Working from home

Here’s a paper that may appeal to some people’s priors, and might have appealed to my priors before I got some experience on this. Most of my attempts to generate telework for workers have failed, not for lack of decency on their behalf but for their lack of motivation and organisation when working on their own. I expect that in the trial reported on here there was plenty of structure and surveillance of call centre workers. And given that, I guess I can appreciate that the results were the way they were. But in a great deal of work, you can’t observe effort. That’s one of the main reasons, obviously not the only one, why we invented offices, where, though you can’t observe effort very directly, you can surveil non-attendance. It’s notable that Google and Yahoo have just scaled back their teleworking substantially – except of course for the very senior!

Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment
by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying – #18871 (LS PE PR)


About 10% of US employees now regularly work from home (WFH), but
there are concerns this can lead to “shirking from home.” We report
the results of a WFH experiment at CTrip, a 16,000- employee,
NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency. Call center employees who
volunteered to WFH were randomly assigned to work from home or in the
office for 9 months. Home working led to a 13% performance increase,
of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer
breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed
to a quieter working environment). Home workers also reported
improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover, but their
promotion rate conditional on performance fell. Due to the success
of the experiment, CTrip rolled-out the option to WFH to the whole
firm and allowed the experimental employees to re-select between the
home or office. Interestingly, over half of them switched, which led
to the gains from WFH almost doubling to 22%. This highlights the
benefits of learning and selection effects when adopting modern
management practices like WFH.

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Cameron Murray
11 years ago

I would say a lot depends on the type of work and the type of people. My experience would suggest the following important points

1. People working from home compensate by working harder because there exists a perception they are slacking off.
2. People who are more sociable might find fewer distractions. I know that when I’m in an office I seem to chat all day and take breaks and have coffee for ‘important discussions’ that aren’t really that important.
3. When you work from home you really prioritise your interactions with others – do you really need a meeting for that or can it be solved immediately.
4. You might compensate for your slacking by gaming performance measures even more.

I would say, since I am working from home right now, that reading blogs is a substitute distraction, as is cooking up a big lunch.

11 years ago

I’m with Cameron on this, and can add:
5) You save time getting to work and back. That would be huge for some people that live in places like Sydney and the outer burbs of Melbourne.