Your workers are likely pretty distracted.
The popularity of open concept office designs, the continuing allure of breaks to check social media and smartphones, and the general chatter that comes from most modern office settings are all significant barriers to productivity. It doesn't help that in many cases, the executives that implement open office floorplans are themselves ensconced in private, quiet offices.
Increasingly, studies show that there is a clear solution to the dilemma of unproductive and unfocused employees. It does not involve massive construction outlays to refurbish spaces to create more offices (though knocking down those executive walls is an intriguing idea). The solution is far simpler.
Let your employees work from home.
Data points to productivity
Several recent studies point out the benefits of providing more lenient work-from-home policies. Given the increasing mobility of the workforce, the improving technology that allows for instant virtual connectedness, and the demonstrated gains in productivity, it makes real business sense to disrupt the traditional models.
A study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization showed that telecommuting has a distinct increase in productivity. However, the gains were evident mostly when telecommuters were engaged in creative tasks. Dull and mundane work was actually adversely affected by telecommuting.
Similarly, an Oxford Economics survey of 1,200 senior executives and staff members worldwide explored challenges and opportunities in the modern workplace. Among the findings were:
- Lose the interruptions. Working without interruption is a top priority for employees when it comes to office design. Amenities like free food are less important.
- Integration lags. While employees are expected to be available remotely, only 40 percent report having the devices at home that are capable of working seamlessly with their work tools.
- Connection leads to compulsion. A third of employees use their technology out of habit, for social engagement, or out of fear of missing out.
- Leadership is out of touch. Almost two-thirds of executives believe employees have the proper tools to manage distractions at work. Less than half of their employees concur.
A Harvard Business Review article details the results of an experiment at Chinese travel agency start-up Ctrip. Employees were allowed to volunteer to work at home for nine months.
Using performance data and employee surveys, Ctrip found the at-home workers were more productive, less likely to quit, and happier. At-home employees, for example, finished 13.5 percent more phone calls per week than their in-office colleagues.
The study's creators believe that a third of the productivity gain was due to the quieter environment of working from home. The other two-thirds were attributed to the observation that at-home employees worked longer. They started earlier, took fewer breaks, and worked the full day.
For organizations, there were other benefits too. Sick days among at-home workers plummeted. Employees did not run errands at lunch. The company saved an average of $1,900 per employee on furniture and space costs.
With technological advances and clear data, there are ample reasons to consider an expanded work-at-home strategy for many companies.