Remote Work – How Can You Benefit From It?
Not so long ago, telecommuting, or in other words remote work, may have seemed out of reach across some industries. Today, not so much. In fact, it has become a workplace phenomenon. And it definitely seems to be the future of the modern workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, 23% of employees reported doing some of their work remotely, up from 19% in 2003. A New York Times report additionally made a remark that telecommuting – working from another location other than the office or a client site, such as working from home – is fast on the rise.
Some impressive statistics: In a survey undertaken at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 34% of business leaders said that more than 50% of their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. An entire 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020. Furthermore, PGi’s global survey data shows that more than 50% of people who telecommute part-time said they wanted to increase their remote hours. Additionally, 79% of knowledge workers said they work from home, and 60% of remote workers in the survey said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.
It is clear that remote work has become a global phenomenon. Yet in a majority of companies, flexible work options, including telecommuting, are still considered a perk rather than standard operating procedure. Nevertheless, more innovative companies, for example, Amazon, Dell, Lenovo, IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, JP Morgan Chase and many more, understand that trends are clearly moving towards more flexible work as a way of doing business. And that this can offer many benefits to employers and workers alike.
So what is causing the shift towards working remotely, what are the exact benefits, and last but not least – how to make it work?
GROWING EMBRACE OF REMOTE WORK – THE REASONS
Let’s face it – remote work has become possible thanks to the technology and various tools available. Advancements in technology and devices, including the Cloud, and several online communication tools, have massively contributed to the rising popularity of remote work. A PGi survey showed that a reported 91% of telecommuters had been provided with company laptops, 76% have access to company data, and 75% use web conferencing tools. With online communication tools, staying connected is easier than ever.
In the recent past, you’d have to walk over to your employee’s desks and talk to them, to see whether they are using their time productively. For collaborating on a document at the same time, you’d need to be sitting next to each other at a computer. These days, time-tracking software can be used to monitor productivity, team collaboration and project management software can be used to edit documents, master projects, and much more – from anywhere in the world. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg; we’ll get into details on which are the best tools to use for remote work later on.
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2. Shifts in attitudes about work
According to PwC’s Millennials at Work study, the millennial generation – born between the years of 1980 and 1995 – now entering employment in vast numbers, are shaping the world of work for years to come. Bentley University estimates millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, and this new generation of talent brings with it radically different expectations about the nature of work, and how, when and where it’s done. It’s clear that millennials will be a powerful generation of workers, able to strongly influence the way they work. More significantly, the oldest of millennials are now in their thirties, have moved into management, and are now starting to be the architects of workplace culture.
So how do millennials want to work? According to PWC’s study, a good work-life balance is their number one priority. Adam Kingl, London Business School’s Director of Learning Solutions, says that flexibility is one of the most important reasons why millennials are attracted to a workplace. Time no longer equals money – instead, it is a limited resource to be spent wisely and actively managed. It’s not just about the millennials – a recent survey conducted by FlexJobs shows that people of all ages, careers, and life stages consider flexible work options a priority.
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Among other factors, work-life balance and flexibility also include working remotely. Essentially, an increasing number of people want to be able to work in a way that suits them best. Employees want to be rewarded by results rather than the number of hours or where they work, while offices will become meeting spaces rather than a fixed location for the working day.
Today’s high-performing companies understand that in order to both compete for and keep top talent in the years ahead, they’ll need to bake flexibility into the core of their corporate culture and let employees set their own schedules as long as they get their work done. Adam Kingl, London Business School’s Director of Learning Solutions, suggests in addition to technology, fundamental shifts in management thinking are indeed aiding the shift towards working remotely. He says: “Leaders are learning how to enable their teams to flourish, and there is a recognition that the notion of a traditional 9-5, Monday-Friday, commute-to-the-office job is quickly eroding. There is, though, an equally strong case for bringing teams together on a regular basis to inspire and to share.”
Tech company Toggl, where almost 30% of people work remotely, makes an effort to give remote teams as much face-time as possible. In fact, they spend well over 40,000 Euros per year on their remote team meeting trips and team challenges. They believe that relationships are built face to face and maintained online, not the other way around. They say:
“Slack chats will never be able to replace a conversation over a beer or a walk around a city with your new colleagues. Arranging get-togethers might not always be cheap, but it makes all the difference for the relationships, and for the culture.”
We can definitely agree with that.
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BENEFITS OF REMOTE WORK – THE NUMBERS
In recent years, remote work has been investigated quite a bit by academics, news organizations, businesses, and government agencies – all looking to come up with statistics about how flexibility impacts the marketplace. Plenty of studies, news articles and white papers provide an array of statistics about remote work, and the many benefits telecommuting offers to both employers and workers.
1. Increased productivity, lowered stress and boosted morale
If businesses thought that remote work would decrease employee productivity, then obviously flexible working arrangements would not be accommodated. However, there is evidence suggesting that remote employees are actually more productive and work longer hours.
One of the biggest roadblocks to productivity are distractions and everyday commute – remote work eliminates these. A ConnectSolutions remote working report concluded that fewer distractions lead to higher productivity. 30% of the survey respondents said that working away from the cubicle allows them to achieve more in fewer hours, while another 24% stated they accomplish more in the same amount of time. 77% of remote workers reported higher productivity. In another study by Sure Payroll, 86% of people said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.” What’s more, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity.
Remote work also lowers stress – in fact, an entire 82% of telecommuters reported lower stress levels. That is a good thing not only for employees but also for employers. 80% of workers also reported higher morale when working from home, while 69% reported lower absenteeism.
According to a study published by Stanford University, offering remote work options reduced employee turnover, and job attrition rates fell by over 50%. 82% of professionals said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK TO BENEFIT FROM IT
Many organizations are afraid of the departure from traditional practices to remote working – partly because they are unsure how to manage it effectively.
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Here are three tips to keep in mind:
1. Communication is the key
Effective communication is crucial to remote working. In fact, communication is considered the biggest obstacle to developing trust with remote teams. Make sure you communicate well and often and pick the right communication tools that help to clearly convey the message to your colleagues.
Email is great for tactical information. Video conferencing or phone works well when you need to brainstorm, tackle a challenging topic or share the difficult news. Project management software makes it easy to manage your projects, tasks, contacts, and billing – in one comprehensive system. Another benefit of project management software is that it allows each team member to see what everyone else is working on. This helps to understand what the high-level priorities are for the company and allows to assign tasks to any team member.
Technology is fast evolving, and there is plenty of software available that ensures effective communication. You’ll have to decide which technologies work best in which situations and get comfortable using them. Depending on the type of your business, here are some tools that are recommended for remote work:
- Project management software – for example, Scoro. See a list of 46 best project management software & tools.
- Daily communication and meetings – Slack, Skype, etc
- Video conferencing – GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc
Read more: 21 Remote Employee Management Tools & Software in 2017
If it is a fully remote team, there is a chance that team members may start to lose connection to the rest of the team and maybe even their purpose. Maintain and nurture the connection by encouraging all team members with a clear daily structure. An effective schedule should promote accountability, but also allow regular breaks. It is important to have regular interactions with your team members and to make sure you personally stay connected to your team.
2. Results-Only work environment
Management gurus Carli Ressler and Jody Thompson pioneered an approach known as ROWE, or “results-only work environment”. In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office.”
The idea behind ROWE is that when employees are able to work when and where they feel most productive, and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more productive. Performance and productivity are measured only by the results they deliver.
Technology company Dynatronix redesigned its production system to accommodate ROWE. That resulted in a 20% increase in on-time delivery rate and a 40% decrease in production time for their biggest product.
To hold employees accountable that way, clearly define the output criteria and communication expectations for each role. In remote working environments, it is even more crucial to replace vague expectations with concrete ones. Because inadequately defined goals can create problems that are likely to be amplified.
Therefore, for remote work to work, you must set clear goals and metrics – this will do wonders for your team’s output. The 5 most important factors to keep in mind when setting goals is that they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. For example, if you are in sales, a SMART goal could be contacting 30 people a day with a target to close 10 deals per each week. Or if you are a coder, a SMART goal could be releasing a certain feature in the next week.
To measure the progress of your company’s business goals, use key performance indicators – KPI’s. These indicate whether your organization has attained its goals in a specific time frame.
Read more: What Is A KPI
3. Regular feedback
We can always improve our work and become better team members – hence there is never too much feedback.
If you already have a great feedback structure in place, ensure this also works “online”. Giving and receiving feedback is even more significant during remote work, on the grounds that there is a great deal of potential for misconception, implicit assumptions and therefore conflict. In case you do not have a feedback structure set up yet, try out 360-degree feedback or 1-on-1 meetings. Make sure to do this on a regular basis and encourage your team to also give feedback among themselves.
Constructive criticism from employees, employers or customers is always a good thing – it is an opportunity to grow. And after all, as Aristotle once said: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing”. But also remember:
Creating a culture of continuous improvement will allow members to feel that they’re personally improving, which leads to increased work engagement and greater loyalty to the business.
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Remote work is not and will not be for everyone, and not for 100% of industries. But in the growing number of industries that remote work is a viable way of doing business, there are some significant benefits for both employees and employers. It is up to you to take advantage of these benefits.