The news about Yahoo! no longer allowing their employees to work from home anymore opens up quite a few issues about “work”, productivity, and results. The main focus on the articles I’ve read about it focus on whether employees “slack off” when they’re working from home, or whether the studies are true that working from home actually increases productivity by 10% – 20%.
To me, those aren’t the main questions:
Of COURSE employees “slack off” when they’re working from home… Just like they slack off when they’re in the office. The only difference is, at home they can slack off in their pajamas. By one estimate, the number of hours of *actual concentrated work* that gets done per day by the average white collar worker is about 2 to 3.
Regardless of what the actual number of productive hours is (2, 3, 4, 5) that still leaves plenty of downtime. A lot of bosses would prefer knowing their employees are at least stuck in a cubicle during that downtime instead of watching TV at home – even though the end result is the same.
Personally, I can’t get creative work done in a noisy office / workspace.
In my last business, I had an office with several employees working there, and even with my office door closed, hearing muffled phone calls and discussions in the background were enough to distract me when I was trying to write sales letters and to other creative activities.
Eventually I just started working in the peace and quiet of my home office (much better!) and only coming in to the actual workplace about once a week for a couple of hours. Luckily, I had a business partner who didn’t mind being in the office to keep the employees in line.
We did have salaried employees working from their homes in other parts of the country, and it worked out well because they delivered the results I asked for, and that’s what doing a job should be all about – results.
Working from home benefits the efficient.
I worked at McDonald’s in high school taking orders, and my customer line at my register literally moved twice as fast as some of my fellow employees’ lines. Did I get paid twice as much? -Nope. In fact, after working there for over a year and getting my first raise from $3.10/hour (minimum wage) to $3.20 an hour (a ten-cent an hour raise), a couple months later the minimum wage was raised to $3.35, and my ten-cents above minimum wage raise wasn’t retained, meaning I was back to working for minimum wage just like someone who had been hired yesterday.
Most businesses don’t reward results nearly enough.
If you hire two website designers, one at $20/hour and the other at $40/hour who do identical work, and the $40/hour worker works three times as fast as the $20/hour worker, which worker is cheaper? -The more expensive one.
Most businesses don’t pay one of their employees double just because the accomplish more than twice as much as other employees. So you wind up with this:
Super-productive “top” employees get frustrated, because they’re working harder/faster than others but not getting rewarded for it. Their solution: Find another job.
Letting good employees have “flex time” by working from home is one way to reward them if you don’t want to pay them more: Working at home, they can finish their work when they finish, without being stuck in an office for the full 8 hours. They’re way less likely to leave and look for another job that’ll force them to be in an office full-time.
The whole discussion is interesting to me, because it gets to the heart of how to gauge someone’s value, how to gauge their results and productivity, and makes you realize that for a lot of jobs, having a warm body in the office for 40 hours a week says absolutely nothing about what actual work or value you’re getting from them.