Quick — imagine a person working from home. If you pictured somebody in pajamas watching videos on their laptop, you’re not alone. “Many people think of working from home as shirking from home,” says Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom (TEDxStanford Talk: Go ahead, tell your boss you are working from home).
But Bloom thought there had to be more to telecommuting than binge-watching Netflix. The professor — who co-directs the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the US’s National Bureau of Economic Research — had worked from home at a previous job, and he recognized that it’s becoming more and more common around the world. In the US, the number of employees who telecommute has tripled over the past 30 years, although it’s still only 2.4 percent. “Out of the 150 million Americans who work, that means roughly 3.6 million Americans work from home,” says Bloom. However, in developing countries — where mobile technology and improving digital connectivity have coincided with congestion and skyrocketing rents in cities — between 10 and 20 percent of employees work remotely at least part of the time.
He found few unbiased studies on the subject. “Everything I saw was pro-working from home and put out by people who were for it from the outset. The people against it have stayed quiet,” Bloom says. Plus, it’s not an easy subject to investigate. “It requires close monitoring and enough participants to fill experimental and control groups, and the participants need to be willing to continue with the experiment for an extended period of time,” Bloom explains. Finally, researchers must find a company that is willing to experiment with their workers.