Employment from the comfort of one’s home versus working at the office: which one yields better results? It is a question that Scientists have been trying to answer for quite some time now, and with the advent of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the question has recently come to the forefront of modern discourse.
It is in this regard that a team at Stanford University, led of Professor Nicholas Bloom, had conducted a two-year study of the effects of remote work. They studied the long term effects, in regards to productivity and well being, of the remote workers subject to their research, who were under the employ of the billion dollar NASDAQ listed Shanghai travel company Ctrip, the study of which focused on exactly 1000 employees. Out of these 1000 individuals, the study groups were split down the middle: 500 of them worked remotely, and the control group, the other 500, worked in a traditional office setting.
At First Glance: The Apparent Benefits
Initially, it was easy tracking the productivity of the two separate groups, as the work conducted by the employees was straightforward enough to be quantified and studied. Such tasks included placing orders, or making phone calls, among others. During the first 9 months, the results were surprising: At home, employees were 13.5 percent more efficient than in the office. As a result, Ctrip saved $ 2,000 in office costs annually. Employees also took fewer breaks and were less sick overall. The rate of failure for the test group was 50 percent lower than that of their coworkers in the control group. But, perhaps maybe the most significant of all the findings is that the test group was reported to be, on average, more satisfied with themselves and their overall performance. These results shocked Dr. Bloom, as he initially expected productivity to eventually wane, which, in his estimation, would be the natural consequence of cutting costs on office space. Adversely, the results pointed to the fact that both the employer and the employee had the potential to benefit from this arrangement.
Not Without its Drawbacks: The Shortcomings of Remote Work
The emphasis here is very clearly on “potential”, as there were also problems identified which were not insignificant to the topic, according to Bloom. In the study, the scientists had recorded the approximately half of all those participating in the study group made the decision to return back to working in a more traditional office setting upon the conclusion of the experiment. Two reasons were identified in this regard: firstly, employees would eventually feel isolated, and secondly, they received significantly less recognition for their work. As a result, some employees, who viewed this not insignificantly as a motivating factor, found it easier to give up or postpone tasks.
Dr. Bloom summarizes that the urgency for working five days a week is rooted during a time where people were tied to their factory based jobs, and had to manufacture products on an assembly line. He explains that “companies that still treat their employees today as if we were living in these times are increasingly falling behind.” Employers who want to save costs and motivate their employees should give the flexible workplace model a chance, says Bloom.
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