24/06/2015

By Nigel Dunn, UK & Ireland MD, Jabra


Should employees be allowed to work from home? New research shows that most managers say “No.” And that’s a shame. Because all evidence indicates that working from home boosts productivity and employee satisfaction. So, it’s time to take a hard look at the evidence and put an end to the mistrust and prejudice. Starting from the top.

Just the other day, I witnessed an awkward moment at a neighboring table in our cafeteria. While feasting on my lunch, five of my colleagues were having a heated debate over which team would win the Premier League. One of them made a reference to a TV sports show he had watched while working from home in the week. The table went immediately, totally silent. They intuitively seemed to agree that you just don’t do that. Or, at the very least, you don’t talk about it. The silence spoke volumes!

Watching football at work isn’t always bad for business

The awkward moment really got me thinking. My immediate reaction was that this guy was cheating our company. On the other hand, we all spend time on stuff other than working while at work: calling the dentist, checking out funny videos on YouTube, private chit-chat with friends on Facebook. You know, everyday personal stuff.
Also, I know this particular employee quite well. He’s a very hardworking guy, who never misses a deadline and stays late whenever necessary to get the job done.

Still, episodes like this, and more so others reactions to them, certainly give working at home a bad rep.

We are more productive at home

This scenario imposes an interesting, ongoing managerial dilemma: should employees be allowed to work from home?

Well, according to Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, the answer is clearly a “no.” In 2013 she instituted a ban on the practice entirely after spying into the internet traffic of employees “allegedly” working from home.

And Ms. Meyer is not alone. Several other high profile companies like Best Buy followed with restrictions on telecommuting and work-from-home policies. And, in a recent study, 50 percent of all managers opposed working from home, and another 35 percent only “tolerated” the concept.

Personally, I believe the answer should be a resounding “Yes.” And I have the evidence to prove my point. Just recently, a NASDAQ listed firm with 13,000 employees did a randomised experiment on home working. This resulted in a 12 percent increase in performance from the home-working people, due to fewer breaks, sick days, and less noise. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and psychological attitude scores, and their job attrition rates fell by 50 percent.

It seems that some interference such as watching a little TV or putting laundry in the washing machine at home takes less time than talking with your colleagues at the water cooler or being distracted by noise at work. And research backs this up. Hence, 37 percent of all employees state that they are more productive, and 44 percent state that there are fewer distractions when working from home.

Then, there’s the commuting time. A couple of years ago, O2 asked its 2,500 employees working at its UK headquarters to work at home on a certain day. In total, the employees saved 2,000 hours on commuting that day, and more than half that time was spent on… working more.

The elephant in the room

More productive employees, less distractions at home, and spending time saved on working more, the business case seems clear cut. So, if the evidence is there – what’s the problem? The elephant in the room is trust. Do we trust that people working from home are actually … well, working?

Somehow managers and – let’s be honest – the rest of us tend to believe our colleagues are slacking off and wasting our company’s time and money. However, with evidence clearly to the contrary, we have a managerial problem – not an employee issue – on our hands. Workplace trust is a fragile thing, and prejudice is its scary helper. It’s time to face the elephant.

First, we have to stop conventional thinking and look at the facts. It’s time for managers to sponsor and promote profitable new ways of working like working from home. And most importantly, it’s time to break the awkward silence when a co-worker tells you that they sometime watch TV when working from home.

Statistically, that guy is the most productive!