How To Decide if Remote Work is Right for You
Sep, 28 2019
There’s buzz on the internet about a recent article claiming remote work is the absolute best solution for everyone. As someone who is part of a one-hundred percent remotely working team, I can say I’m very grateful for the opportunity technology has provided. But is it really the best work situation for every worker?
There are a multitude of circumstances preventing everyone from working remotely. For starters, we still have plenty of manual labor jobs in the US. Can you imagine a plumber working to unclog your toilet by remote? Or the men and women building your home foundation from their homes? While we may reach the point of remote controlled plumbers, it’s not possible yet. That being said, remote work can be beneficial to many employees, and many companies. Let’s dig into this further:
THE CASE FOR WORKING REMOTELY
Offices contain their own functioning society. There is a hierarchy, which may be informal, and a set of rules. Staff members adhere to a dress code (even if it’s just a simple ‘wear appropriate business attire’), and bounce between working at their desk or in a meeting for eight or more hours each day.
It’s estimated U.S. employers LOSE approximately $1.8 TRILLION each year in employee productivity from things like surfing the internet, taking personal calls, ‘water cooler chat,’ and more. That’s almost one-tenth of our national debt! Now figure this into the equation: nearly two-thirds of managers report an increase in productivity out of remote workers. If half of the team members worked remotely, and two-thirds of those maximize their productivity by working remotely, corporations would gain back $600 BILLION.
2. Corporate Real Estate Costs:
At a minimum rent of $20 per square foot for major cities, it’s easy to see how commercial office space can get expensive. Every contributor working on-site requires their own space to work, and you can’t exactly pile them on-top of each other. While an open-office floor plan is all the hype and can save you space with fewer walls, they’re actually linked to a decrease in production and creativity. One prime example is Aetna, who saved $78 million a year by shedding 2.7 million square feet of office space by transitioning roles to remote positions.
My first job was in customer service. During training, my boss’s boss said to us, “It costs so much more to attract a new customer than it does for us to keep our existing customers happy.” The same can be said of employees. Think of the costs associated with hiring a new employee: hours spent searching for candidates, reading through resumes and applications, interviews, training, etc. It all adds up.
A Stanford study found companies offering the option to work remotely have a 50 percent decrease in job attrition: FIFTY PERCENT! Another study by Staples Advantage found 14 percent of employees surveyed who didn’t have the option to work from home were actively pursuing other job opportunities.
While not everyone wants to work from home all of the time, they want the flexibility to do so when it meets their needs. Life happens and people want to be able to adjust as they need to.
When you have a physical office space all team members are required to report to every day, your hunt for employees is limited to those people willing to travel to your place of business. Phoenix is a pretty large metropolitan area. In traffic, it can take two hours to get from the Queen Creek to Sun City. Factor in an eight hour workday and thirty minute break, and commuters are looking at 12 and a half hours away from home.
Allowing for remote work, at least part of the time, gives you more employees to choose from.
Your sought-after talent living in Anthem isn’t going to blink about working for a company in Chandler if they’re working remotely. Plus, the Staples Advantage survey found 76 percent of telecommuters are willing to work overtime. All the time they would have spent fighting traffic they’re now spending working.
THE CASE AGAINST REMOTE WORK
Not everyone is a fan of telecommuting. Some people don’t like the idea of working from home, or don’t have the resources to do so. Some managers prefer to have their staff where they can reach them. And in some cases, technology affects the availability of remote work options. But is disallowing a remote work environment a trust or people issue? Here are the potential downsides of a fully remote team.
Employee engagement is a huge buzzword. There are plenty of companies out there willing to survey your team and consult on how to make them better engaged. One company I worked for had three different employee engagement groups…outside of the Talent and Human Resources teams. Another company had a Director of Employee Engagement, whose job it was to make sure the employees were invested in the company.
Engagement has been shown time and time again to have a positive impact on productivity and quality of work. A Gallup study found contributors were seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs when they have a ‘best work buddy’. So the question becomes, is it possible to have a ‘best work buddy’ when you’re working from different locations?
2. Networking Visibility:
As a culture we have an obsession with being seen with people of importance: celebrities, business CEO’s, politicians, etc. It’s as if rubbing shoulders with them, and getting proof that we can share with our friends and acquaintances, bolsters our own importance factor.
Telecommuting often means we’re not seeing or being seen by managers and company leaders, and can cause major work FOMO. Thirty-seven percent of people believe they have less visibility and access to leadership because of remote work policies. They’re also more likely to feel left out and that their priorities and ideas aren’t being fought for.
Some of the earliest proponents of remote work, like IBM who pioneered the idea in the 1970s, are reversing their remote work policies to bring employees back together. The main reason: employee collaboration. While individual project productivity does in fact increase with the absence of office distractions and a long commute, additional studies show team-based problems are solved faster when the team is within close proximity to each other. By and large, communication is greatly enhanced when the team can be put in a room and told to solve the problem right then and there.
Does proximity really mean the same office building with the new virtual meeting rooms available today?
Not all technology is able to be outsourced or accessed remotely. VPN log-ins can only be secured so much. Working with highly sensitive customer data means limiting remote access or increasing your technology budget. That being said, many times your vendors prevent you from allowing access to their systems from a remote work location.
VISA credit cards may be everywhere you want to be, but their back-end card systems can only be accessed by their partners’ employees on-site; thus limiting how much information a customer service representative at a financial institution can give a client on pending charges when they’re working from home.
SOLUTIONS TO REMOTE WORK CHALLENGES
Whether you’re a company looking to test a remote-work policy out, or an individual looking to prove your case for working remotely, you’ll need the support in place to be successful. Consider how easy or difficult it may be to set up these important aspects of a remote-work infrastructure:
Like the three L’s in real estate, communication is the three c’s of remote work. Set clear expectations for your team on when, how, where you expect them to work, what is acceptable and what is not. Find a way to check-in with them through a variety of methods on a regular basis. And, make it a priority to keep every contributor in the loop and communicating with the entire team.
What online tools can be implemented to make a remote team’s job easier? Online project management tools like Basecamp, Jira or Monday allow teams to check in without constantly emailing counterparts. Slack and Google Hangouts provide great opportunities for team members to keep in touch (and to chime in other employees’ more public conversations). Join Me and WebEx provide video conferencing capabilities. While massive video and conference calls can be awkward and full of people talking over each other, done right, they’re effective.
Keep everyone on the team using the same tools to help streamline communications.
Also, ensure your IT team has remote access to computers, so they can troubleshoot with employees from afar. Computers will crash, systems will lock people out, passwords will be forgotten. These things happen and it doesn’t help if a remote worker has to then drive an hour into the office just to have their computer fixed.
3. Employee morale:
Keeping employees engaged is a lot easier than employers make it out to be. The formula is pretty easy: flexibility, autonomy, and opportunities for social interactions. How can this work in a remote environment?
First, don’t micromanage from afar. In fact, don’t micromanage at all.
As humans, feeling trusted and valued motivates us to give our best, grow, and exceed expectations.
Trust that we’re going to do our work and help us adjust if it’s not working out how you thought it was going to be. Give us autonomy to know when our projects are due and complete them in a manner that works for us. If a worker needs to leave at 2:30 one afternoon to make their kid’s soccer game but makes up the hours after everyone’s in bed, then let them. Important meetings and last-minute projects pop up occasionally, but if you’re making it easier for work and life to coexist then employees will be more loyal to you.
Next, provide social interaction opportunities to combat loneliness and isolation. These can be something as simple as weekly ‘Virtual Coffee Chats’ where teams log in to chat about anything but work, to regular meet-ups for employees to physically get together. After5 does this by encouraging every team member to share about themselves on Slack, meeting up for free events throughout the Phoenix area, and having open-ended weekly meetings to cowork on tough projects.
Finally, encourage defined work-zones for remote workers. While some creative employees work better with a change in scenery throughout their day, others benefit from having a defined work zone to help them feel like they’re going to work every day. Offer resources to help them establish this work-zone, or even a subsidy for a co-working space near their home. Defined work-zones should also lead into defined work-times. People can feel like they’re always on call when they’re working remote. Set the expectation for them to utilize do-not-disturb modes on Slack, their emails or other communication devices.
After considering the benefits and challenges to remote working, will your company or boss change their view on working outside of the office?
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