home might catch on in a post-coronavirus world.
While enforced remote working in a pandemic is not flexible working (for many it is more about simple survival, at home, during a crisis, while trying to work!) but it has started some big conversations.
Against the advice of many, I set up SoLo eleven years ago to offer a fully remote and flexible working environment. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a remote model and called for smart businesses to join the flexible working revolution many times.
But I was interested to hear on the programme than a study has been done that proves what I know anecdotally to be true: that working from home increases productivity.
Thank you, Nick Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, California. Nick published a study of a Chinese travel company, Ctrip, that looked at the benefits of its working from home policies. The study found that a random sample of 1,000 employees were 13% more productive working from home than they were in an office – 9% of this was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (a quieter and more convenient working environment). After the 9 month trial, over half of the home-working employees opted to return to the office – having fallen foul to the 3 great enemies: fridge, bed and TV – while the others continued working from home: this led to the gains from WFH almost doubling to 22%.
If there is one silver lining of the COVID pandemic, I desperately hope that employers reconsider the benefits of working from home – not just to the employee, but also for their business. Through productivity, staff retention and the ability to recruit some of the best talent going (much of which happens not to be able to commit to the 9-5 grind for whatever reason – parenthood, caring responsibilities, anxiety, age…), the benefits of home workers are clear. Indeed, they are assets.
Sure, working from home does not suit all sectors, all jobs, or all people. In our business, for example, while planners and strategist can work from home just fine, things get trickier with collaborative disciplines like creative.
There is also wellbeing to consider. As the mother of two 30-something advertising boys, I noted that for the “family” version, lockdown has delivered benefits (and challenges!), but for the DINKy it has been hard socially. Isolation and loneliness have been a theme for many during this enforced period of working from home, and many will be desperate to get back to an office.
But the conversation has started to be had, and for that – if nothing else – I am grateful to COVID. Let us keep up the dialogue about work being about what you do, not where you do it; about working to live, not living to work; and about putting people and their lives at the heart of what business does.