Why do some people work from home and others prefer (or have no choice but) to work in the office? The business press will tell you it boils down to personal preference (yours or your managerís.) But new studies show that there are a number of other factors involved.
A recent EconPol Europea study, Working From Home Around the Globe, raises some issues we don't often think about that factor into the decision.
The study found that English-speaking countries have the highest working from home (WFH) levels around the globe (on average 1.4 days per week). WFH levels average 0.9 days per week in Latin American countries and South Africa, 0.8 days per week in European countries, and 0.7 days per week in Asian countries. it also found that employees want to WFH about one day a week more than their employers plan for them.
Certainly, there are the reasons most assume are at the top of the list. For workers, the decision is based on things like commute time or desire for work-life balance. Employers worry about things like managing productivity or brainstorming and problem solving.
But there are other factors involved, some not listed in the study:
Age and experience
Ignore the stereotypes about unmotivated and overly tech-savvy Millennials. Studies show the people who want to be in the office most are actually new and younger employees. If you dig deeper, youíll find the reasons. Many of them want to experience the company culture. And they also find it easier to learn their jobs when they have access to their managers and co-workers. They also tend to have smaller, non-work social networks. Many of them have just left school and are living in new areas where they donít know many people. In fact, 62% of workers who are full-time in the office say the number one benefit is socializing with their co-workers. Not surprisingly, people who know their jobs well and socialize frequently away from work are the most likely to want to work from home.
Some people with young children appreciate the flexibility working from home can provide. But many admit it can be hard to actually focus on getting work done with kids in the house. The office becomes far more desirable when the kids are little, if you can swing it.
An overlooked factor in the discussion about working from home is what ďhomeĒ looks like. Many people in developed countries live far from the workplace and commute. No surprise then that the number one benefit of working remotely is the lack of a commute. But itís not just where home is, but what it looks like. In many countries and cities, houses and apartments are small and donít provide discrete or dedicated work areas. Work gets done in bedrooms or on kitchen tables with other people around. Unlike North American suburbanites, home is often less conducive to work and focus than a traditional workplace.
When we talk about the work infrastructure, think about places like South Africa. There you have an educated workforce, but access to business-quality internet is limited. So if you live there, working from home is difficult. And it isnít just foreign countries this impacts. We have clients who use Microsoft Teams whose internal networks and firewalls create such delays that webcams freeze and meetings often crash. So working from home only works if you can be productive.
Some countries (Germany, for example) actively promote work from home for better family balance and healthier lifestyle. The US Government has swung wildly from promoting telework to insisting people be in the office. Some of this is a natural reaction to Covid restrictions easing. Some is due to Congressí attitude toward workers and their productivity when left unsupervised. There are other forms of politics such as Union contracts and Collective Bargaining Agreements that complicate work arrangements.
The workplace is always evolving, and the current pace of change feels staggering. We need patience with each other and comfort with ambiguity and the unknown. Thereís more to where and how people work than we often appreciate.