The trend is here to stay: according to Global Workplace Analytics, “regular telecommuting grew 115% in the past decade, nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.” As workers look to integrate their personal and professional goals, working from home emerges as an intriguing but potentially problematic option for employers and employees alike.
Why are employers reluctant to introduce formalized remote (or flexible) work policies? Most cite concerns over productivity, collaboration, company culture and overall engagement as well as a general fear of the unknown. But the data suggests otherwise. Here’s what you should consider when evaluating remote work in the context of your company.
1. Ask why.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but reluctant employers often push back on remote work requests without asking why. Before making any decisions, you should understand why your employees would want to work remotely. Studies reveal that remote workers often devote more hours a day to their jobs, so it’s not a matter of slacking off. What problem, then, are your workers hoping to solve by taking their work out-of-office?
The response invariably involves some combination of family obligations and work-life balance. Maybe they’re tired of their commute cutting into their already-limited morning hours spent with their children, or maybe they feel they could better support their ailing parents if they were working in the room next door. Or perhaps they just like to work in their pajamas.
Whatever the reason, it usually comes down to being human. Is this a problem that remote work flexibility can solve?
2. List your concerns.
The next challenge is to identify your concerns. It’s easy to just say ‘no’ to remote work out of instinct, but that approach limits your ability to thoughtfully weigh options and communicate your rationale to employees.
Before saying ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ consider: What specific negative consequences do you anticipate? How much of an impact would they have on your business? Here are some things to think about:
Workplace Culture - Employees thrive on the ability to look over and speak to their peers or learn directly from their mentors. In a lot of industries this real-life dynamic is what makes the company work. Technology can do a lot to keep remote workers connected, but the experiential value of in-person interaction can’t be replicated.
Limited Oversight - A lack of visibility into your employees’ working hours can be disconcerting. First, there’s the common misconception that remote work = less work. (Though research shows remote workers are often more focused and reliable than those in office.) Less oversight can have drawbacks, as it often creates a lag in noticing mistakes or issues with employee behavior or performance.
Employee Engagement - The camaraderie and impromptu ideation that comes from employee interactions in the office help to bolster morale and encourage collaboration. Brainstorming sessions, organic creativity – these are all natural developments rooted in and supported by in-person engagement.
3. Research the benefits
You’ve listed the drawbacks – now consider the benefits.
Read up on the literature: you’ll find the amount of evidence in support of remote work is pretty significant. Go in with an open mind and don’t expect any definitive answers – ultimately, you have to choose what’s best for your team and company. Read on and let us know: do you think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
Increased Employee Retention – Remote Work is one of those magical employee benefits that doesn’t require you to pay more – and in fact saves you money on office space and supplies – but is considered extremely valuable to candidates.
Fewer sick days – You can count on your remote workers to hardly take sick days since they’re already sidestepping the risk of infecting coworkers, and they still show up on days with severe weather warnings.
Broaden your Applicant Pool – Offering the option to work remotely, even for just one or two days a week, can attract more of the candidates you’re looking for. By building out your remote workforce you guarantee a larger pool of applicants, from which you can select the ones actually best suited to your needs.
Support Diversity Initiatives – People can’t make it to the office for a whole host of reasons, from disabilities, to watching the children, to the cost of commuting. In fact cities with extended commute times are often characterized by a smaller proportion of married women in the workforce. Offering flexible or remote work can help balance the scales.
4. Finally, craft an appropriate response
Listen, understand your employees’ needs, and draw up a solution that will work for everyone. This can mean anything from empowering, on an individual basis, employees to work remotely, to allowing people to take a designated day a week, to simply mandating flexible hours. Just ensure that you have the right systems in place to support your decision, whatever it may be.
If you need help building a stronger and more diverse workforce, or just want someone to strategize with, we’re happy to talk.