Work-From-Anywhere: The Productivity Effects of Geographic Flexibility
44 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2019 Last revised: 13 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 7, 2019
An emerging form of remote work allows employees to work-from-anywhere, so that the worker can choose to live in a preferred geographic location. While traditional work-from-home (WFH) programs offer the worker temporal flexibility, work-from-anywhere (WFA) programs offer both temporal and geographic flexibility. WFA should be viewed as a nonpecuniary benefit likely to be preferred by workers who would derive greater utility by moving from their current geographic location to their preferred location. We study the effects of WFA on productivity at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and exploit a natural experiment in which the implementation of WFA was driven by negotiations between managers and the patent examiners’ union, leading to exogeneity in the timing of individual examiners’ transition from a work-from-home to a work-from-anywhere program. This transition resulted in a 4.4 percent increase in output without affecting the incidence of rework. We also report results related to a plausible mechanism: an increase in observable effort as the worker transitions from a WFH to a WFA program. We employ illustrative field interviews, micro-data on locations, and machine learning analysis to shed further light on geographic flexibility, and summarize worker, firm, and economy wide implications of provisioning WFA.
Keywords: Working Conditions, Geographic Location, Performance Productivity, Learning, Cost vs Benefits
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