Remote working, or telecommuting, has been around since the invention of telephones. The rise of high speed internet, however, has taken telecommuting from a niche practice to one that we’re seeing in more and more offices — even with full-time teams.
The benefits of remote work are obvious for employees: no commute, work from the comfort of home, etc. But more and more companies are also seeing the benefits, both in the reduced cost of the office space needed and some surprising benefits that come from allowing remote work. (More on that shortly.)
A totally remote workforce was once viewed as something of the future. But study after study has shown it’s not something that’s going to happen — it’s something that’s already happening. A majority of full-time employees work remotely for at least half the week, and that’s not including all the freelancers and contract employees who only work remotely. Remote work is happening, and it’s happening now.
More Workers Are Working Remotely
There’s an idea out there right now that remote work is becoming more and more prevalent. A study has found, however, that it’s not becoming more prevalent, it’s already prevalent.
According to a study released in 2018 by office provider IWG, 70% of professionals work remotely at least once a week, while 53% work remotely for at least half the week. Even full-timers who work in traditional office settings are taking at least a day, if not more, to work remotely every week.
This survey was only for full-time employees as well, so it didn’t factor in contract, freelance and part-time employees, more of whom work from home than don’t.
What’s making the change possible? In an interview with CNBC, IWG CEO Mark Dixon said that the “The biggest driver is digital, [which is] changing every industry in the world.”
High speed internet, video conferencing, and instant messaging are all making rapid, clear communication possible on digital platforms. As more and more managers and team members embrace this fact, they’re also embracing remote work. By doing so, workers are reaping the benefits, as remote workers avoid taxing commutes and other stresses of going into an office.
People are more comfortable working from home, and more and more people are doing it. And a surprising thing that’s bearing out: People are actually more productive when working remotely.
Remote Work Increases Productivity
There’s a belief among more than a few people that remote workers don’t get as much done as people who come into an office. With distractions at home — chores to be done, and the couch (and Netflix) just a few feet away — how could you possibly get anything done?
In 2017, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom released the findings of a two-year study he conducted with a company called Ctrip. The study aimed to find out once and for all how productive remote workers are. They did it by dividing a company of 500 employees into two groups, a control group that continued to work at the office, and a second group that would work from home.
The only criteria for joining the second group was that you had to have a solid internet connection and a designated place to work at home. (You couldn’t work from your bed or couch.) That was the extent of the criteria.
Bloom’s hypothesis was that people who worked from home would be less productive than traditional office workers, but by avoiding a commute, it would offset the difference. That’s not what he found, however. What he found was that remote workers were actually more productive.
Remote workers had a lower attrition rate, took shorter breaks, and had fewer sick days. These remote workers not only worked more, taking advantage of the time they saved by not commuting, but they were also more efficient with that time. Plus, they were happier to stay with the company long term.
Remote workers get work done. Concerns about productivity and the dangers of distractions proved to be largely unfounded. Instead, there was a bigger issue facing remote workers: Managers who didn’t buy into the idea of telecommuting.
Managers Embracing Remote Teams
Managers have long struggled with the idea of letting workers telecommute. Some managers feel that not coming into the office shows a lack of commitment to the team. Others worry that a lack of face-to-face interaction will prevent buy-in from employees.
Again, studies on the subject haven’t shown that to be the case. And the benefits of allowing remote workers are immense.
For one, by expanding your talent search to anyone with a strong internet connection, you are vastly increasing the pool of people you can consider. This can lead to better talent in your organization. On top of that, remote workers leave companies at a much lower rate than commuters, so not only can you find that talent, you can retain it … and save on training new employees.
And don’t underestimate the impact of asking people to commute. Based on a study from Global Workplace Analytics (GWA): “92% of employees are concerned with the high cost of fuel and 80% of them specifically cite the cost of commuting to work.”
The study goes on to say, “73% feel their employers should take the lead in helping them reduce their commuting costs and … two-thirds of employees would take another job to ease the commute.”
Two-thirds of employees would take another job to ease a commute!
It doesn’t matter how great a culture you build once people are in the door. If their commute is terrible, you are at risk of losing them. By allowing remote work, even a few days a week, you are vastly easing the strain on your employees and allowing them to get more work done.
The average commute in the United States is 50 minutes round trip. For remote workers, that’s 50 minutes that could be spent on a computer, getting work done. And that’s not even factoring in the reduction in stress, and overall employee happiness that comes with being able to avoid sitting in traffic.
Oh, and the last thing from that Stanford study: the company saved almost $2,000 per employee on rent by reducing the amount of HQ office space.
The Biggest Challenges Facing Remote Workers
So more and more people are working remotely. They’re just as productive as their office-bound coworkers — if not more so. And while it is happening slowly, more and more managers are embracing the idea of remote work.
What are the remaining challenges remote workers face?
In The State of Remote Work 2018 Report, Buffer found that the biggest issues remote workers struggle with isn’t productivity or dealing with distractions, but actually loneliness and the struggle to collaborate effectively with co-workers.
The other biggest concern among remote workers was that their bosses were passing them over for career growth opportunities because they weren’t in the office.
The “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon is one that hasn’t been studied well, but many remote workers surveyed said that it was a concern of theirs. Missing out on daily interactions with teammates and bosses — even just a hello on the walk in to the desk — made remote workers feel isolated and disconnected from the process, and possibly forgotten about when it came time for raises and promotions.
The final issue many remote workers faced: Burnout. When your work and office are the same thing, it’s sometimes hard to mentally walk away from the job. We wrote about how to combat this in our guide to working remotely.
Luckily, as more managers embrace remote work, they are better understanding the needs and concerns of telecommuters, and are working to remedy issues with constant communication, team-building trips that connect employees, and videoconferencing to make sure people get face-to-face interactions.
More and More Workers Are Going Remote
As perceptions change, high speed internet gets more accessible, and videoconferencing software improves, more and more people are embracing remote work. Even if it’s just a few days a week, remote work can improve employees’ happiness, cut down on commute time, and in its small way, help the environment. Fewer commuters means fewer cars on the road.
While there are still issues facing remote workers — burnout, disconnection, loneliness — managers are starting to understand and combat those issues. Remote work isn’t the future, it’s happening now. And companies are going to have to get better at embracing it, because telecommuting will likely only get more prevalent moving forward.