A decade ago, telecommuting was seen as a rare perk. Now with the growth of reliable high-speed internet connections, secure file sharing, video conferencing, and general trust of non-traditional work hours, telecommuting isn't so rare, and may even be trending towards an expected perk in today's workplace. Gallup's State of the American Workplace survey in 2017 showed a distinct upward trend in remote work. They found that “from 2012 to 2016, the number of employees working remotely rose by four percentage points, from 39% to 43%, and employees working remotely spent more time doing so." The good news for employers is that the same poll shows telecommuters are just as productive as their in-office counterparts — they just get to do it in their pajamas.
Still, here are some things to consider if you're thinking of letting some of your workforce go remote:
Pro: You Can Attract More Millennials
If you want to attract and retain younger workers, you'd best look at the perks you're offering, and one of them better be a flexible schedule with the potential to work from home. Inc.'s 2016 50 Best Workplaces included 84% that offered a telecommute benefit, among other perks. In a blog post on managing millennials, consultant group PwC notes that flexibility is really at the core of millennial thinking. "They work well with clear instructions and concrete targets. If you know what you want done by when, why does it matter where and how they complete the task?" And in this day and age of easy file sharing, Skyping into meetings, and fast internet connections from even the fast food place down the street, there aren't many technical limitations to letting millennials do their work from wherever makes them the most productive.
Read our post “What Do Millennials Want from a Job?” to dig a deeper into the millennial mindset.
Con: You Can't Always Measure That Productivity
Without a structure in place or measured deliverables (say, a finalized report, a creative brief, a finished brochure, or a piece of collateral), productivity may go out the door if you're not monitoring your employees' desks. Working from home has its own host of distractions, and for some workers, it's better to have the potential of getting busted for wasting time, than to have free reign to manage their own affairs. Still, if you don't have enough faith in your workers' ability to get things done, then calling them on their lack of focus is step number one in maintaining a productive boss/employee relationship. If you're testing a work-from-home situation with an employee, don't forget to set expectations before they leave the office. Tell them what you expect them to do, whether it's staying available via email, prompt replies to instant messages, giving daily reports on what they accomplished, being held accountable for meeting attendance, or whatever you feel is reasonable given their role. If slip-ups happen (and hey, they might), have a chat and talk about how things can improve. If the privilege of telecommuting is too much to handle, then maybe it should be revoked.
Con: It could harm your company culture
In 2013, then new Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer was famous for bringing what many saw as a backwards step to a tech company that needed to be competitive with its hiring and retention. She was pressed to explain why she decided that Yahoo's 12,000 employees would not be allowed to work remotely any longer. When she finally did, she explained it wasn't about productivity, it was about company culture. Mayer remarked that people can be productive remotely, but "they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together." At the time, the decision meant that the 200-some workers operating 100% remotely would now be based out of Yahoo's main offices. Mayer explained in a company-wide memo that, "some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together." A year later, many remarked that the policy seemed to be working well, increasing productivity at Yahoo. Of course, Mayer herself didn't last that long as head of Yahoo, which is being bought out by Verizon in the near future. Her policy on no-remote work? Employees inside Yahoo say that it's been relaxed over the years, and some workers aren't keeping offices at the headquarters, or so say sources with The Huffington Post.
Pro: You could hire the best in the world
Post-Yahoo dropping of its remote work policy, other companies kept at it, or even added it to their perks. The reason? They still saw the benefits of being able to hire talent from outside of their neighborhood. If you're in search for the best of the best, it might not be someone who wants to come into your headquarters, or even your city or state. Maybe it's even someone outside of your time zone. The head of Diebold looked to the world's best when he took over in 2013. Not everyone wanted to move to Canton, Ohio, necessarily, but the company could find ways to use remote workers if they were the right fit for the job. “We wanted the brightest people on the planet,” Diebold CEO Andy Mattes told The Huffington Post. “We got talent from a ‘who’s who’ of the tech industry,” he said.
Con: You can't do it all the time
The Gallup State of the American Workplace 2017 survey notes that people are working remotely more often, they should be striking a balance of off-site and on-site work. The survey noted:
"The optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time — or three to four days in a five-day workweek — working off-site. This pattern emphasizes that remote working has the greatest returns on engagement when employees maintain some degree of balance: working remotely most of the time but still getting face time with managers and coworkers."
So while some employees might scoff at not being allowed to do the job that they are able to do 100% of the time off-site, you have to take that bad with the potential good. If you find that balance, it's a win/win for productivity, engagement, employee satisfaction, and hiring power.
Check out “Our Favorite Articles for Surviving and Succeeding in the Workplace” for more tips on productivity and getting ahead at work.
Pro: Remote workers try harder to be good workers
A 2014 University of Illinois study found that telecommuting workers actually worked harder to make it a positive experience for the company. According to Ravi S. Gajendran, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, said workers feel the need to make themselves seen as "good citizens" of the company and worthy of the arrangements of working from home. Gajendran said:
"They feel compelled to go above and beyond to make their work presence more visible, to make themselves known as assets. In fact, they almost overcompensate by being extra helpful, because they know in the back of their minds that their special arrangement could easily go away. So they give a little extra back to the organization."
It's true that remote workers can start to feel "invisible," especially if they go through several days without direct contact with supervisors. If meetings or emails aren't exchanged, how will an employee's contributions be measured? Goal setting becomes increasingly important, as well as daily or at least regular check-ins.
Con: Not all industries are good for remote work
It's a fact that not everybody gets the chance to do their jobs from the comforts of home. Obviously, certain industries like tech, medicine and finance are already set up for working remotely, but others, like social services, science, engineering, education, training, and library industries found a downward trend in remote work over the past years.
So whether you allow telecommuting, either part or full-time, is up to a lot of factors. Does your company and industry benefit from a flexible work environment? Can your employees handle all that they need to accomplish, while remaining outside the office? If you think that a remote policy might be a productive thing for your workplace, trying it out is always a possibility. And if not, you may want to think about how other working arrangements, like a flexible schedule, might take the place of a remote work policy, and help you keep employees happy well into the 21st Century.
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