The ability to hang out all day in flip-flops, set your own office hours, and take calls from your comfy couch make working from home sound enticing. That might be why more than 24 million Americans work from home at least some of the time.
But as more professionals seek the arrangement and more employers agree to it — there has been a 103 percent increase since 2005 in employees who work from more than half the time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com — people have discovered an unexpected upside: They are way more productive at home.
Ask Melissa Llau what she likes about working from home, and she will tell you without hesitation: “I’m much more efficient.” Indeed, Llau, a case manager at United HomeCare in Miami, has been able to take on more patient cases since she relocated to a home office.
Five years ago, United HomeCare sent 60 case managers, including Llau, to work from home, a move that allowed those workers to handle bigger caseloads by eliminating commutes to the office. “We were able to reduce space and make them more efficient and the employees have more flexibility and are more productive,” says Jacqueline Torre, human resources manager at United HomeCare in Miami.
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Equipped with mobile devices, Llau says she can easily visit elderly patients’ homes for evaluations and then return to her home, get comfortable, and access the same records she previously had viewed at the office. If she wants to work while snacking at her kitchen table, she does it. “I have good organizational skills and know how to separate work from personal,” Llau says. “If you’re a person who can stay focused, [working from home] can be the dream job most people think it is.”
Just how efficient at home workers can be surprised one company that tried out the concept. Last year, Chinese travel website Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people in its call center worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit when employees left the discipline of the office environment, according to a study detailed earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review. Instead, it found that its employees working from home completed 13.5 percent more calls than staff in the office — which meant that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. In addition, the work from home employees also quit at half the rate of people in the office and reported much higher job satisfaction, the study shows.
With new technology, the types of work from home careers have expanded including higher paying work in fields such as accounting, law, healthcare, education and engineering, a trend that Brie Reynolds of FlexJobs.com expects to continue. Some of the highest-paying work-from-home jobs in 2015 include clinical regulatory affairs professionals, business development directors and senior software engineers who earn as much as $150,000 in annual income, according to FlexJobs.com.
Leah Storie has had success from home as a trial lawyer, a career that might not seem conducive to being conducted from a home office. Storie, of counsel with the law firm of Kim Vaughan Lerner in Fort Lauderdale, says she benefits from control over how, where, and when she works. She has eliminated a one-hour per way commute to the office and works efficiently in time blocks by writing briefs while her children are at preschool or tucked in bed at night. When necessary, she goes to court to litigate her cases. She, too, feels more productive at home with a flexible schedule: “I have imposed deadlines and I’m disciplined.”
In a recent FlexJobs survey with more than 2,600 respondents, half reported that their home — and not the office — is their location of choice to be most productive on important work-related projects. They cited fewer interruptions from colleagues, fewer distractions, minimal office politics, reduced stress from commuting and a more comfortable office environment.
Of course, working from home, as an employee, freelancer or business owner has its challenges, too. Not everybody wants, or is disciplined enough, to avoid distractions. And it can get lonely at home. Sometimes, it takes multiple jobs from different sources to earn a living.
The arrangement has taken Andrew Lopez, who recently moved from South Florida to Buenos Aires, some adjustment. Lopez, a supply-chain consultant, organizes his work-from-home schedule around picking up his son from after-school care at 5 p.m. and taking him to the park. Self-employed, Lopez says that when he can’t find consulting work, he goes online and teaches English to foreigners who pay him by the class; some weeks are more lucrative than others: “The hardest part is, no one watches you. You can walk around in your pajamas and slippers and slack off, but if you do that, your paycheck suffers.” The upside, he says, is that he can make money without the stress: “I haven’t raised my voice since the last traffic jam I was in when I was commuting to an office.”
Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman writes on work life topics. Connect with her @balancegal, firstname.lastname@example.org or worklifebalancingact.com.
Telework: some facts
▪ 50 percent of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks at some frequency
▪ 80-90 percent of the U.S. workforce says it would like to telework at least part time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrated work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
▪ Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show employees are not at their desk 50-60 percent of the time.
▪ Time savings has outranked cost savings as a factor in seeking flexible work from home arrangements for the past three years.
▪ About 22 percent of the self-employed population works primarily from home.
Source: 2015 Global Workplace Analytics Telecommuting Statistics (GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com)