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There is an extensive body of case studies on individual firms that have adopted WFH programs, and they tend to show large positive impacts. See the studies here and here.
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But the robustness of these results is hard to evaluate because of the non-randomised nature of the programs, both in terms of the selection of firms and the selection of employees who worked from home. This self-selection effect is evident even in the case of Ctrip: when the firm allowed a general roll-out of home-working, high-performing employees typically chose to move home while low-performing employees chose to return to the office.
We suspect that the most driven employees were more willing to work from home, knowing they could stay focused away from the office, while the more distracted tended to worry about the consequences of sitting all day next to the fridge and the television — the biggest enemies of working from home. What does our experiment tell us about what other companies can expect if they allow employees to work from home? While many firms that depend on innovation discourage WFH because they want interaction among employees, many occupations have these same characteristics as at Ctrip.
Examples include coding, technical support, telesales, and basic accounting. So our advice is that firms — at the very least — ought to be open to employees working from home occasionally, to allow them to focus on individual projects and tasks.
Not all industries embrace remote work
More firms ought to try it. And our advice to Yahoo is to give working from home a second chance — it is critical for retaining and motivating your key employees, and is an essential part of the 21 st century office.
John Roberts is the John H. He is known both for his pioneering applications of game theory to strategic competition and for his extensive work on the economics of organizations. Nicholas Bloom John Roberts. Partner Center.