The option to work from home is among the benefits that office workers request most often. And it’s also something that sees constant discussion at management meetings. Some people hate it, and some praise it to the skies. Some companies are loosening remote-work rules, while others are tightening the screws. Yahoo! once had lax rules here, but they’ve brought employees back into the office, and some other big players are beginning to follow suit.
No two company cultures are alike, no two employee engagement indicators are alike, and no two work attitudes are alike. Every company is unique. Work from home should be more than just a benefit picked out of a hat, offered just because employees want it or the competition’s offering it.
The way that you implement and configure work from home has to fit your overall employee engagement strategy, with a direct link into achieving your business goals.
If you’re exploring how to approach this way of working, which departments it’s good for, and how to set up your limits and rules, then take into account these four facts — they’ll help you decide.
1/ It’s Not for Everyone
Work from home is more suitable in environments where work tasks tend to be repeated, where employee interactions are few, and where people spend long stretches working fairly independently.
Meanwhile at companies where outputs depend on cooperation, on the exchanging of creative ideas, and on quick team responses, the need for employees to be at the office is completely legitimate.
If employees’ positions can’t be clearly placed in either of the above categories, then think about how large a percentage of your overall workload is taken up by which type of work, and proportionally grant days of the week for work at home based on that.
2/ You Won’t Lose Engagement
Employees who work from home state that it’s extremely freeing to break away from the commotion of an open-space. They value the option to submerge themselves in deep work without having to constantly jump off to meetings, and they state that in their home environment, they get more done. Overall, employees feel much less frustration from work itself when they’re doing it from home (or from any other place outside the office).
One pillar of employee engagement is an employee’s own feeling that they did a good job. So if employees do more work and feel less frustration when they’re working from home, this work style seems to be a clear-cut tool for increasing engagement.
This conclusion is also supported by the latest Gallup polls—but there’s a catch. Employees working from home are only more engaged than their office colleagues when work from home takes up at most 20% of their work time, i.e. one day a week. People with a greater ratio don’t display any more engagement than they’d have if they were sitting in an office.
3/ Productivity Should Rise
A company named Ctrip performed a well-known experiment that demonstrated the significant impact that work at home has on employee productivity. The department where the experiment took place meets the above requirements for work from home — the work tasks were relatively autonomous, without the need for collaboration and creativity.
Employees were randomly split into two groups. One group worked normally at the office, while the other spent four days a week working from home. After nine months came the project’s assessment. It showed that employees working from home had far fewer pauses and sick days. Thanks to this, they were 13% more productive on average in terms of tasks completed than their peers at the office.
4/ They’ll Still Want to Socialize
But there was one ironic thing about the above experiment. 255 people signed up, and as we’ve mentioned, it lasted nine months and involved two groups. So—we’ve got one group working at home four days in the week, and another staying at the office normally.
When the experiment ended, all the participants in both groups were offered the chance to work from home four days a week permanently. Despite all the initial interest in working from home, the final result was the opposite. An entire half of the people who’d been working from home wanted to return to the office, and only a quarter of the people who were working at the office used the chance to work from home.
Their main reason was simple: when they worked from home, they felt alone. People want to meet people!
The option to work from home is something that you should configure carefully and integrate well into a clear strategic vision for your work with employees. You’ll always need to evaluate the work that your employees perform and adapt your rules for working from home to match it. This work style has a direct impact on productivity and employee engagement and socialization, but you’ll only see positive results, including better health for your company culture, when you artfully define the borders of work from home.