As someone who has worked out of a home office for more than six years, I am enthusiastic about the idea. I think that I am more productive now than in the past when I worked in a standard office setting but my circumstances may be unusual. The reason that I am more productive is that there are fewer distractions. However, a lot of this depends on how you define distraction. I came across a recent article suggesting that one type of worker, at least, may be more productive working from home than an office (see: Working From Home Makes You More Productive). Here's an excerpt from it:
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to work from home: it saves gasoline..., eliminates commuting time, and on the company side, it means that less office space is needed to accommodate employees. Now there’s another reason, backed by a study....The latest telecommuting talking point comes from a study that randomized 250 call center employees at a Chinese company, designating some as telecommuters for four days a week and asking others to come into the office every workday for a nine-month period. The reasoning: the company, CTrip ...was considering a company-wide work from home policy to decrease high attrition rates and cut down on office costs. In the end, the researchers behind the study found that telecommuters ramped up their performance by 13%--9.5% attributable to taking fewer sick days and breaks and working more minutes per shift, and 3.5% because they took more calls each minute because of access to a quiet environment. Job attrition rates among the telecommuters dropped by half, and they reported more work satisfaction, too. CTrip also saved approximately $2,000 per employee. Telecommuters ramped up their performance by 13%. As a result of the experiment, CTrip decided to roll out a company-wide work from home program. ....Call center work is, of course, fairly straightforward and easy to track--so while the study found no impact on the ability of the telecommuters to get promoted, the same may not hold true in other professions where goals are more nebulous.
It's easy to imagine that call-center employees in particular might be more productive working at home than in a cramped set of cubicles. The conclusion of the article, not much of a stretch of reasoning, is that telecommuting is a suitable approach if employees desire it and their productivity is easily tracked. I have heard reports about a number of high-tech companies where telecommuting is the norm. For higher level management and sales personnel, it's also important for them to have some face-time with their colleagues. However, the quality and features of video calls are such these days that they can provide a very adequate substitute for many business interactions.
I came across information from the University of California, San Francisco, where employees can submit a proposal to their boss to "work one or more days each work week from home instead of commuting to a work place” (see: Guidelines and Procedures for Telecommuting). Here's an interesting twist from UCSF: Any establishment of a telecommuting agreement outside the state of California may carry tax implications and must be discussed with both the Controller’s Office and Labor and Employee Relations. The state wants to ensure that its state income taxes are payed and doesn't want anyone avoiding them through a telecommuting initiative. Here's another interesting IT facet of this UCSF plan: Any staff member with VPN access will install virus-protection software and will ensure that the virus definitions are kept current. UCSF has a licensing agreement with Symantec that permits one to install it at home at no cost.