What to do with working from home (Editor’s note from Lance Turner) | Arkansas Business News

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If you’re a business owner, executive, or manager with many employees working in an office, you’ve probably had work-from-home anxiety. I know we have. It’s a constant conversation among managers at the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Before the pandemic, we hosted a handful of remote employees, valued people who logged in from Georgia, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and northwest Arkansas — even as far afield as the UK.

But these were largely exceptions to the rule that at the Little Rock home office, most workers at all levels of the company had to be in the office from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The pandemic has changed that, of course. Working from home was a necessary precaution in 2020, before vaccines and booster shots protected most people from the worst of COVID-19. But more than two years later, the WFH has gone from a safeguard to a convenience more to attract and retain a workforce than to protect anyone’s health.

At ABPG, our owner and CEO, Mitch Bettis, has taken a flexible approach to office hours, letting managers and their direct reports decide if and how often they come into the office. He admits it took him some getting used to. While some of our offices are wholeheartedly embracing full-time telecommuting or hybrid work schedules, others are concerned about what telecommuting means for productivity, company culture, innovation and employee turnover.

Do remote employees feel connected or invested in their workplace? And is their work inferior to that of the office?

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A working paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research aims to answer these and other questions about working from home.

The study surveyed 1,612 engineers, marketing and finance employees of Trip.com, a publicly traded global travel agency based in Shanghai. According to the study, Trip.com executives wanted to use hybrid work-from-home schedules “to improve employee job satisfaction to reduce attrition and make it easier to hire.” But some managers worried that employees were “underperforming during their days at home”. So Trip decided to evaluate a hybrid WFH system for six months before deciding to implement it enterprise-wide. (Trip.com has approximately 35,000 employees.)

The study presents four key findings:

The WFH reduced attrition rates by 35% and improved self-reported job satisfaction scores, “highlighting how employees place tremendous value on this piece of equipment.” How considerable? The authors believe that for employees, this equates to “about a 4% to 8% salary increase”.

The WFH reduced hours worked on days at home, but increased them on other workdays and weekends, highlighting how the WFH is changing the work week.

WFH employees have increased one-to-one messaging and group video call communication, even when in the office, “reflecting the impact of remote working on work habits.”

“While there was no significant impact of working from home on performance ratings or promotions, lines of code written increased by 8% and self-rated employee productivity increased by 1.8 %, suggesting a slight positive impact.”

The results regarding employee satisfaction are particularly interesting, with signs that employees on the hybrid schedule were more likely to recommend the company to friends, and had higher levels of “job satisfaction, life satisfaction and work-life balance” than those who worked full-time in the office. The lower attrition rate means “a more stable workforce that can directly reduce training and hiring costs and indirectly increase productivity,” the study says.

Of the four main conclusions, the second caught my attention. At the bottom of the study, the authors note that hybrid employees “appear to work about 0.8 hours less per week” than those in office. But looking at data on performance, promotions, and increased coding output, the authors conclude that hybrid employees “probably work more efficiently per hour.” That’s consistent, they say, with a 2014 study that found employees working from home “had higher output per minute and took fewer breaks during their workday.”

Based on these results, Trip.com extended WFH hybrid schedules to its entire workforce in February.

While there’s still a lot we don’t know about working from home, the study’s findings might provide just enough reassurance to still-uncertain business leaders.

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You can get the full NBER report at arkansasbusiness.com/nber-wfh.


Throw Turner is the publisher of Arkansas Business.

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