Working From Home Increases Productivity, Keeps Workers Happy and is Good For the Environment

time clock wired photo

Mauricio Alejo in Wired
Phil Daoust of the Guardian questions the traditional home-to-office commute, First there is the actual getting to work, with the unreliable bus or overcrowded train and the time it takes to get there. He asks: " Do you arrive stressed, exhausted, ripped off, degraded, suicidal, homicidal or all of the above?"

Once you get there, being in the office isn't always a joy either. Shirley Borrett, head of the Telework Association, says ""I can't help feeling that our descendants will look back at us and think, 'What on earth were they thinking of?' "

mr. universe home office serenity

Mr. Universe's Home Office in Serenity

It is often pointed out to us in comments that not everyone can work at home, that some jobs are hands-on. But even those can have a work-at-home component.

"Virtually anything that used to be an office job and uses computers and telecoms can be done remotely for at least part of the week," says Borrett's colleague, Peter Thomson. "Take nurses in a hospital," he says. "They have to be physically present when they're caring for patients, but they also do a lot of paperwork. That could be done anywhere."

Companies are reporting significant productivity gains. BT (British Telecom) says it gets 20% more work out of its 10,000 home workers. It also helps retain workers; at BT, 97% of women who take maternity leave come back to work, compared to only 50% in the conventional market.

Besides increased productivity and employee retention, it's good for the environment.

Home working encourages a more diverse labour force, bringing in not just carers but those who have difficulty travelling because they are disabled or live in remote locations. Then there's the reduction in pollution and greenhouse gases. According to Cambridgeshire county council, home working in that county alone could reduce commuter travel by up to 8 million miles a year. Last month transport minister Norman Baker reminded employers that letting staff avoid the workplace just one day in 10 would have a "huge impact" on congestion.

Daoust points out that the main reason more people aren't doing it is simple: "As usual, it's the boss's fault."- not wanting to give up their empires.

"The issues are human, not technological," says Thomson. "For the past 200 years we have been in an environment where people get together in the same place to work and a manager stands there and watches what they do. To then say, 'Right, you can't see what your workers are doing any more but trust them to get on with the job' can be a bit of a culture shock."


But the fact is, technology is changing so fast that those obstacles to management no longer exist. My editor knows when I am at my desk, and she gets just as many whines and complaints as she would if we were in the same room.

At Webworker Daily, Simon Mackie is not convinced about the dramatic claims of productivity increases.

The claims of an up to 40 percent rise in productivity don't really ring true from my experience. And for organizations that have seen such drastic increases in productivity, perhaps the figure indicates that there was something very wrong with the office environment or the management of those places.

I am not so sure. How do you measure productivity? I suspect that homeworkers add much of their commute time to their work day, and that the cost of supporting each employee with desks, space, washrooms and coffee, is far less. 40% doesn't surprise me at all.

More in TreeHugger on Working from Home
5 Innovations to Make Telecommuting Easy & Green
Working From Home Can Be Tough on Couples
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Working From Home Makes More Sense Than Ever

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