Is Remote Working Really the Future of Work?

Remember the days of driving an hour both ways to and from your office?  Thanks to technology, remote working has gained steam in the last five years, partially because employers are looking for ways to maximize employee retention and partially because employees want a more flexible approach to their careers (without the long commutes).  If you’re a business owner looking to establish your own remote working program or are an employee looking for ways to make telecommuting a little easier, read on.

 

What do employees really want from companies?

Work-life balance has remained a hot topic when it comes to discussions of the working world.  Many employees are tired of working long hours with little time left for themselves or their families and are calling upon employers to make some big changes. 

In a recent Gallup study, 25% of employees surveyed said that they would switch jobs for an employer that offers full-time off-site work options, and 33% said they’d do the same for part-time off-site work options.  Those figures climb higher for Millennials – 47% and 50% respectively said they’d change jobs for the same reasons.  Millennials are more likely than older generations to want this flexibility, which makes sense, as many millennials are starting families.  Spending more time with loved ones is on their minds, and they’re making it known.

 

Flexible work?  Forget it.

Luckily, employers are responding to the desire for more work flexibility.  According to a Society for Human Resource Management report, 62% of businesses surveyed offered some type of telecommuting, an over 3% increase versus 2013. 

However, some companies, most notably IBM, are doing away with remote working programs altogether.  The decision for these reversals vary – some blame the difficulty of communication with remote employees, others believe remote workers are more likely to be distracted and harm productivity.  But these companies might be trying to stop the inevitable, especially in the face of shifting generational expectations on where we do work.  As major cities become more expensive, more people will be pushed to the suburbs to find affordable housing, putting them farther away from many companies that call urban centers home. It’s imperative that companies offer suburbanites the ability to work closer to their own homes, especially if headquartered in notoriously expensive cities like Seattle and San Francisco. 

 c/o Helena Lopes

c/o Helena Lopes

 

Is remote work even a good thing?

Remote work offers benefits for both employers and employees.  Employers benefit from a workforce that can operate in an environment that best suits their needs, leading to increased employee retention and happiness.  And despite the fact that some companies believe employees are the most productive when in the office together, research shows that we’re actually less productive in a traditional office setting.  Employees benefit from the ability to spend more time with family and friends, leaving them recharged and ready to get to work (and more likely to view their employers favorably).  It really is a win-win, if done properly.

 

How to make remote working work

From a company standpoint, a remote working program is only as good as the expectations you establish.  Availability, communication methods, and workspace location should all be set out up front.  You must also clearly outline what happens if an employee abuses these privileges.  Getting everyone on the same page makes it much more likely that your program will run smoothly.

Remote workers themselves face some challenges.  In a recent Buffer survey, telecommuters reported that their biggest struggles were loneliness and collaboration/communication.  To top it off, new research shows that loneliness can be a big threat to your health, increasing your risk of premature death.  If remote workers are at such a disadvantage when it comes to combating loneliness, what can they do?  Communication is key here, and it’s a two-way street:  remote employees have to let their employers know when something isn’t working or when they need help, rather than wait for their manager to notice what’s wrong. 

Besides open communication, remote workers also have other avenues available to combat loneliness.  Coworking spaces are a great option since they provide a community not unlike those found in traditional workplaces, but with the added benefit of location and flexible hours.  Regardless of where remote employees work, they can also take other steps to forge friendships with industry professionals.  Telecommuters can gain more personal and professional connections by attending things like industry events, workshops, and meetups.

 

Remote working is here to stay, whether employers like it or not.  And as the working world continues to shift and evolve, businesses and their employees need to work together to find the best arrangements that can help work-life balance thrive.