Remote working, whether that be on a permanent or occasional basis, and including working from home or a variety of office premises, is on the rise. According to figures, in the UK, 90% of businesses offer flexible working of some kind, which will include for many the option to work from home. In the US, even government departments are signing up to the benefits of remote working and teleworking, with some 47% of government employees eligible to work remotely.
But can remote working ever be better for business than office life, and what if you’re thinking of trying out remote working for yourself or your team? Marissa Meyer famously stopped remote working at Yahoo, and individual businesses amend their remote working policies to suit their own specific needs - here we explore some of the benefits and issues.
Attract and Retain Talent
A major reason for businesses looking to offer remote and flexible working is that it is a great selling point to new and potential employees. Whether you are looking to attract parents who would like to occasionally ditch the commute to take the kids to school or millennials who value their time and freedom, flexibility is an attractive attribute.
Reduce Operating Costs
An obvious business advantage of remote working is in the potential to reduce operating costs. Many businesses - including large corporations - already espouse ’hot desking’ in which employees switch desks constantly rather than having a set location in an office. This requires employees to limit the amount of ’stuff’ - paperwork, documents and personal items in an office, making space more flexible. It also means that there are fewer desks needed overall, based on the assumption that at any one time a section of the office population will be on holiday, sick or working elsewhere. A further reduction in operating costs comes from the mindset change that remote working engenders. For example, if you can work collaboratively with your colleagues using video and audio conferencing, then why would you need to undertake extensive business travel.
Improve Productivity, Engagement and Morale
In October 2014, British newspaper ’The Guardian’ hosted a round table discussion about remote workers in the UK. Here, employers discussed one of the benefits of remote and flexible working as limiting the spread of ’presenteeism’, the feeling of employees that they have to be visible to be valued. This unhealthy trend can lead to excessive hours, and ironically damages productivity as people are simply too tired to contribute to their full extent. Naturally, limiting the long-hours culture in a business has the potential to make a fantastic improvement on engagement and morale across all employees.
And finally for employers, allowing individuals to work from home or elsewhere can actually improve creativity. A different environment is often the catalyst for different and creative thinking - a massive bonus for any industry.
So what’s the downside?
Of course, for all these advantages, there is a downside - and the decision for a team to allow remote working is one that needs to take into account both the positive and negative potential impacts of this change. One problem is the lack of opportunity to bond as a team, making colleague relationships more difficult to form. While video technology can feel like you’re in the room with someone, talking via a device will always result in some non verbal messages being lost, and as a result make it slower to build genuine connections.
A potentially more serious consequence is that you miss out on the ’water-cooler’ moments, the chat around the office that can on occasion lead to great things being born. Again, much of this can be replaced with a real time messaging tool used by the entire team, but without the benefit of face to face contact - and the fun that can come with it.
Further to this, the management style needed to lead a remote team is somewhat different to a traditional leadership style. This can be challenging for some individuals and businesses as leaders increase trust in their team and remove many of the opportunities to micromanage.
Consider a Compromise
So if you’re interested in remote working, either for yourself or for your team as a whole, the solution may be a half-way house. Offer some flexibility within a framework, remote working for part of the time, with agreed face to face meetings and office presence other times. This way the team can reap the benefits of both arrangements, and build and develop the unique way of working that helps your business to flourish.
Are you or have you been a remote worker? Do you think it is more effective than working in the office? Your thoughts and comments below please...