Want to work from home more of­ten? This data could per­suade your boss.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

Em­ploy­ees who’ve tried to ne­go­ti­ate a re­mote work ar­range­ment of­ten ask to spend one day work­ing from home. But new data from a big work­place study sug­gests they might be bet­ter off ask­ing for three or four.

As part of its mas­sive “State of the Amer­i­can Work­place” re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day, Gallup asked more than 7,000 U.S. work­ers dur­ing 2016 about how many days a week they worked from home, as well as ques­tions about how “en­gaged” they are at work — how much they feel en­thu­si­as­tic and com­mit­ted to their jobs.

The sur­vey found that those hap­pi­est with their jobs weren’t peo­ple who spent the ma­jor­ity of the week in the of­fice col­lab­o­rat­ing with their col­leagues and one day a week skip­ping the com­mute. Nor were they the peo­ple who spent the en­tire week work­ing from home.

In­stead, the re­port showed that the most en­gaged work­ers were those who spent 60 to 80 per­cent of their week, or three to four days, work­ing from home, and a mi­nor­ity of their time in the of­fice. Those who spent more or less time work­ing re­motely were less en­thu­si­as­tic about their work, with the low­est num­bers oc­cur­ring among those who spent all of their time ei­ther in the of­fice or at home.

In other words, af­ter un­told dol­lars spent by com­pa­nies to get work­ers more com­mit­ted to their jobs, and study af­ter study suggest­ing a link be­tween em­ployee en­gage­ment and the bot­tom line, work­ing from home three to four days a week doesn’t just make things bet­ter for em­ploy­ees. It could also make things bet­ter for their boss.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, peo­ple feel most plugged in to their jobs when they have some bal­ance — a lit­tle bit of face time and ca­ma­raderie at work, and plenty of time to hun­ker down and get work done from home while avoid­ing the headaches of go­ing in to the of­fice. What may be­wil­der many man­agers, how­ever — par­tic­u­larly those at com­pa­nies like Ya­hoo or Bank of Amer­ica that scaled back on telecom­mut­ing pro­grams in re­cent years — is the ex­tent to which that bal­ance is tipped to­ward work­ing re­motely.

Just four years ago, af­ter all, Gallup found that the “op­ti­mal en­gage­ment boost” hap­pened for those who worked re­motely less than 20 per­cent of time, one-third of where that op­ti­mum is now. The 2012 data showed that those who spent more than half their time away from the of­fice were only about as en­gaged as those who never worked re­motely. Some­thing has changed dra­mat­i­cally. Im­prove­ments in technology — bet­ter mo­bile phones, faster home In­ter­net ser­vice, bet­ter video­con­fer­enc­ing — could play into it. Greater num­bers of peo­ple work­ing from home — and there­fore, more ac­cep­tance that could lead em­ploy­ees to feel more com­fort­able — could also help ex­plain the boost.

Jim Harter, chief sci­en­tist for work­place man­age­ment at Gallup, says the pri­mary ex­pla­na­tion may be that com­pa­nies are do­ing more to help re­mote work­ers get it right: hand­ing out technology kits to get peo­ple up and run­ning at home, train­ing man­agers to be clear about job de­scrip­tions, build­ing in sys­tems that im­prove col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween those out­side the of­fice.

“I think or­ga­ni­za­tions are more in­ten­tional about put­ting re­sources around it,” he said.

Harter wasn’t sur­prised to see a strong link be­tween em­ployee en­thu­si­asm and work­ing from home. The best pre­dic­tor for em­ployee en­gage­ment, he says, is when work­ers say they have a “sig­nif­i­cant amount of time where they get ab­sorbed in their work and time passes quickly,” he said. “When you work re­motely, you cer­tainly have more of a chance to get ab­sorbed in your work.”

Of course, Gallup’s re­port re­minds us there are plenty of other fac­tors for work sat­is­fac­tion. In a work world plagued with open of­fice plans, em­ploy­ees who can shut a door on their workspace are 1.3 times more likely to be en­gaged than other work­ers, Gallup re­ports, while those who say they have pri­vacy when they need it are 1.7 times more likely to be en­gaged.

Some would even leave their jobs to get those things: About 40 per­cent of work­ers would change jobs for a per­sonal of­fice, Gallup found, while one-third said they would leave even for a ther­mo­stat set at a com­fort­able tem­per­a­ture.

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