Despite Yahoo!’s infamous move a couple of years ago to recall it’s remote work program – something publicly derided by many, including billionaire businessman Richard Branson – remote working is here to stay. Last year Gallup reported that, to date, 37% of US workers have telecommuted – up from 30% in 2008.
Continuing this trend, more and more companies that don’t have any need for being in a physical location, like a manufacturing organization, are going completely virtual. Every year the job board site Flexjobs posts a list of companies that are either partially distributed or entirely virtual, and that list has grown from 26 in 2014 to 125 in 2016.
Of business leaders surveyed at the Global Leadership Summit in London in 2014, 34% predicted that over half of their full-time workers would be working remotely come the year 2020, and another 25% agreed that three-quarters would be working in a non-traditional office by that time – which is now just a few short years away.
Beyond the fact that companies are realizing there are numerous benefits to telecommuting, millennials, more than any other generation, are valuing flexibility in their jobs. For a generation that grew up with the now-ubiquitous technology that connects us the question seems to be, “If you can do your job effectively from anywhere, why do you have to be anywhere?”
There still isn’t a wholehearted acceptance of this shift towards telecommuting – sometimes due to procedural and collaboration hurdles or due to lack of trust by management – but the change feels somewhat inevitable. Let’s explore the benefits to people and companies, along with some of the implications and considerations around this shift.
Pluses for workers
TINYpulse, maker of employee engagement solutions, ran a survey which found that full-time remote workers were on average happier than their office-bound counterparts. Freedom and flexibility are recurrent themes in people’s answers as to why they enjoy telecommuting.
Moreover, and almost counterintuitively, telecommuters felt more valued at work, too. Perhaps there’s something to the element of trust that is inherent in allowing working remotely – something that has been difficult for some managers and companies with a more traditional mentality.
As Richard Branson said, “To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. It is the art of delegation, which has served Virgin and many other companies well over the years.”
Pluses for Companies
The benefits aren’t solely for the worker, though, as companies enjoy a number of perks as well. Having less bodies at the office means less space is required, and thus, lower overhead.
Likewise, companies have access to a larger talent pool. As outlined in this HuffPost article, Diebold, an ATM and POS services company based in Canton, Ohio, forged a bold turnaround under the helm of their new leader who openly encouraged telecommuting and sought employees outside their midwest headquarters. CEO Andy Mattes described his motivation: “We wanted the brightest people on the planet.” By allowing telecommuting they “got talent from a ‘who’s who’ of the tech industry.”
Another perk, happier employees mean lower turnover rates – something that can have a real impact on the bottom line, as replacing employees can range from 16% to 213% of salary, depending on seniority of the position according to a CAP Study.
With the general trend towards telecommuting and remote work, there are a number of considerations that come into play, especially in creating an effective distributed work team.
Communication is more important than ever. It’s essential to use all modes of communication effectively, including email, chat, video conferencing, and, of course, in person meetings. Establishing norms for when and how to use various modes of communication while working remotely is critical for success, and potentially why some older companies have struggled with telecommuting.
Not only is communication essential for expressing goals and expectations, but also to keep employees engaged. Workers need to feel a part of their company regardless of where they are actually located, and this happens when they are encouraged to give feedback often. Investing in training, like our communication skills workshop, can be invaluable for ensuring teams communicate effectively.
For companies to be successful with remote working, it’s also essential to have very clear objectives. The less ambiguity, the better, as this ensures everyone is working toward common goals and not fuzzy on the company’s trajectory. What’s encouraging is that remote workers actually report high engagement with their management, with over 50% of TinyPULSE respondents citing one or more check-ins with their supervisors. This is often more than most office workers experience.
Unsurprisingly, TinyPULSE also found that remote workers reported having weaker relationships with their co-workers. The nature of remote work means less face-to-face interactions. By meeting in person, co-workers can gain a better understanding of how everyone operates as well as gain insights into each other’s personalities. People might find out that their co-worker who sends short, terse sounding emails is actually a really nice guy who simply prides himself in written efficiency. This is where group meetings for team building or corporate retreats can really pay dividends.
Seeing as the Wall Street Journal reported that small to medium sized businesses (10-250 employees) that allowed workers to telecommute at least three times a month were more likely to log revenue increases of 10% over the past year than those firms without remote work options, it appears that striving hard to make telecommuting work is a smart endeavor for many organizations.
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