Q&A: Homeworking may not boost ‘productivity’ after all

Q&A: Homeworking may not boost ‘productivity’ after all

Over the last few years a lot of vendors have brought out studies which tout the benefits of flexible working. However, while flexibility can clearly have a marked impact on employees’ well-being, it may not have the impact on ‘productivity’ that many employers hope for.

In fact, a study by Dr Esther Canonico at the London School of Economics Department of Management, contradicts many other findings on the subject. Her works suggests that once homeworking becomes an expected full-time arrangement, the benefits may disappear for both organizations and employees alike.

A full PDF of the research can be found here  and a lightly edited Q&A with Dr Esther Canonico about the research can be found below. 

 

What makes this study different from others that produce divergent results?

Although causality can’t be established because this study is cross-sectional, this study focuses on the long-term consequences of homeworking in an organization where homeworking is business as usual. Past research has mainly focused on the effects of homeworking when first implemented or after a short period of implementation (e.g., months) in organizations where the use of homeworking is not common.

 

What do you think is the most important thing this study illuminated?

The potential benefits of homeworking based on social exchange theory (which explains the need that employees may feel they need to reciprocate the organization for a benefit received) may disappear over time driven by perhaps an excessive sense of entitlement, by the idea that homeworking is not a discretionary benefit but a right.

 

Did anything surprise you about the findings?

The fact that managers and employees could have a diametrically opposed view about their relationship regarding homeworking. On one hand, some homeworkers felt that the organization underinvested in them (i.e., felt that organization benefited more from homeworking than their employees). On the other hand, some managers felt the organization overinvested in their homeworking employees (i.e., organizations’ investment in homeworkers was larger than homeworkers’ contribution to the organization).”

 

Was anything which turned out bang on what you expected but proved at odds with other studies?

Yes, please see answer to question number two [the benefits of homeworking based on social exchange theory].

 

Are home workers just as career focused as people who work in an office?

In this study, people who work mainly from home report lower career ambition than people who work more flexibly (working two or three days at the office). The issue is that we can’t establish causality about the effects of homeworking. Perhaps those with lower career ambition choose to work mostly from home.

 

What do you think ubiquitous future home working will ultimately mean for work and business?

Future home working, if widespread or commonplace, hopefully will mean more diversity in the workplace and higher rate of people’s participation in the labour force.

 

Would you say homeworking improves work life balance, hinders it, or has no effect? Why?

If effectively implemented, having the flexibility of working from home has multiple benefits, which include an improvement in work-life balance. This is explained by the effect of flexibility at work on work-life conflict (work and life domains are in conflict) and work-life enrichment (work and life domains benefit each other). Homeworking can help to reduce work-life conflict (the negative side of work-life balance) by making it possible for employees to better manage their work and life demands. It can also help to increase work-life enrichment, the positive side of work-life balance. By having flexibility at work, employees feel they have a resource that positively impacts their private domain and enhances their overall perception of work-life enrichment.

 

Office politics have often been a big part of career advancement – in a world where homeworking is more common place, will this simply move to the virtual environment?

The virtual environment has already started playing a significant role in career advancement. However, in my view, face-to-face interaction will always be important. This study supports the idea that some presence in the workplace (or meeting colleagues face to face) on a regular basis is necessary.

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