Working from home in the context of today’s and future technological advancements is something that comes quite naturally. Allowing for flexibility is a requirement employees from younger generations are unwilling to compromise on, and the benefits for companies can be huge. While it might seem like a blessing, and the solution to many problems, working from home can have its downfalls too. In this article, we’ll be looking at the good, the bad and the ugly of working remotely in today’s world.
Remote work: the good
While something that some might take for granted as it has been available for years, I was thrilled when the legislation in my country allowed companies to offer the benefit of working from home to its employees. I was excited by the idea that if I needed to, or felt like it, I could take a day or a few days and work remotely. Doing so helps if you are expecting a delivery, have some repairs that needs to be carried out at home, or if your child is unwell and can’t go to school. Alternatively, you might merely need some uninterrupted time to work on something that demands full concentration. Of course, we have suddenly been thrust into a situation which means that many of us are actually required to work from home for an indefinite period of time, regardless of the conveniences.
Whether it’s just a few days here and there, or working permanently from home, there are advantages for both the employee and the company as well. The 2019 State of Remote Work report published by Buffer, a social media management platform, found that 99% of respondents prefer to work from home at least part of the time for the rest of their careers. Another survey, by Staples, released in February 2019, found that 64% of employees work at least part of the time remotely and that 67% would quit if their workplace became less flexible. In PwC’s US Remote Work Survey, published in June 2020, employees were asked whether they’d like to continue to work remotely once offices begin to open up again, and 72% said they would like to work away from the office for at least two days a week, and 32% said they would prefer never to go back to the office.
To a degree it comes down to personal preference as to why some people enjoy working in a structured office environment, others like a more social space like a coffee shop, while others feel they’re more productive and happier if they are not interrupted by the office chatter and can work quietly from home. Once you start throwing in additional factors, like a nightmare rush-hour commute, you begin to see the appeal of taking that time back by working from home. Mild illnesses like the common cold can also make it miserable to go into the office, but staying in and working remotely is doable, meaning employers see a decrease in the number of sick days taken.
In a survey by Microsoft, Work without Walls, the top ten listed benefits of working from home for employees are around the ability to keep a work-life balance, to save gas and avoid traffic and long commutes, to be more productive overall, to experience fewer distractions and a quieter, less stressful work environment, to have the ability to spend more time with their families and overall to be environmentally friendly as well.
For companies, having a motivated and more productive employee that on average puts in longer hours is always helpful. Companies that only have remote employees do save costs on office space, supplies, and snacks. Not being forced to hire from a specific city or area, you can choose the best people from anywhere, and get market insight from those geographies as well.
Employees will be more motivated, won’t be thinking about vacation all the time and will be in general more loyal and less prone to leave the company. Prior to 2020, before many jobs pivoted to being remote, the ability to allow employees to work from home depended on the nature of the job and the business. Working remotely was typically more prone in tech-related jobs, where programmers are keen on having a quiet time at home to be able to concentrate uninterrupted on the code writing or checking they need to do.
With all the video conferencing options and the collaboration tools available online, it’s easier than ever to work from basically anywhere. Be it a full arrangement as in the case of some start-ups, or a benefit one employee can take for a few days here and there, working from home has its perks. However, as some have experienced in 2020, this is not all sugar and honey, so let’s look at the bad and the ugly.
Work from home: the bad and the ugly
Remote workers face critical challenges in being as engaged as their peers who are working in an office environment; they’re less satisfied and even less productive in some cases. The 2019 survey by digital workplace solution provider Igloo found that remote workers find enormous challenges around being included in meetings and the general office environment as the current technical solutions don’t provide what they need.
According to the same survey, 55% of the remote workers feel left out of brainstorming sessions or meetings because they are not working in the office, 43% are unable to access other people or groups in the company, 39% are not able to access information and resources, 33% felt they’re missing out on changes and policies, while 19% are unable to access resources and documents, and cannot reach out to people. These are vital pitfalls any company applying working-from-home methods will need to acknowledge. Otherwise, the business won’t enjoy the benefits of having this working style implemented.
A survey of US knowledge workers conducted by the software company Slack, published in April 2020, reported that nearly half of the participants who identified themselves as newly remote workers said that working from home has negatively affected their sense of belonging, while nearly one-third of newly remote workers stated that working from home has negatively affected their productivity. These accounts of diminished productivity and feelings of disconnection ultimately resulted in 23% of the newly remote workers being less satisfied working from home. Without a doubt, these are issues businesses will have to take into account and try to reduce moving forward.
One last pitfall, that might not be justified but is an important element to keep in mind, is that remote workers fear being left out when it comes to career advancements and promotions. In actual fact, an August 2019 report from HR software firm Ultimate Software, titled, ‘The Remote Workforce Becomes the Empowered Workforce’, found that remote workers are 40% more likely to have been promoted within the past year and in general report higher job satisfaction than in-office workers.
Keeping collaboration going in a remote working environment
When considering both the positive and negative statistics listed above, the majority of them boil down to how your business collaborates in a virtual environment. There are numerous tools available that can help with this and they are growing in popularity at an exponential rate. Using these tools to set up frequent check-ins with remote workers, ideally using video conferencing so faces and expressions can be seen, making sure that the technology is easy to use, communication is streamlined, and that policies are in place and followed makes a big difference in employee satisfaction overall, and especially in remote working situations.
“For a long time, we’ve been worried that remote workers are being left out or left behind. The data in this new report show us remote workers are not only being treated equally, but they’re also thriving—and a big part of that is thanks to the emergence of HR-focused technology that enables a seamless connection between the office and virtual employees,” said Annmarie Neal, chief human resources officer at Ultimate.
Collaboration and innovation are not limited to face-to-face interactions but do need more careful planning when being conducted virtually. Consider running a virtual hackathon to crowd-source ideas from your employees about how to make your working environment more productive, inside and outside the office, as well as how to improve customer experiences and avoid digital breakages that can lead to a loss of revenue for your business.
If you have decided to take the plunge and not return to the office for an extended period of time, like Google who have extended their work-from-home policy until summer 2021, or even more permanently, you can find some helpful tips on how to manage the transition to keep productivity high.
While, as previously mentioned, working from home is not one size fits all, companies have multiple options on how to implement it and think of the benefits they want to gain. Still, businesses need to account for the possible pitfalls and make sure they are ready to counter them, or even better, prevent them right from the start by implementing the right tools and processes to follow. As we shift into the era of digital necessity, it’s important for businesses to ensure that all of their processes work no matter where their employees are in the world.