Telecommuting or remote work isn’t a new concept by any means. However, it is becoming more and more commonplace today, particularly in the technology sector. This is somewhat due to an increasing viability for businesses to adopt the practice but also because of a shifting culture in workplaces around their work values.
In 1990, alongside the internet’s introduction to the world (and when remote working began to emerge), the American Federal Government conducted a study on the value of remote working. It was referred to then as a flexible working arrangement made possible by telecommuting from a home location or from a satellite work centre. Conducted on 550 remote working employees, the study’s findings included:
- Improved employee productivity
- Reduced business costs
- A higher employee quality of life
Many remote workers are still benefiting from these factors today. Flexible working arrangements have only become more widespread and are adopted more frequently by businesses (especially in the technology sector). This has been made easier by today’s supplementary tools such as cloud services, communication systems, and virtual/video meeting software. Remote working practices have never been more popular.
Reportedly 57% of American IT companies have now adopted some form of remote working practices. So what are the reasons a business might shy away from offering their employees the option? There must be legitimate (or perceived) downsides to offering employees the choice of completing their duties outside of a fixed office location. After all, the employees want the option; a 2017 survey concluded that:
74% of employees said they would quit their [onsite] jobs to work for an organisation that would allow them to work remotely more often, even if their salary stayed the same.
And it seems employers are giving it to them. As of 2017, 40% more US employers are offering remote work to their employees than did in 2010. So it seems the concept is here to stay despite some media outlets crying it to be “another millennial fad!”, but like any change new ideas must be navigated carefully because none are without their pitfalls. We have seen not only the popularity of the concept rise but also the culture surrounding telecommuting evolve over recent years.
What makes remote work valuable today?
To the employee
From a worker’s perspective the benefits of telecommuting are clear. Flexibility with location and timeframes means walking the dog instead of sitting in traffic, reaching appointment times easier, and working in comfy pyjamas in winter.
Aside from lifestyle benefits, supposedly working remotely can provide health benefits and it has been shown to boost morale and job satisfaction. The majority of people utilising flexible working arrangements also report higher levels of engagement and motivation.
“Compared to Baby Boomers, millennials are twice as likely to feel more productive and better-equipped working at home than at the office.”
To the employer
From a management point of view, telecommuting can offer business benefits too. A 2015 study found that 77% of remote working employees surveyed reported greater productivity, possibly due to the perception of needing to perform more or perhaps because they are simply more efficient workers outside of a traditional office space. 52% of those surveyed also revealed that they felt just as connected (if not more) to their colleagues when off site – powerful statistics when weighing up the pros and cons of telecommuting.
Aside from seeing actual improvements in performance, an employer can hire from a larger pool of prospective employees when offering remote or location-flexible positions, as well as retaining those whose location needs change. Based in Christchurch, Media Suite has been contacted by a developer who wants to work for us based from Norway – no problem.
Financially the concept holds up as well. Employers experience a lower overhead when part of their workforce works offsite – making savings on real estate, electricity, and equipment – some businesses are claiming savings of $10,000 per employee per year. It is not uncommon for a flexible contract to also come at some salary cost, saving an employer on wages.
In addition to individual and organisational benefit, there’s a planetary impact we can feel good about reducing. Cutting down on commuting means less traffic emissions alone. Reported environmental savings in the US in 2017 thanks to the remote worker population include 7.8 billion vehicle miles not travelled, 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gases not emitted, and $980 million in oil savings. This is with just 2.9% of the American workforce working from home for at least half the week – and that percentage has been rising by the year.
Remote work is not just something of interest to the younger portions of a workforce, as some media expects us to believe. Graduated or Phased retirement is a practice directed at the older part of a workforce and outlines the concept of gradually reducing workload and responsibilities throughout a retirement period. Why abruptly lose a valuable employee as well as a wealth of domain (and workplace) knowledge when offering them part time work may be a better move for the business and the employee? Remote working can complement the concept nicely, allowing for more flexible part time work.
What makes it work?
In order for a company to effectively adopt telecommuting as an option for their workforce there are a number of factors they must consider; the holy trinity of remoting, if you will.
Culture Having a culture that fosters collaboration and communication lessens the feeling of isolation. Remote workers have been known to struggle with “being present” and so inclusion is important in things like office events and workplace chat.
Tools Aligning with Media Suite’s values, remote working only succeeds with frequent and open communication. This is made possible by the communication tools available today. A high level of trust is required in order for remote work to be a viable business choice when self reporting time worked.
The Right People Self motivating and managing when secluded is not everyone’s strong point and so telecommuting is inherently not for everyone. The ability to maintain the same discipline when remote as you would have in the office can be learned but must be strived for if not found naturally.
When can it fall down?
So why wouldn’t a tech company adopt the remote work mentality? Well, because it’s not that easy to adopt it effectively. It has to be done right.
Without the above “holy trinity” in place, telecommuting employees can be more of a hindrance than an asset. The last 5 years has seen a number of tech companies in the United States revoke their remote working stance due to, amongst other things, loss of productivity.
It has also been reported that some employers take back their offer to work outside of their physical offices in a bid to compete with younger, smaller competitors. The mentality behind doing so is prompted by an attempt to foster innovation so as to stay relevant (since people can only innovate when they are physically together apparently). However it would seem true that for a company with a large number of employees (500+) managing a workforce that could be anywhere, likely with some kind of self-management expectations, would require more organisation without everyone in one place.
There are a number of reasons remote working is a great idea for some but, as with all things, it comes down to the individual. As Ersin outlines, it takes a high level of motivation to work from a remote location permanently.
“Do not disturb” mode for employees working at home is imperative! One of the biggest criticisms of remote work is the inability to stay focused in a relaxed environment such as a home location. It is up to the individual to know when they are “at work” or “at home”. Also making this point means I can link to a video from 2017 you may have forgotten that highlights the importance of setting boundaries when working at home:
My remoting experience
Having spent two weeks working remotely while injured, I have to say I was definitely grateful for the option not to take crutches to the office. Working from home had a positive effect on my productivity. I would have been uncomfortable working in a regular office chair, opting for a couch or sitting on my bed at home instead. Aside from having fractures in my ankle and being able to prop it up without being pitied or made fun of, the luxury of working in pyjamas was finally realised for me and now I understand what all the fuss is about.
However two weeks was long enough for me to recognise the potential downsides that permanent remote working may present. I personally value the convenience but can sympathise with those who highlight the monotony and isolation of working from home full time. One of the talked about imperatives of working from home is the ability to separate a productive headspace from a relaxed one. I think the connectivity of today’s world means that people already traverse the landscape of unplugging their work brain at home and setting boundaries.
So there are arguments for and against remote working. Some view the isolation of sitting at home in a negative light, whereas others would be delighted by the prospect of not having to leave the house – it’s a matter of perspective. Can’t we all agree some days you’d prefer to just stay home? However, like all things, remote working culture has to be done right in order to provide value. For me, I like to have the option for when I need it. But for now I value the motivation and headspace associated with the Ferrymead office as well as love the company and energy of an office.