Offering workers the opportunity to work remotely some or even all of the time is a growing trend. The benefits are insurmountable, from fewer cars on the road to improved mental health, according to a recent study of 500 U.S. workers by TSheets by QuickBooks.
While working from home has obvious appeal to workers—a recent survey found 57 percent of workers would like the option to work from home—many employers find the practice benefits them as well.
If you’ve been considering implementing a flexible work policy, here are a few of the pros and cons you can expect from the experience.
The pros of remote work
Among those surveyed by TSheets in 2018, 67 percent said they work remotely sometimes, while 33 percent said they work remotely daily. When asked about their productivity, 53 percent of workers said they get more done, working outside the office.
In fact, while 1 in 4 said their number of interruptions had increased since telecommuting, and nearly 1 in 3 said the same about distractions, fewer than 1 in 10 reported a decrease in productivity.
Part of this may have to do with rising distractions in the workplace. For instance, many offices continue to adopt the open floor plan, despite data that suggests such environments make it harder for workers to focus and problem-solve. A recent productivity survey confirmed this, finding 75 percent of workers found talkative co-workers distracting, while 66 percent were distracted by sick co-workers.
Whatever the reason, business owners may find some humor in the fact that even with distractions like pets, kids, or electronic devices, 53 percent of telecommuters are still more productive at home than they were in the office, surrounded by other workers.
Better physical and mental health
When asked about their stress level, remote workers were fairly evenly divided. Thirty-four percent felt their stress had decreased, 36 percent said it had stayed the same, and 30 percent said it had actually increased. Nevertheless, when asked how telecommuting had impacted their life, 84 percent of respondents said their mental health had been positively impacted. This could have something to do with a better work-life balance, as half of workers said their free time had increased.
Likewise, most remote workers noticed an improvement in their physical health. One in 4 said telecommuting had positively impacted their physical health, something employers love to hear. After all, healthier employees are often more productive employees. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and Dr. Ronald Loeppke, lost productivity due to absenteeism cost employers 2.3 times more than medical and pharmacy expenses.
Healthier employees also tend to take fewer sick days and enjoy lower health insurance rates. In 2017, Health.gov and the Office of Disease Prevention published this article, touting the benefits of employee wellness.
Naturally, allowing workers to put in their hours at home may not be the same as giving everyone a free gym membership, but if employees benefit physically from the opportunity, there’s no reason the initiative can’t be a component of overall wellness.
The cons of remote work
Unfair perceptions and decreased motivation
For employers who have yet to jump on the remote workforce bandwagon, there’s likely one major concern that keeps them from pulling the trigger: What if my remote workers aren’t actually working?
The answer to that is faith.
Sure, you could require telecommuters to install cameras in their home office, take screenshots on the hour, or log all their bathroom breaks, but it wouldn’t win you any favors.
As it turns out, that lack of faith is one of the biggest concerns for remote workers themselves. When asked to indicate their challenges when working remotely, “people think I’m not working” came up as the second-most-common answer. Working more hours was No. 1. Sadly, while nearly 1 in 3 telecommuters said they’re working more hours in a day, the same number felt others didn’t believe they were getting work done.
Perhaps understandably, 27 percent of respondents said motivating themselves was a challenge. Understandable, because employees who don’t feel their work is acknowledged or appreciated are much less likely to feel motivated.
A survey of 2,000 U.S. adults by Glassdoor affirms this. The study found 81 percent of respondents were motivated to work harder when their boss showed appreciation for their work, compared to the 37 percent who said they were motivated by the fear of losing their job.
Thus, employers considering creating a more flexible remote work environment would do well to remember not to take telecommuters for granted. It’s not enough to give a worker their freedom. Give them the benefit of the doubt and a little appreciation, and the company will reap the rewards.
Lost company culture
For bosses who prefer employees to come to the office, loss of company culture may be as big a concern as productivity. It’s a reasonable fear. After all, what would people say about Google’s company culture if no one came into the office to use the nap pods or slides?
Probably exactly what they’re saying now. In fact, after Google won Comparably’s “Best Company Culture” award in November 2017, Forbes put out an article detailing the 13 reasons why the company came out on top, naming “True Flexibility” as number one.
Glassdoor has an entire page inside Google’s company reviews for employees to comment on the “work from home” policy. The 492 employees who reported on this benefit gave Google a 4.6 out of 5 stars, with comments ranging from “No one cares where you work,” to “It depends on your manager.”
Still, while a company’s culture will likely survive a flexible telecommute environment, the reality is workers might be the ones who struggle most. Loneliness was the fifth most common challenge, experienced by 1 in 5 remote workers.
The good news is, thanks to tools like instant messenger apps and video conferencing, employees have more opportunities than ever to interact, even from miles apart.
Consider these components when creating a remote work policy
Business owners and HR managers have a lot to consider when putting together a remote work policy. Here are a few components you’ll want to include in the conversation.
Metrics: How will you measure productivity?
Not everyone gets the same thrill out of metrics, but measuring productivity, whether by tasks completed or the amount of time tracked on certain projects, can help workers and managers stay on the same page. Plus, there won’t be any reason to wonder if a remote worker is productive when the proof is in the pudding.
Equipment: Do you have the materials needed?
Sure, laptops for one, but what about security features on devices that will be used outside the company’s network? Technology aside, if a worker wants a standing desk for their home office, should that expense come out of the company’s budget?
Eligibility: Who has the privilege of working from home?
This is a tough one. For companies with multiple departments, where some folks are truly needed in the office and some could work from anywhere, it’s important to figure out a solution that’s fair. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to be eligible, but you may want to think about some different incentives for those who won’t have the option.
A flexible remote work policy might not be right for every workplace, but with today’s technologies and a little data to guide the way, your office may be the perfect candidate.