A study of some 800 workers in the UK, conducted by HP with the help of The Mind Lab, compared working environments to see what impact it made upon productivity and health. The experiment was headed up by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis, and involved the creation of a 'battery office' which simulated an environment where employees had to work using older IT equipment including slow PCs and bulky CRT monitors in small, cluttered spaces, and a 'free-range office' which gave workers the space and technology to have far greater freedoms about how and when they worked.

"On every measure from memory to IQ to the speed with which new information was processed, the battery office produced a marked decrease in intellectual performance combined with a sharp increase in stress levels," comments The Mind Lab research director neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. "The study clearly shows that restrictive working conditions are not just bad for employees, they are also very bad for business."

The tests proved that volunteer workers could suffer from increased stress, diminished IQ and the reduced ability to retain and process information if they spent long periods of time at their desks. The same workers were then given HP mobility technology to work in a more 'free-range' style and experienced a significant improvement in their well being as well as seeing their productivity rise by up by 400 percent.

  • Stress levels fell by more than 50 percent when the volunteer workers were given the appropriate HP mobile technology greater freedom and flexibility to make choices about how and where they work.
  • IQ scores increased by an average of 28 percent when the participants worked in the free-range office.
  • Blood pressure increased significantly when participants worked with cumbersome IT in a cramped, cluttered environment.
  • Short term memory was also affected, with volunteers retaining 33 percent more information in the free-range office whilst the speed and efficiency with which new information was processed also improved dramatically

The supporting study of 800 UK workers found that 46 percent of employees would be happier if they could work from home when they really needed to and four out of ten workers would be happier if they could dictate their own working hours. A similar number of workers (46 percent) said that having greater flexibility would make them more productive, whereas 45 percent said that they would feel more motivated. Almost a third of workers (29 percent) cite stress as one of the main factors preventing happiness within their office. Other key findings from the study reveal that almost half of respondents (45 percent) would be happier if they could avoid having to fill out forms or do unnecessary paper work, whereas a third of workers would like to avoid the stressful daily commute.

I think that over a short period of time this could be quite and effective way of running. The problem is over long periods of time the motivation to do the work would start to decrease as people became more settled into that sort of structure.

I would love to see how the stats change over a longer period of time.

I think it's a good idea long term, resulting in even more job satisfaction, which should (and I think it would) keep productivity at high levels. In order to keep performance up, all a company would really need to do would be to make this a privilege and tie it to some kind of performance metric. I'd bet the average person would work hard to maintain this privilege if the alternative is to hightail it back to the office to work or be tied again to an undesirable schedule, or (God please forbid) having to fight 2 hours of stupid traffic for a 50-mile trip to work...and back.

I've been promoting this kind of thing at companies I have worked for for 15 years, no kidding, and It's generated a lot of laughter and comments like, "Oh! That's so hilarious! You've a great sense of humor. Now get on back to work." Such statements are usually followed by a pat on the back and more laughter.

It's kind of nice to see a whole company, and a major one at that, sponsor a study and get these kind of results.