Remote work is having its moment, albeit in a less than perfect way. COVID-19 shuttered businesses and quarantined workers. To keep operations running, employers scrambled to set up remote working arrangements for employees. Gallup reports that 62% of employed Americans currently say they have worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that has doubled since mid-March. Now that the dust has settled a bit, many employers are looking ahead to post-COVID days and wondering whether having remote employees as a temporary solution should become a permanent arrangement. The forecast for remote work is bright. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, “Our best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.” Here are some benefits and challenges to consider when deciding whether to continue to allow remote working arrangements.
What’s Everyone Else Doing?
Who is most likely to offer remote work as a benefit? According to Indeed, a little more than half (55%) of the employers they surveyed offer a remote work policy. Allowing remote work is most common in midsize companies (201 to 500 employees), two-thirds of which (67%) have remote work policies. The smallest companies (five to 20 employees) are the least likely to offer remote work options (42%).
Why it Works
Indeed reports that among employees who are allowed to work from home, the overwhelming majority (75%) say that doing so has improved their work-life balance, 57% report declines in stress, absences (56%) and sick days (50%). 54% report remote working improves morale. Employees appreciate the increased freedom, control over their schedule, lack of commute and fewer interruptions. It’s hard to put a value on being able to get up, exercise, work, do school drop off, respond to emails and run personal errands when you want to.
Telecommuting enables employees to work from anywhere with a good internet connection. For employees, this means the ability to live in areas with lower rents and costs of living. It also enables employees with a partner required to move frequently, such as those in the military, to continue with the same job no matter where the partner has to be. For employers, this greatly expands the pool of qualified employees. Companies are not limited to employees within commuting range, a recruiter’s dream.
Remote working arrangements allow those who may have difficulty working onsite, such as those with disabilities, or who are caregivers to parents or young children, the ability to work when being onsite isn’t an option. Individuals of varying socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds may also be easier to recruit when companies are not restricted to a certain locale that isn’t attractive or maybe affordable to some.
Allowing remote work may be the single best way employers can reduce their carbon footprint. The COVID-19 pandemic has at least one silver lining, significantly reduced pollution. Two new studies in the journal Geophysical Research Letters find nitrogen dioxide pollution over northern China, Western Europe and the U.S. decreased by as much as 60% in early 2020 as compared to the same time last year. Commuting to work produces traffic jams in major metropolitan cities. Traffic jams idle away almost three billion gallons of gas and account for 26 million extra tons of greenhouse gases.
Continuity of Operations in Disasters or Pandemics
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the importance of having procedures in place to support remote work in the event of a natural disaster or other incident that prevents employees from going into the office. Companies with teleworking procedures in place pre-pandemic quickly transitioned to an all remote workforce while other companies without remote working procedures had to put them in place in the middle of chaos and uncertainty.
Obvious savings include reduced overhead like office rent and utilities. Global Workplace Analytics reports the average real estate savings for an employee working remotely full-time is $10,000 a year. Employees who work from home are less likely to use sick time which results in considerable savings since employers lose $1,800 per employee per year on unscheduled absences. Because teleworking has shown to improve morale and employee satisfaction, fewer employees leave, resulting in cost savings through lower attrition and the costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new employees. Employees also save money on reduced expenses associated with commuting, child/eldercare, eating out, and buying a professional wardrobe. Employees may also qualify for a tax deduction for their home office.
Remote Work Challenges
While many polls show employees prefer the ability to work remotely at least part-time, Gallup reports 41% would prefer to return to their workplace or office to work, as they did before the COVID-19 crisis. As with most employee benefits and perks, one size does not fit all, and careful consideration should be given to what’s best for your workplace culture and demographics.
Interestingly, work-life balance is not only a benefit of remote working but also a challenge. When home and work mesh into a shared space, there’s bound to be some issues. Kitchen tables become “desks,” 6:00 happy hour becomes “working hour,” last night’s leftovers become a “working lunch,” adorable dogs and little children become “distractions” and guilty pleasures like Netflix binging become just “guilt” at not knowing when to say when and stop working for the day.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” What feels more welcoming, a Zoom call with all its potential for internet connectivity issues, or a face-to-face meeting, tour of the office and welcome lunch with co-workers in the conference room? Can you really get a sense of an organization’s culture through technology instead of in-person? What if the new hire needs on-the-job training? Can on-the-job really be off-the-job? First impressions matter, and a poor first-day orientation can leave a new hire feeling lost, unwanted and maybe even regretful at taking the job.
Many remote employees rely on public Wi-Fi and personal devices to conduct their work making them vulnerable to cyberattacks. OpenVPNInc, a provider of next-generation secure communication services, surveyed 250 IT leaders to gain an understanding of their views of cybersecurity as it relates to remote employees. 90% of respondents believe remote employees pose a security risk in general, and 54% believe that remote employees pose a greater security risk than onsite employees. Further, even though remote employees receive confidential business data to their remote locations, GetApp reports less than half of remote employees receive proper internet security training.
It’s Not for Everyone
Not everyone is well suited to remote work. Some employees collaborate better and prefer “bouncing ideas” off others in person. For others, the distractions working from home are too great an obstacle to overcome. Employees must feel comfortable working with technology in order to telework and some prefer not to rely so heavily on technology. The lack of “visibility” and access to leadership that comes with remote work can creates problems for employees. Some jobs require being onsite such as production line workers and health care personnel.
While many studies show remote work leads to better employee engagement, there is a point of diminishing returns. Gallup reports that employees who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged at 35%. A possible explanation is that these employees enjoy the best of both worlds, a healthy balance of working on and off-site.
Strike a Balance
If remote working arrangements are currently working for your organization, but you aren’t quite ready to make a complete, permanent transition to remote work, maybe try a hybrid model where all employees work from home some of the time. Limiting the number of days employees can work from home encourages in-person teamwork and collaboration while having some days doing remote work enables employees to reap the benefits of a better work-life balance and keeps your company competitive in the labor market.
Discuss Options with Smart HR
A Smart HR consultant will listen to your questions and concerns about remote work and formulate a plan for your company going forward based on your company’s specific needs and workplace culture. Part of the conversation will likely be what’s currently working and what is not. It may be that your current remote working arrangement just needs a little tweaking in order to make it a permanent arrangement. Alternatively, you may decide it is not for your company at all, and you want employees back in the office as soon as possible. Smart HR can help you devise a return-to-work strategy that keeps your employees safe and the transition smooth. Call today.