A had a text from a friend tonight, “They’re talking about you on the BBC!”, I was momentarily excited until I got the link to the audio from the Radio4 Today programme this morning, talking about working from home, it’s here http://news.bbc.co.uk/.
Apparently, 250 members of staff from a firm in China who worked from home were 12% more productive than the other 250 who worked from the office. The programme cites they study called Does Working From Home Work? A Chinese Experiment (Bloom et al, 2012). While the today programmed states a 12% increase, the study says there was a 13% increase; 9.5% for more minutes per shift and 3.5% as an increase in the volume of calls made due to a quieter working environment. However, one the nine month trial was over, the company rolled out WFH to the entire company, not everyone took the opportunity, some chose to come to work, about half those who were in the randomly selected working from home group and two thirds of the control group, those who worked from the office, chose to stay in the office. Interestingly, productivity went up more and Bloom et al state that, working from home as a modern working practise, along with the employee having a choice in how they work (which harks of Dan Pinks Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose piece), as a combination are very beneficial to overall productivity.
The experiment wasn’t ROWE though, the was a heavy focus on the amount of hours worked. In order to get some good measurements, they required those WFH to work specific times (9-5) as well as those in the office. As it was a call centre, measuring was fairly straight forward; they measure number of calls, notifications sent, corrections etc. The team leaders still dictated when the employee had to be in work as the experiment was only for four out of five days, with the team leader deciding on the day the worker had to come into the office. So, pretty far removed from ROWE, but still some good data on what it means to work from home.
ROWE in this context would be fairly simple to implement given the straightforward way they gathered and reported on the metrics.
However, the bottom line is – working from home is more productive … for the right kind of people (low performers generally chose to work in the office), but how much the culture of the Chinese and their existing working practises affected this outcome is pause for thought too. Working from home requires discipline, so this is where a focus on the results and how they can be measured is the most important thing about ROWE. If you know what you need to do and you’re going to be measured, it’s much easier for you to do the thing, knowing that that’s all that counts.