Companies wanting to boost the performance of one of their employees or make that person a better co-worker should consider letting him or her work from home, new research suggests.
Telecommuting yields positive effects in both an employee's performance and his or her ability to help create an encouraging, cooperative and friendly work environment, according to a new study set to appear in an upcoming issue of Personnel Psychology.
When Yahoo changed its telecommuting policy and banned the option in 2013, it led to a debate over whether allowing employees to work from outside the office was good for performance, said Ravi Gajendran, one of the study's authors and a business professor at the University of Illinois.
"At the time, there was a lot of debate about it, but there was very little evidence available," Gajendran said in a statement. "Well, now we have some evidence that says telecommuters are good performers as well as good co-workers on the job."
For the study, researchers developed a theoretical framework linking telecommuting to employee performance. They analyzed field data from 323 employees and 143 matched supervisors across a variety of organizations. [Planning to Let Employees Work From Home? 5 Things to Consider First ]
While telecommuting had only minimal effects on performance, any increase is significant, Gajendran said.
"Even a small positive effect is a big deal, because a lot of employers assume the worst with working remotely," Gajendran said. "Even if there were no effect at all — if the study found that telecommuting essentially did no harm, that it's no different than being in the office — that in and of itself would be a finding."
Telecommuters also make more positive contributions to a workplace's environment, because they want to be seen as "good citizens" of the business in order to justify their flexible work arrangement, the study found.
Remote employees feel obligated to go above and beyond to make their work existence more visible and to make themselves known as assets, Gajendran said.
"In fact, they almost overcompensate by being extra helpful, because they know in the back of their minds that their special arrangement could easily go away," Gajendran said. "So they give a little extra back to the organization."
Those employees also want to prove to their peers that do trudge into the office everyday that they aren't slacking off when working from home, the study's authors said.
"If you're working remotely, you don't want your co-workers to resent that arrangement," Gajendran said. "You want them to continue to think you're helpful."
The study also revealed that giving an employee who doesn't get along well with his or her boss the flexibility to work from outside the office can improve that relationship. In cases of strained employee-employer relationships, telecommuting improves the worker's performance, possibly because the individual feels more indebted toward the boss, Gajendran said.
"For someone who doesn't have the greatest relationship with their supervisor, getting this special work arrangement is significant," Gajendran said. "The employee is motivated to give back and work harder to ensure that arrangement doesn't get taken away."
The key to getting these positive results from telecommuting is not giving the option to all employees, Gajendran said. When everyone gets the benefit, it is seen as less special and employee enthusiasm about it wanes, he said.
"If it's a perk that's only given to a select group of people, then they think, 'Hey, this is a big deal,'" Gajendran said. "The freedom and autonomy that comes with it becomes valued, and that's more motivating, which drives up performance and thereby makes the employee a better organizational citizen."
The study was co-authored by University of Texas at Austin professor David Harrison and University of Wisconsin at Whitewater assistant professor Kelly Delaney-Klinger.
Originally published on Business News Daily