by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

historical office work setting
Toiling in the office

Once upon a time most people worked from home. They plowed fields, milked cows, fed the hogs, all on their own property. Transportation and technology simply didn’t allow most people to earn a living very far, if at all, from where they lived.

Fast forward almost 200 years, looking through the lens of the Industrial Revolution, and the new “normal” is working away from home. Whether at a plant or at an office, the vast majority of people today face some kind of travel to get to work Monday through Friday.

The idea that work has to be completed at a central location is an antiquated idea, says Stanford University business professor Nicholas Bloom. In his 2017 TED Talk, Bloom said too many businesses are stuck in this old way of thinking, to their detriment and that of their employees.

Bloom cites common sense applications of technology as a primary reason to consider shifting to remote work. Having your workforce spending valuable time traveling to and from a work location just doesn’t make a lot of sense and wastes everyone’s valuable time. Just eliminating the morning and evening commute alone is reason to think productivity and job satisfaction levels would rise.

Bloom backs up this theory with a real-life case study from Ctrip, a multi-million dollar company based in Shanghai. Faced with the dilemma of finding affordable headquarters in a crowded and expensive Shanghai real estate market, the leaders at Ctrip decided to experiment. They assigned half of an employee group as a “work from home” group. They did everything remotely, save for one day where they came into the office. The other half of the group worked traditionally from an office location. Ctrip management then tracked the two groups for two years to see how they would perform.

What Ctrip found confirms Bloom’s suspicions. The work from home group produced at a 13% higher rate than the office-based group. They attributed the reasons for that performance gap to actually working a full day. While the office-based group was stuck in traffic, staying home for a repairman or sick child, or taking a late lunch, the home-based group was getting work done.

 “The office is actually an amazingly noisy environment, ” says Bloom. “There’s a cake in the break room; Bob’s leaving, come join! Whatever it is, the office is super-distracting.”

Ctrip also found the work from home group was only half as likely to quit their jobs as the office-based group. That only makes sense, Bloom says. When you’re engaged in satisfying work, have less job-related stress, and have more time to deal with personal and family issues without work suffering, that’s a job anyone would want to keep.

So, companies need to really consider how they’re going to deploy their workers going forward. They can stay with the Industrial Age model of a co-located workforce, or they can opt for change. A system that offers happier employees getting more work done while the company makes more money sounds like something that organizations at least ought to consider. If Henry Ford himself were still around, he would probably embrace the idea.

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  1. This is a great post and makes a good point. I have been working remotely (very effectively) for over 12 years and cannot imaging going back. I am always shocked when I have to spend a few days in the home office. Hopefully more great companies will find out what Ctrip took the time to understand.

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