The Great RescueTime Work-From-Home Experiment of ’09

telecommuteVirtual teams are increasingly popular.  One of the software companies I most admire has an entirely virtual company of over 40 people spread all over the world cranking out outstanding software.  Yet the concept is terrifying to a lot of managers.   Highlights of the big fears include:

  • Will productivity go down?  There are a lot of distractions at home and presumably the workplace is optimized for workplace productivity better than home, right?
  • Will we lose that intangible synergy that you get working in the same room with other folks?
  • Will I, as a manager, be able to have a sense of whether folks are working?  Of what they are working on?
  • Will we still feel like a team?

The RescueTime product team is a small one (5 people), but we think this is big enough to run an experiment… For this entire week, we’ll all be working from our homes.  Here are the questions we’ll be answering at the end of the week (many of them will have juicy data bits, thanks to RescueTime):

  • Do we end up spending more time in aggregate on our productive tasks?  In theory, having no commute, no walk to lunch, and no drive-by interruptions in the office wil actually result in more minutes spent doing actual product development (or more free time!).
  • Does communication time go up radically?  Without the ability to interrupt our teammates, we’ll have to resort to emailing and IMing.  How much time will this suck up?
  • Is our total work-day longer?  Are we replacing our commute times with computer time or free time?
  • Does our work day become more spread out?  Working from home presumably makes it easier to punt work when you hit a wall.  Does this happen?  If it does, do people make it up at other times during the day?
  • (Subjective) How does the change FEEL?  Do we feel less creative?  Collaborative? Connected?  Does it effect how much we like (or don’t like) our jobs?

Stay tuned– early next week I’ll be posting a graph-heavy post with the results!

7 Comments on “The Great RescueTime Work-From-Home Experiment of ’09”

  1. Justin King says:

    Great idea for a test. However you might be skewing the results due to all the guys knowing that they will be monitored and the results published after the week.

    It’d be interesting to monitor people who just work from home on a regular basis and compare ove time.

    • Tony Wright says:

      That’s a good point. We could certainly be more scientific! We were just discussing the concept of asking our free users a bit of demographic information when they sign up. One of the questions we could ask is how often they work from home!

  2. Dan Butcher says:

    I look forward to hearing the results. I work mostly from home but don’t officially telecommute–I’m university faculty and have the flexibility to work where I like outside of class time and office hours. I prefer home for a lot of reasons, and it’s easy to interact with colleagues and students via email when I need info from others on campus. Still, I wonder sometimes if I would get more done in my office on campus with no dog, laundry, FedEx truck, or any of the other things that tends to distract at home.

    On a side note, where did you get your casual Friday cartoon image?

  3. Great experiment. Just be aware of the Hawthorne Effect wrt productivity.

    Something else you might want to think about with having a team who work at home: workers have a lot more time without a commute. If used well, like exercising more or taking care of issues that would drag on them while at work, everyone can really be much more productive.

    I look forward to seeing the results.

  4. Roy Leban says:

    My experience with experiments like this is that change is good. Productivity may increase for the week, or happiness might, but it may not actually tell you which is better as the default? OTOH, gathering long-term data from your users as to where they’re working — home, office, coffee shop, on the road, etc. might be very interesting.

  5. Timo says:

    I’d be interested to know what the actual name of the company is that does this successfully with 40 people?

    Great clip-art by the way :-))