With several great philosophical questions that have gone on for decades without indication of a clear winner (nature vs. nurture, the body’s flight or fight, the chicken or egg conundrum, etc.), you would think that a work-related question with hard data attached to it would be easier to solve, but as we start 2019, the jury is still out on working from home and whether it’s the best fit for businesses and employees, and how productivity fares within it.

Here’s some of the hard data on the topic:

With these seemingly positive insights on telecommuting, why is there still a debate on the topic? It turns out that even though some of the numbers are surprisingly making a stronger case for the move to telecommute, the variables for each business policy or individual practice make it impossible to generalize:

  1. Even though productivity is said to increase for telecommuters, it seems that engagement plummets for those who work from home more than 50% of the time: Marissa Meyer was famously and thoroughly questioned back in 2013 when she decided to ban telecommuting at Yahoo! in order to create a more collaborative environment. A year after the policy change, a Gallup poll noted that even though Yahoo! employees did have a boost in productivity when allowed to work from home, they tend to be less engaged; furthermore, those who work offsite full time were twice as likely to feel disconnected from their company.
  2. Though at first employees will jump at the chance to work remotely when the opportunity is presented, after a period of time, they may not seem so keen on the idea: a two-year Stanford study of a China-based travel company saw that of the group of employees that were moved to telecommuting 100% of the time during the study, over 50% changed their mind on the move due to feeling isolated.
  3. Even though work-life balance is one of the primary reasons to telecommute, it seems both the work and the life suffer anyway: when an employee’s commute is eliminated, they tend to start working earlier and take shorter breaks, getting more accomplished – hence, the productivity boost. The problem is that many people report a level of difficulty creating hard stops for themselves, and thus, going into overwork mode. On the other hand, for those that telecommute and don’t live alone, about 60% list family members as a huge distraction and detraction from getting work done. Either way, this point makes the case that too much of a good thing can actually be bad if not done correctly.

With some of the data being counterintuitive and even contradicting, it’s understandable why telecommuting is still a topic of heated debate with no clear black and white unanimous response across the board. Instead of taking on the challenge of answering this question on behalf of the world, we’ll be running a series of blog posts where we explore how to determine whether a partial or full telecommuting opportunity is for you, a fuller list of pros and cons of working from home from people we have interviewed recently, and tips to help you succeed at working from home while retaining your sanity.

Do you currently work from home or wish you did? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!