Work Life

Do You Trust Your Colleagues? …Honestly

Photo of Holger Reisinger
May 31, 2015
Reading time
4 minutes

Should employees be allowed to work from home? New research shows that most managers say “No.” And that’s a shame. Because all evidence indicates that working from home boosts productivity and employee satisfaction. So, it’s time to take a hard look at the evidence and put an end to the mistrust and prejudice. Starting from the top.

“James, I think your cover’s blown!” by Ludovic Bertron

Just the other day, I witnessed an awkward moment at a neighboring table in our cafeteria. While feasting on the cook’s lasagna, five of my colleagues were having a heated debate over which team would win the soccer championships. One of them made a reference to a TV show he had watched while working from home. The table went totally silent. They intuitively seemed to agree that you just don’t do that. Or, at the very least, you don’t talk about it. The silence was eerie!

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The awkward moment really got me thinking. My immediate reaction was that this guy was cheating our company. On the other hand, we all spend time on stuff other than working while at work: calling the dentist, checking out funny videos on YouTube, private chit-chat with friends on Facebook. You know, everyday personal stuff.

Also, I know this particular employee quite well. He’s a very hardworking guy, who never misses a deadline and stays late whenever necessary to get the job done.

Still, episodes like this certainly give working at home a bad rep. And even worse: others might think working at home means having a company-paid day off.

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We are more productive at home

This scenario imposes an interesting managerial dilemma: should employees be allowed to work from home?

Well, according to Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, the answer is clearly a “no.” In 2013 she instituted a ban on the practice entirely after spying into the internet traffic of employees “allegedly” working from home.

And Ms. Meyer is not alone. Several other high profile companies like Best Buy followed with restrictions on telecommuting and work-from-home policies. And, in a recent study, 50 percent of all managers opposed working from home, and another 35 percent only “tolerated” the concept.

Personally, I believe the answer should be a resounding “Yes.” And I have the evidence to prove my point. Just recently, a NASDAQ listed firm with 13,000 employees did a randomized experiment on home working. This resulted in a 12 percent increase in performance from the home-working people, due to fewer breaks, sick days, and less noise. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and psychological attitude scores, and their job attrition rates fell by 50 percent.

It seems that some interference such as watching a little TV or putting laundry in the washing machine at home takes less time than talking with your colleagues at the water cooler or being distracted by noise at work. And research backs this up. Hence, 37 percent of all employees state that they are more productive, and 44 percent state that there are fewer distractions when working from home.

Then, there’s the commuting time. A couple of years ago, the British company O2 asked its 2,500 employees working at its UK headquarters to work at home on a certain day. In total, the employees saved 2,000 hours on commuting that day, and more than half that time was spent on… working more.

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The elephant in the room

More productive employees, less distractions at home, and spending time saved on working more, the business case seems clear cut. So, if the evidence is there – what’s the problem?

The elephant in the room is trust. Do we trust that people working from home are actually … well, working?

Somehow managers and – let’s be honest – the rest of us tend to believe our colleagues are slacking off and wasting our company’s time and money. However, with evidence clearly to the contrary, we have a managerial problem – not an employee issue – on our hands. Workplace trust is a fragile thing, and prejudice is its scary helper. It’s time to face the elephant.

First, we have to stop conventional thinking and look at the facts. It’s time for managers to sponsor and promote profitable new ways of working like working from home. And most importantly, it’s time to break the awkward silence when a co-worker tells you that they sometime watch TV when working from home.

Statistically, that guy is the most productive!

P.S. What you might not know about the working-from-home dress code: 
An enormous amount of data is available on the issue of productivity when working from home. One of the more interesting studies asked employees what they wore when working from home. Roughly half the people surveyed answered that they wear jeans and a T-shirt. But what surprised me was that 25 percent wear pajamas, while seven percent prefer to work in either their underwear or in the nude. Try and erase that image the next time you attend a teleconference with someone working from home!

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