New Study Decodes When Working From Home Is Actually Productive

Researchers found there are a few key things that indicate whether it's a good idea for an employee to work remotely.
Kelvin Murray via Getty Images

Working from home can be pretty great. You can send emails from the comfort of your couch and avoid commuting. Plus, away from the stress of the office, you might actually get more done while also enjoying better work-life balance.

But remote working can also be ... well, not so productive.

So far, scientists have reached somewhat mixed conclusions about the merits of WFH. Some studies have pointed to benefits like increased productivity, better performance on tasks, higher job satisfaction, lower work stress and an enhanced work-life balance. Others have found issues with the practice, including possible conflicts with family demands.

Now, a comprehensive scientific review of the literature finds that how you work from home can predict whether you and your company will reap the benefits.

The report, recently published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, finds that working from home is most effective if implemented in a way that meets the needs of both the individual and the organization.

"There are a variety of factors to consider, such as job responsibilities, individual desires and capabilities, and organizational needs and practices," Dr. Tammy Allen, an organizational psychologist at the University of South Florida and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "It is important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach."

Positive outcomes were most likely if specific conditions were met. Employees and employers reaped the greatest benefits from telecommuting when it was practiced in moderation and workers still had plenty of face time at the office.

"Telecommuting appears to work best when it is practiced to a moderate degree," Allen said. "Face-to-face meetings may be especially important during the early stage of new projects."

It also worked better when employees were given the freedom to decide when they wanted to WFH, and when they had more flexible timelines for submitting their work.

Still, telecommuting isn't without its challenges, as the study's authors note. The report highlighted potential challenges of WFH, including fuzzy boundaries between work and family roles, long hours that may result in overwork, and lack of face-to-face interactions with coworkers.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that employers "ensure that remote workers are carefully selected and ... that opportunities for interactions with coworkers are provided."

The bottom line? All things in moderation, including taking calls with your boss while lounging on the couch in your underwear.

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