Now that we’ve established that working from home is highly successful when properly deployed and implemented, the question becomes how does an organization go about it? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of U.S. jobholders who worked from home at least one day a week increased to 9.5 percent in 2010 (up from 7 percent in 1997), so clearly this practice is on the rise.
As the practice of WFH has risen, so too has the investigation into whether it makes sense. Allow me to share my $.02.
There's no substitute for face-to-face communication
So much of human communication is non-verbal, more than 90 percent according to some studies. People read gestures, moods, and reactions in myriad ways. Other studies also report that creativity, brainstorming, and imaginative exercises are more productive when participants are in the same room. I love coming into the office and having ad hoc discussions in the break room where you come up with an idea to revise a billboard like the one above. Nothing can replace the impromptu hallway conversations that spark creativity, innovative product enhancements, or responding and capitalizing on breaking news.
Productivity Flies Solo
Despite the fact that I enjoy the face-to-face work and camaraderie, there are moments when I need to buckle down and really focus on a task. Those ad hoc discussions and hallway conversations can get in the way of my productivity. There is a great deal of research that supports the notion that productivity increases when workers can be away from the office, undistracted from the hustle and bustle of the workplace. I'm not a researcher or statistician, but a few things seem patently obvious to me. If you have creative work to be done, go to the office and collaborate with your colleagues to get the ball rolling. Once the plan is formalized, however, there’s no reason for you to be in the office. You’re equipped with the tools and knowledge to move the project forward. After all, most workers don't stay at home every day; they work from home some time and in the office the rest of the time.
Stanford economist Nick Bloom whose study revealed that employees who worked from home were 13% more productive than their in-office counterparts had this to say, “In the office it's very noisy, you can hear the guy next to you on the phone or the person across the desk crying because their boyfriend just split up with them. It's very distracting.” Ok, that doesn’t happen at Blue Jeans, but you get the point.
Let Common Sense Prevail
With all this said, the best WFH policies are those that follow common sense guidelines. At Blue Jeans we don’t have a formal home policy and I think that is probably the best part about being an employee here. There is tremendous freedom in knowing that you have the option and are empowered by technology to keep a pulse on the office, not only when you need to be left alone to simply focus on your to-do list, but also when there’s a reason you can’t physically be in the office.
But the thing is- we want to be here. Because we’re at a creative stage of our history, we thrive on the in-office interactions because that’s the stuff of an agile business. But inevitably, cars break down, the Monday commute is horrendous, and the cable guy is almost always late. Sh*t happens, but we operate, believe and depend on the technology we’ve built and can do face-to-face communication and work from home.
In fact, some of the most successful Silicon Valley companies and startups don’t have a policy at all; Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and most notably our customers, Facebook and Foursquare. Each company trusts their employees to exercise good judgment when it comes to working from home because there’s an understanding that working from home is a privilege and not a right. It’s an opportunity to connect and stay engaged with the team at the office, when you otherwise might not.