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Travel agency study shows working from home more efficient

March 3, 2014 Headline News, Mobile travel consulting 2 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A landmark study of a travel agency, conducted by a prestigious university, has come to a surprise conclusion: working from home is much more productive and efficient than working at the office.

About 10% of workers in the US and Europe – and possibly more in Australia – work from home, yet the travel agency study by a research team from Stanford University in California is the first and most comprehensive comparative study into home working ever conducted.

The results, which showed performance increases averaging 13%, will hearten companies like TravelManagers, the Australian travel firm which has just integrated its 400th personal travel manager into its national network of home-based travel consultants.

Amy Shaw, TravelManager’s personal travel manager number 400, who has just switched to home-based consulting after 13 years in a traditional retail travel environment

Amy Shaw, TravelManager’s personal travel manager number 400, who has just switched to home-based consulting after 13 years in a traditional retail travel environment.

To conduct the test, Stanford University researchers partnered with a Chinese travel agency with about 16,000 employees, which was interested in exploring “telecommuting” – the US term for working online from home rather than physically commuting to the office.

Workers were asked whether they would volunteer to work from home rather than commute. They were then screened to ensure their work record showed they were trustworthy and their home-based workspace was adequate. The chosen 255 were set free to work from home.

“After a few weeks of the experiment,” Smithsonian.com notes, “it was clear that the telecommuters were performing better than their counterparts in the office.

“They took more calls (it was quieter and there were fewer distractions at home) and worked more hours (they lost less time to late arrivals and sick breaks) and more days (fewer sick days). This translated into greater profits for the company because more calls equalled more sales. The telecommuters were also less likely to quit their jobs, which meant less turnover for the company.

“The travel company considered the experiment so successful that they implemented a wider telecommuting policy.”

The results have come as a shock to many, and not just in the travel industry. Some companies scoff at working from home and deride it as “shirking from home”. Stereotypes of workers in pyjamas slouching in front of their home computers and being distracted by videogames are nothing new. But they are plain wrong, it would seem.

Perhaps some bosses prefer their employees to come into the office because it bolsters their sense of power and makes them feel in control – though obviously if you’re a front-line consultant in a walk-in agency environment, you have to be there.

Curiously, Yahoo president and chief executive Marissa Mayer banned working from home last year. In February, eight months after stepping into the top job at Yahoo, Mayer sent a memo to all employees saying they must work in the office or resign. Staff were astounded.

For the travel agency study, the Stanford researchers chose CTrip, a 16,000-employee, NASDAQ-listed agency in China. The experiment lasted for nine months, with employees at the travel agency randomly assigned to work from home or in the office.

“Home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment),” the study found.

“Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover, but their promotion rate conditional on performance fell. Due to the success of the experiment, CTrip rolled-out the option to work from home to the whole firm and allowed the experimental employees to re-select between the home or office. Interestingly, over half of them switched, which led to the gains from home-working almost doubling to 22%.

“This highlights the benefits of learning and selection effects when adopting modern management practices like working from home.”

The authors of the report, Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying, freely admit that much of the research for their paper and its writing were done while working from home.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. AgentGerko says:

    Well, yeas and no. My agency is based at home. We are licensed, IATA accredited and fully independent. One floor of my home is completely travel agency. We have been around for twenty five years and profitable every year. We turnover around three million a year from home. Customers love it because emails get checked every hour or two, seven days a week and many is the time I’ve been able to rescue someone in the wee hours because I just happened to check the emails. And whilst I am fully dressed, no pyjamas, I do tend to walk around wearing my slippers.

  2. Robin Woods says:

    I am proud to say that I have been part of a home-based travel agency network for almost 6 years now and certainly consider it the best move I have ever made. From a work-life balance point of view, it’s a ‘no brainer’ and I love the fact that I can work when I want – as AgentGerko says, I have ‘rescued’ my share of travellers stranded in the middle of the night of a holiday long weekend due to the fact that my office is at home, a service that shopfront agencies would never be able to provide.
    I just wish this model had been available 25 years ago when I was a frustrated stay-at-home Mum looking for a part-time opportunity to keep me sane and provide a little extra income!

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