Is Remote Work a Fading Fad or a Core Business Strategy?
For the past several years, I’ve had the benefit of being a remote worker. Even when I had a permanent office location, I often worked remotely due to travel and other normal business exigencies. Many on my teams over the years have been remote or have been hybrid (working some of the time from a fixed office location and other times remotely) as well. Further, contrary to the assertions of those who oppose remote work, my hybrid and remote workers—former and present—deliver great results and are as loyal, if not more so, than workers with a permanent workspace in which they must reside five days a week.
The Fad to Ban Remote Workers
Research studies conducted by both academics and businesses confirm that remote workers, in general, are more productive and exhibit greater loyalty than counterparts who work 9 to 5 from a fixed workspace. While IBM generated a lot of media attention over its decision to eliminate its remote workforce last year, its own Smarter Workplace Institute finds that remote workers are happier, less stressed, more productive, and more engaged. In the case of Marisa Meyer, who started the fad to bring remote employees back into the office (she also proudly touted that she worked 130 hours a week while at Google), the experiment at Yahoo was anything but a success.
Organizations that eliminate or ban remote work are in the minority and put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Remote work is defined in terms of both full-time as well as hybrid models. Telecommuting grew 115 percent in the past decade. This is leading some to predict that half of the workforce will work remotely by 2020.
7 Strategic Advantages of Remote Workers
The fact is that, when used correctly, remote workers offer organizations of all sizes and most industries a strategic advantage. Let’s take a quick look at the most compelling ones.
1. Better Productivity
There are numerous independent studies that show remote workers are more productive than their office-located counterparts. For example, a study conducted by Stanford University compared the productivity of call-center employees who worked from home versus those assigned to cubicles in an office. Home workers were 13 percent more productive and reported higher work satisfaction than workers stuck in an office cubicle. Another study by Global Workplace Analytics that examined remote work at three enterprises reached similar conclusions:
• AT&T telecommuters work five more hours at home than office colleagues
• JD Edwards remote workers are between 20 and 25 percent more productive than office counterparts
• American Express home workers are 43 percent more productive than workers in the office
2. Recruiting and Retaining High-Quality Workers
Employees prefer remote work options. Thirty-seven percent say they would leave their current job for one that allows them to work wherever they want for at least part of their work week. A whopping 90 percent of workers say they want to work remotely, at least part of the time. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 58 percent of HR recruiters cite work flexibility as the most effective way to attract new talent.
For businesses that offer remote work options—and advertise the opportunity to work remotely in job ads (note that only 30 percent of companies with remote work policies advertise such in their job ads!)—they can attract and retain top talent better than companies that ban remote work. This includes the ability to recruit and maintain a more diverse gendered workforce, with working mothers often requiring workplace flexibility.
3. Reduced Costs
Permanent office space is expensive. The study by Global Workplace Analytics shows that employers can save over $11,000 per half-time remote worker annually.
4. Quality of Work
Much has been written about the quality of work-life balance. For workers given the flexibility to work half of the time from their home offices, they gain back an average of 11 days a year in time they would have spent otherwise commuting. This also equates to lower greenhouse emissions and smog—an equivalent of 600,000 vehicles taken off the road each year.
When it comes to the health of remote workers, data confirms they led healthier lifestyles than their office counterparts. For example, 42 percent of remote workers say they eat healthier than when working from a traditional office location. The same study reveals 45 percent get more sleep, 35 percent get more physical exercise, and 82 percent say they are less stressed.
5. Better Focus and Results
Scientific research on cognitive behavior reveals that working more hours and working in increments produces better results. Working smarter, taking breaks, and leveraging a flexible work schedule creates better work outcomes than traditional 9-to-5 work models. Breaks keep workers from getting bored and thus unfocused, foster better retention of information and cognitive connections, and reevaluate goals and objectives.
6. Less Absenteeism
Remote workers report less absenteeism than office-located colleagues. Data reveals that more than three-quarters of employees who call in sick are not ill. Rather, they do so because of family issues, personal needs, and stress. Remote provides them with greater flexibility, which multiple studies show cut absenteeism by more than 50 percent. This leads to higher productivity while saving organizations money.
7. Greater Flexibility
The ability to leverage remote workers provides businesses with greater flexibility. Business functions—from IT projects to call-center operations—benefit from a remote workforce. It is easier to scale teams up and down based on business exigencies with remote workers. It also provides organizations with 24x7 global coverage where work is shared across time zones. It can even speed project lifecycles in instances such as application development where work can be done around the clock.
Empowering Remote Workers with Coworking Space and Day Offices
Putting the above business reasons aside, there are times when face-to-face interactions are critical, and moreover some workers struggle in remote work settings. Providing them with a hybrid workplace model that leverages coworking space or even rented day offices, such as Davinci Meeting Rooms, for certain days can give them the structure and social interactions they need to be successful.
Also critical to the success of remote workers, albeit a step all-too-often missed by many organizations, is the development and publishing of remote work policies that spell out expectations and behaviors. Leaving your remote and hybrid workers guessing when it comes to what is expected of them and is critical.