These days, the term ‘remote working’ is on everyone’s lips: thanks to the wonders of wifi, cloud storage and videoconferencing, no longer are we confined to the same desk day in, day out. This is clearly more than just a passing fad: companies all around the world are realising its many benefits: the UK even passed a law in June 2014 so every worker has the right to request flexible working, not just parents and carers.
However, many companies still only view this as a perk for employees, not as a valuable asset to the business as a whole. This guide will demonstrate the various advantages of remote working for everyone, and why businesses should seriously consider setting up a scheme if they haven’t already.
Remote working myths
Companies that are reluctant to adopt remote working could be labouring under false pretences that it will negatively affect the business when in reality, it has the potential to have the complete opposite effect.
Let’s deconstruct 5 common myths associated with remote working:
Myth #1: You can only get work done in the office.
Managers might be nervous about letting employees complete their work at home or off-site because they lose the ability to directly oversee that employee’s progress. But this idea of ‘witnessing productivity’ doesn’t actually exist. To borrow a passage from Kevin Kruse’s Forbes article ‘Top 10 Benefits of Working From Home’:
Bad managers…don’t set specific, measurable goals and outcomes. So they think they are “witnessing productivity” when a worker sits in her cube, but they are really just witnessing presence. (We all know there are plenty of ways to goof off or slow down the work stream when we are “at” work.) If managers would just establish goals, rhythms of communication and metrics, then they would actually know whether someone was being productive or not, regardless of where the person was physically sitting¹.
Research from Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase² also disproves this myth that sitting in an office is the only way forward. Their study, which surveyed 10,000 workers across 14 different countries, revealed key findings such as:
- 85% of people surveyed are dissatisfied with their working environment and can’t concentrate.
- Office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions.
- 95% of people surveyed said working privately was important to them, but only 41% could do so, and 31% had to physically leave the office to do productive work.
Myth #2: Meetings won’t be as productive with remote workers.
Again, this myth perpetuates the falsity that physical presence ensures productivity. With videoconferencing technology, we can get as close to ‘face to face’ as we need to with anyone at anytime from anywhere. What we should really be concerned with is the quality and purpose of the meeting itself: we waste about 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings³ , regardless of where they take place.
Myth #3: It’s too complicated to manage remote teams effectively.
True, it does take a bit of extra work to figure out the logistics of managing a remote team, but it’s not an impossible task by any means. With project management tools like Slack and Trello as well as regular catchups via conference call or videochat, you can quickly and easily track the progress of a project and make sure that everyone completes their tasks in a correct, timely manner.
Myth #4: A remote working scheme is too expensive to implement.
This is quite the opposite; a remote working scheme could actually save you money in the long run.
- Less office-related costs: more remote workers means a smaller office, which could mean serious savings in rent. This could also mean less overhead expenses like office supplies, coffee/tea paraphernalia, furniture and technology subsidies or janitorial services.
- Less sick days: the majority of sick days taken can be traced to a stress-related issue, and flexible working offers employees a way to manage their stress levels, therefore they are more in control of their overall health, which means less money lost to sick days. (For a more in-depth look at how flexible working affects our health, turn to page 5.)
- Higher staff retention rate: flexible working generally improves an employee’s work-life balance, meaning they are happier on the whole and less likely to seek new employment.
Myth #5: This benefits the worker more than it does the company.
On the whole, flexible working leads to happier, healthier, more productive employees. More productive employees mean more business, and thus more money. It just makes sense.
Sick days are productivity’s kryptonite: in the UK alone, absence rates due to sickness cost employers £16 billion (with a median cost of £11 billion) in 2014⁴. That’s about 6.5 sick days per employee. Many of these sick days are stress-related: according to the Health and Safety Executive, stress accounted for 35% of all work-related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost over the last two years⁵.
In some cases, our offices could even be contributing to a rise in sick days: research from Canada Life Group Insurance found that employees who work in an open-plan office took 70% more sick days than those who worked from home⁶. Researchers at the University of Arizona found that when one person comes in sick to work, commonly-touched surfaces like telephones, desktops, tabletops, doorknobs, photocopiers, lift buttons and the office fridge are infected by lunchtime⁷.
If you allow employees to work from home, they won’t infect the rest of the team (resulting in more revenue lost due to sick days), they will recover faster (as they won’t be putting undue strain on their health by coming into the office), and they will have more control over their stress levels.
There’s a common misconception that ‘working from home’ is code for ‘watching TV all day while occasionally refreshing your email.’ There’s also a tendency to assume that you can’t get anything done while working at home with household chores, a fridge full of food and no supervision beckoning you to abandon your tasks.
However, the real distraction? The office itself.
A ringing phone, an overheard conversation, the constant to-ing and fro-ing between meetings, even something as innocuous as someone walking past your desk – all of these little things can break your concentration. Not to mention that general office noise is linked with reduced cognitive performance and can impair our ability to recall information⁸. To quote an article from the Wall Street Journal ‘Workplace Distractions: Here’s Why You Won’t Finish This Article’⁹:
Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who studies digital distraction.
Unsurprisingly, remote workers don’t face the same problems. In fact, Microsoft carried out research₁₀ to gauge the general response to the UK’s flexible working laws one year after they came into effect. The study found that:
- 36% of those surveyed were more productive.
- Over a third reported higher levels of motivation.
- 52% saw an improvement in their work/life balance as a result of flexible working.
- 80% of SME employees said flexible working made a positive difference to their overall working life.
So, fight the urge to assume that everyone working from home is enjoying a sneaky day off. Chances are, they’re getting even more (and better quality) work done on their own.
How to implement a remote working policy
The concept of implementing a remote working policy can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Only 6% of job adverts mention anything about flexibility despite the fact that almost half the working population considers it an important priority₁₁, so having a policy in place could help attract talented individuals to your business and improve staff retention overall.
The first thing you need to be aware of is the law: make sure you read up on your current legal responsibilities as an employer before you do anything else. Then you can draft a remote working policy that benefits your business structure and your employees.
For more information on how exactly to go about writing and implementing a remote working policy, read our companion guides ‘Creating a work from home policy for employers’ and ‘The ultimate guide for managing remote teams.’