The Case For Working From Home

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Telecommuter is a strange word. According to a 1994 paper I came across online, the term was first used in the early 1970s. It’s amazing, come to think of it, that somebody was writing about it even in 1994 when we were all on Compuserve, starting to use AOL, and dial-up speeds were painfully slow. Pretty sure there was no IM at that point. Not sure if the guys who started Twitter were even born yet.

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It’s a topic that holds great interest for me, because for the past year and a half or so, I’ve transitioned to become a full-time telecommuter.

Well, I mean, I guess I have, since I would never use the term “telecommute” to describe what I do. I don’t use a telephone (make all my calls thru Skype) and in no way, shape, or form do I commute (unless you consider going up and down the stairs in the house as “commuting”).

I started telecommuting — oh, for chrissakes, let’s call it what it is: working from home — out of necessity. Some personal stuff caused me to work from home. The precipitating condition has long passed, but I haven’t gone back into the office on a regular basis.

And here are my two conclusions about the situation: 1) I’m a helluva lot more productive, and 2) I’m a helluva lot more happier about my job.

Now, when I say I’m more productive, I’m not making it up. I can prove it — the number of reports I’ve published has increased, and the number of interactions I’ve had with clients and the press have increased. So I can quantify my improved productivity.

Now my fellow telecommuters and I have third-party validation of the productivity benefits of telecommuting.

Well, kind of. I’ll tell you about the study, and you can decide if it proves the case for telecommuting.

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Researchers from Stanford University worked with a Chinese travel agency to understand the impact of telecommuting on the agency’s 12,000 employees. According to a GigaOm article:

Workers were asked whether they would volunteer to dial-in and were then screened to ensure their home-based workspace was adequate and they had a solid enough record to be trustworthy. Then 255 were set free to telecommute. The results, according to Smithsonian.com were heartening. After a few weeks, the telecommuters were performing better than their counterparts in the office. They took more calls (it was quieter and there were fewer distractions at home) and worked more hours (they lost less time to late arrivals and sick breaks) and more days (fewer sick days). This translated into greater profits for the company because more calls equaled more sales. The telecommuters were also less likely to quit their jobs, which meant less turnover for the company.

After reading this, I had to check the dateline on the article. It said November 2011, but I would’ve sworn that the article was written in 1995.

I mean, c’mon, really now. Stanford wants to study the productivity of telecommuting so it: 1) goes to China, 2) picks a travel agency, and 3) asks employees to dial-in from home?

First off, I’m sure there are no cultural differences between Chinese workers and the rest of the world that would question the universality of the test participants (sarcasm).

Second, a travel agency? Really? Didn’t they go out of business 10 years ago? And even if they didn’t, since a lot of a travel agent’s job already involves spending a lot of time on the phone, was that the best type of job to test the productivity impact of telecommuting?

Third, who “dials-in” anymore? Maybe in China, I guess.

Hey Stanford geeks: Was there really no company in the United States that you could find to test the productivity impact of telecommuting?

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A firm called Wakefield Research did. They found more than 1,000 U.S. workers who work from home, and surveyed them to find out what they do when they “work” from home. Wakefield found that:

  • 43% watch TV or a movie
  • 26% take naps
  • 24% admit to having a drink
  • 20% play video games

In other words: People who work from home behave no differently than those who go into the office.

Granted, those are my personal observations, but I’m sure I could do some research to corroborate that.

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Look, I may be a bourgeois capitalist pig, but I’m not a total jerk. Working from home is my contribution to society: I don’t waste natural resources like gas by driving my 7 MPG Hummer into Boston every day, and by staying off the roads, I’m doing my share to alleviate the traffic problems that exist here.

And by not going to the office, my co-workers aren’t subjected to hearing me eat at my desk or having to smell the food I’m eating (like that’s not a problem in your office).

So I don’t care what any so-called researcher says about working from home, telecommuting, or whatever term you use to describe it. The costume parties, team building exercises, and baby showers will have to go on without me. 

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