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Businesses Still Slow to Let Workers Telecommute

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Despite high costs for maintaining acres of office cubicles and the attendant facilities expenses, many U.S. companies are still skeptical that employees can be as productive working from home as from a regulated office environment, according to a new study.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) commissioned the online survey (available hereas PDF), which found a sizeable disparity between workers’ and managers’ viewpoints.

“Sixty percent of respondents to the Microsoft Telework survey — conducted among 3,600 employees in 36 cities nationwide — say they are actually more productive and efficient when working remotely,” said a statement accompanying the survey results.

However, 59 percent of employees in the survey said their employer has no formal policy enabling them to work from home or other remote locations.

Further, only 46 percent of employees said their employer is supportive of working from home or another remote location, the survey noted. Meanwhile, many employees long to work somewhere besides the office.

The study’s results are in line with unrelated previous studies. For instance, a telework study released in June 2008found that 37 percent of workers would accept up to a 10 percent wage cut to be able to work from home.

In the Microsoft survey, 72 percent of the respondents said they would prefer to regularly work from home, with 36 percent saying “somewhat” and 36 percent “very much.”

However, freedom from the watchful eyes of managers who feel they need to see employees working, or the ability to run errands and attend to family business, are not necessarily what drives workers’ preferences, according to the Microsoft study.

Although 60 percent cited home and work “balance” as the top benefit of working remotely, 55 percent said it saves gas, while 47 percent said it let them avoid traffic. Avoiding traffic — that is, shortened or eliminated commutes — means the time saved can be used to increase productivity, according to 45 percent of those surveyed.

“With less time spent commuting and fewer cubicle ‘drive bys’ causing distractions, respondents say, more time can be spent on the task in front of them,” the Microsoft statement added.

The survey appears to bear that out, with 44 percent saying there are fewer distractions, 43 percent saying the home atmosphere is quieter, and 38 percent citing lower stress levels than in an office setting.

All told, 71 percent said they are more productive working remotely than in the office.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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