Features | From Pivot Magazine

Should we all be working remotely? 

The case for getting out of the office 

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One study determined that employees given the option to telecommute had a performance boost of 13 per cent, took shorter breaks and fewer sick days. (llustration by Leeandra Cianci)

The gig economy is changing how businesses operate, and fast. Rising numbers of freelancers, contract workers and consultants mean more and more people are working from home. One might assume working in an office is more productive than tele­commuting, where an employee is prey to the distractions of home and life. But is that conventional wisdom true?

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom decided to find out. Bloom conducted a prolonged study, published in 2015, focused on a start-up whose employees averaged a long commute time. The workers were split into two groups: one that was given the option to work at home and another that was not. Nine months later, the telecommuters were shown to have been far more effective, with a performance boost of 13 per cent. They took shorter breaks, fewer sick days and showed lower attrition rates than their office-bound counterparts. Another bonus: the company saved nearly US$2,000 per person on rent by reducing the amount of physical space needed to accommodate everyone.

Working from home has other benefits. It means less wear and tear on the body, especially for older workers. It’s also less distracting. In an April 2019 study of 400 Can­adian office employees, respondents named overly chatty coworkers as the No. 1 impediment to productivity. Added emphasis on telecommuting might also benefit firms seeking young talent: Deloitte’s 2016 survey of millennial workers found that 75 per cent of respondents wanted more opportunities to work remotely, and believed it would boost their productivity.

Firms are already implementing “floating” office designs, without fixed desks; companies may soon move toward having employees enter in shifts, almost like a factory. But in the five years since Bloom published his findings, other research has emerged that suggests working from home may not be for everyone. A 2019 study of 2,500 remote workers found that while 99 per cent wanted to work from home at least some of the time, nearly half of them reported struggling with wellness-related issues like loneliness or the inability to disconnect after work.

Telecommuting has already become a key aspect of employment. Ideally, the office of the future will evolve to be as flexible as its burgeoning workforce.