If you’ve been hoping for permission to telecommute more, a new study could help you convince your boss. The University of Illinois found that telecommuters make more of an effort to help out their coworkers (so-called “corporate citizenship”), and in some cases they can also be more productive.
The study seems to have been inspired by Marissa Mayer’s abrupt scorched earth telecommuting policy in 2013, when she effectively mandated that every Yahoo employee work in the office every day.
“After Yahoo changed its telecommuting policy, this question of, ‘Is telecommuting good for performance?’ came to the fore,” said Professor, Ravi Gajendran, lead author of the study. “At the time, there was a lot of debate about it, but there was very little evidence available. Well, now we have some evidence that says telecommuters are good performers as well as good coworkers on the job.”
Published in the recent edition of the Journal of Personnel Psychology, the study looked at 323 employees and 143 supervisors across a variety of organizations. The research team found that so-called “corporate citizenship,” where employees make extra effort to improve life at the office, improves with telecommuting. “Apart from doing your job well, citizenship behavior is, ‘Are you helpful to others? Are you a dedicated member of the organization? Are you committed?'” said Gajendran.
The team also found that telecommuting had little or no impact on employee productivity. Although, interestingly, it did find one use case where telecommuting actually improved performance: instances where there was conflict between boss and employee.
“When the employee-employer relationship is strained, and then the boss says, ‘OK, I’m going to allow you to work from home,’ it improves the employee’s performance, possibly because they feel more beholden toward their boss,” explained Gajendran.
To be sure, it’s not all roses and sunshine for telecommuting. One MIT/IBM study found that telecommuting software engineers were less likely to use their colleagues’ code, resulting in significant delays.
Perhaps some type of hybrid solution would be most effective, where employees get to work at home a few days a week but still get some face-to-face time with coworkers. The average American spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic commuting, so cutting that in half, without hurting productivity, would be a win for everyone.