Long-term homeworkers ‘just as productive as office workers’

People who work long term and full time from home are no more productive than office workers, according to a new study from the LSE.

While previous studies have demonstrated that home workers are more productive than office-based workers, the new study of more than 500 employees at a public organisation where 40% of staff work regularly from home shows that, on a long-term basis, there are no differences in productivity between home and office workers.

The reason, according to Dr Esther Canonico from LSE’s Department of Management, is that employees no longer see homeworking as a discretionary benefit or a ‘privilege’ when it becomes the ‘norm’ in an organisation.

Dr Canonico says: “This study provides a glimpse into a future where flexible working practices could become business as usual and seen as an entitlement by employees, especially among the younger generation. Whereas once people saw it as a favour and felt the need to reciprocate and give back more to the organisation for having that benefit, in this future, they will not.”

She says this normalisation was positive, but adds that her research shows there can be drawbacks where some employees take their rights too far, for instance, refusing to be flexible in return and that this can affect the way an organisation functions.

She adds that she is very much in favour of flexible working and that homeworking has a lot of benefits, but that her research shows getting it right is a delicate balance. She says: “The study showed that some homeworking employees feel resentful that employers don’t pay their utility bills, or cover stationery costs, for example. Some managers, on the other hand, feel home workers take advantage of the situation.”

If the company expects home workers to be a lot more productive or workers expect employers to give them a lot of flexibility and not have to reciprocate in kind, one or both are likely to be disappointed, says Dr Canonico, adding that expectations need to be managed.

The concerns about inflexible homeworkers only applied to people who worked regularly from home, she adds. It doesn’t apply to those who work just a few days a week from home.  Dr Canonico claims her research is among the first to measure the impact of home working over a long period, taking into account the perspectives of both employer and employee.

“Some of the downsides of homeworking are an increased sense of professional isolation and a decrease in sharing knowledge with colleagues. It’s not for everyone, but it is becoming entrenched into our working culture,” she says. Dr Canonico’s research was part of her doctoral thesis, which also includes a study of work life balance by life stage and examines how having multiple roles – as parents and workers, for instance – can be enriching both for work and for family life.

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