Does working from home really boost performance?

by L&D07 Sep 2016
While some studies have found that employees who work from home are more productive than office-based workers, new research suggests it’s not that simple.

The study of more than 500 employees from the London School of Economics and Political Science has found that in the long term, there are no differences in performance between home and office workers.

Why do the benefits fade over time?

Employees no longer see home working as a “discretionary benefit” or a “privilege” when it becomes the norm in an organisation, according to Dr Esther Canonico from LSE's Department of Management.

"This study provides a glimpse into a future where flexible working practices could become business as usual and seen as an entitlement by employees, especially among the younger generation,” said Dr Canonico.

“Whereas once people saw it as a favour and felt the need to reciprocate and give back more to the organisation for having that benefit, in this future, they will not.

"The study showed that some home working employees feel resentful that employers don't pay their utility bills, or cover stationery costs, for example. Some managers, on the other hand, feel home workers take advantage of the situation."

Therefore, if the company expects home workers to be a lot more productive, or workers expect employers to give them a lot of flexibility and not have to reciprocate, one or both are likely to be let down.  

Current research suggests that working from home for 2-3 days a week is the most effective arrangement for both employees and organisations.

Dr Canonico's research is among the first to measure the impact of home working over a long period taking into account the perspectives of both employer and employee.

"Some of the downsides of home working are an increased sense of professional isolation and a decrease in sharing knowledge with colleagues. It's not for everyone but it is becoming entrenched into our working culture," said Dr Canonico.

Moreover, a 2008 study found by Durham University found that working from home reduces stress in office workers but leads to fears about career progression.

Home workers were found to be concerned about missing out on opportunities for moving up the ladder because they are discussed informally in the office – otherwise known as “water-cooler networking”.

However, the study also found that working from home generally had a positive effect on an employee's work/life balance, allowing them more time with family and leading to less stress and burnout.