Edition 26 April 2018, by Phoebe Potter
Throughout the course of last year, over 3 million Dutch workers ended up working from home at some point – a figure that makes up almost 37% of the workforce. In 2013 that figure was resting at 34%, but the steady rise continues to clim, particularly amongst women. Whether workers are choosing to work from home full-time or increasing their flexibility between the office and home, homeworking is rapidly gaining popularity.
But the interest in homeworking from both employers and employees may come as a surprise. The idea of working from home has not always been considered particularly beneficial for companies. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! famously banned homeworking entirely from the company in 2013, suggesting that employees were abusing the privilege and not working well enough in teams. The decision proved controversial, however, and Mayer was forced to defend it on a number of occasions, exasperatedly quoted saying she hopes it ‘does not become her legacy.’ Mayer’s position, does not seem to have had much of an impact across the Atlantic where Dutch studies are lauding the benefits of the practice. In the early days, certain studies suggested that improvements for companies came from the fact that staff were so keen to prove the merit in home working that they made the extra effort to work harder and longer. But these advantages have persisted along with the acceptance of homeworking, with homeworkers no longer having such a need to convince employers to come round to the practice.
Joost Ardts, author of the book What is that really? Facts and Fables in Management, has been one of the strongest supporters of working from home. He says that research shows that homeworking has great benefits for both employee and employer. Homeworkers tend to take less breaks, and (if they don’t choose to spend the extra time in bed), they often use their would-be commuting time to extend their work day. Not only benefiting the environment as fewer people undertake long commutes, Ardt claims that workers complete an average of 1.5 hours more work each week when they work from home.
This research is backed up by a large scale experiment conducted by the Chinese travel call-centre company Ctrip. Working with the researcher Nicholas Bloom, James Liang gave his staff at Ctrip the opportunity to work from home for nine months – resulting in happier employees who were both less likely to quit (reducing staff turnover) and more productive. Driven to the experiment by rising rent costs in their office space, Ctrip assumed that any loss of productivity by their workers would be outweighed by the monetary savings they would be making in space and furniture in the office. Instead, they found that their employees completed 13.5% more calls than the staff remaining in the office, taking fewer sick days and working longer hours – saving $1,900 per employee for the nine months.
With cities like Amsterdam dealing with rocketing rent costs and a severe shortage of space, homeworking could become increasingly appealing to companies based in the city. According to the Social and Cultural Planning Office, one in five employees are already working at least one day at home in the Netherlands, a trend seemingly set to increase. And the advantages seem to be shadowing those in other countries. The HR organization Securex estimates that 92% of people working from home do as much or even more work than in the office, with 36% definitely increasing their workload and productively on a single day, and only 3% performing less well than in their traditional workplace. Of course, working from home is largely dependent on occupation and those on the shop floor are not set to leave it anytime soon. But for certain professions, homeworking has proved extremely popular. Amongst women, those working in creative or linguistic professions were by far the most likely to opt to work at home – 71% of this group in fact. For men, the largest proportion of homeworkers was amongst those working in ICT. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was selfemployed people across the spectrum who were most likely to stay at home to execute their work.
There should be some caution heeded, however. Tanja van der Lippe, a professor of sociology at Utrecht University has been studying what effect on the balance between work and private life working from home might have. Professor van der Lippe suggests that homeworking can go one of two ways. For some it has huge benefits as employees can take more control and flexibility over their work and private life as they can decide when to perform their tasks. For others, she suggests, working from home can prove difficult, increasing conflicts between work and private life as employees are unable to entirely control the environment at home as it is done in an office. Though an increase flexibility may help out those with young children, the distraction they can cause to those working from home may be extremely detrimental to productivity if the worker is not able to escape to an office to complete their work. In terms of family life, research by TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research) has suggested that working from home may actually not only impact negatively on work but also private life. Their research showed that those who worked from home were actually more likely to neglect family activities – suggesting a clear separation between work and private life can help people to value both more.
But, advantages or disadvantages, especially with the advances in technology making offices increasingly less necessary, the increase in homeworking is on the rise. And, avoiding a Mayer-like ban on the practice employers and employees alike will have to do what they can to adjust to the new trend.