Should Employees Telework? How About Letting Them Decide

Study shows employees who work outside the office by choice are more productive.

The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act is changing the work lives of many federal employees, but many federal managers still need convincing that employees are working, not shirking, outside the traditional office space. A new study by Stanford University might help. It concludes that not surprisingly, telework can lead to increased performance, improved work satisfaction and decreased attrition rates, Fast Company reports.

For the study, Stanford researchers looked at a 13,000-employee Chinese multinational company, where call center employees who volunteered to work from home were randomized into home or office working for nine months.

The study found that teleworkers had a 13 percent increase in performance, of which about 9.5 percent was from taking fewer breaks and sick days and therefore working more minutes per shift and 3.5 percent was from making more calls per minute because of the quieter working environment.

Teleworkers also reported improved work satisfaction and their job attrition rate fell by 50 percent, the study found.

After the 9-month experiment, the Chinese company rolled out telework to all employees, allowing them to choose between telework or office work. Surprisingly, however, only half of the volunteer group decided to continue to work at home, with the other half opting to continue office working.

“After allowing employees to choose, the performance impact of [teleworking] more than doubled, highlighting the benefits of choice alongside modern practices like home working,” the Stanford report noted.

In July, I wrote about how while every job is not necessarily a good telework candidate, not every employee is a good candidate either. The Stanford study is a good example of why giving employees choices when it comes to telework can lead to greater productivity and outcomes. At the same time, managers need to be proactive about letting teleworkers know when the arrangement just isn’t working out.

What are your thoughts on the study? How important is “telework choice” to the success of the work arrangement at your agency?