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Is Telecommuting a Good Idea?

作者: Ray Fisman
   
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Last year, NPR put together a serial on the mobile-office revolution. The second of the three-part series was titled “The End of 9-to-5,” a profile of workplaces that had adopted what’s called a Results-Only Work Environment—or ROWE—which “gives everyone in a company the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done.” Employees worked from their kitchen tables at midnight; they telecommuted from coffee shops; and they could manage their work lives to fit in with the daily routines of school drop-off and cooking dinner.

Is there a workers’ paradise on the horizon for the cubicle dwellers of the world, or is it just another utopian vision that will join the cubicle and other office innovations as the object of ridicule in Dilbert cartoons and derision by those on the receiving end of ROWE’s good intentions? Is the mobile office one of those rare free lunches that boost productivity and let employees lead happier lives?

For at least some of those with soul-destroying morning commutes, liberation may indeed be at hand. A preliminary presentation posted by Stanford University researchers describes the effects of allowing customer service employees at a billion-dollar Chinese company to work from home: Productivity went up, as did hours worked, and employees seemed happier for it.

If it sounds like a no-brainer that everyone is better off when employees are empowered to get things done on their own time, that's because people tend to think only of the benefits of telecommuting rather than the costs. A Google image search of "working from home" certainly gives one pause, with pictures of Homer Simpson lazing about in a muumuu, moms and dads struggling to type while managing babies and toddlers, and cartoons describing the decay of sanity and social skills after too much time alone.  The modern office, for all its shortcomings, remains an effective way of making sure work gets done, and keeping employees engaged with their employer and also each other.

Precisely because of this uncertainty over whether the benefits outweighed the distractions and other downsides of providing the work-at-home option, the chairman of a Chinese online travel agency (and Stanford economics Ph.D. student) sought out collaborators to assess whether it made sense for his thousands of customer service agents.

The company chose to run the experiment at its airfare and ticketing office in Shanghai, where more than a thousand employees spent an average of 80 minutes—and nearly 10 percent of their salaries—commuting to endless rows of identical gray cubicles in two hangar-sized call centers. All employees who had their own room at home and at least six months’ experience with the company were given the option of enrolling in the study, which gave them a 50 percent shot at working from the house for four of their five weekly shifts over an eight-month span starting near the end of 2010. The study enrollees who didn't get to stay at home would serve as a control group to ensure that any changes in the productivity of the telecommuters could be attributed to their new arrangement, rather than other random changes to the company’s environment. Two-hundred-fifty-five employees—a little more than one-half of those who were eligible—chose to participate; those with even-numbered birthdays were given home-office setups courtesy of the company, while those with odd-numbered birthdays stayed on with their daily commutes.



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课本信息
作者: Ray Fisman
发布者: yibei
 
创建时间: 2011-11-09
更新时间: 2011-11-10
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书集: Slate Articles
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