To work from home, or to work from the office...that is the question.
The true productivity of remote workers has long been in debate, but thanks to today's ever improving work-from-home technological capabilities, more and more businesses are opting for this arrangement. Do all at-home workers put in the same effort when no one is watching? Probably not. But after taking a look at recent case studies, surveys, and individual business experiences, I was surprised to learn that remote workers may be more productive than I had thought.
The same technology that allows us to successfully continue working while on business trips or successfully communicate with other branch offices across the US or even in other parts of the world, is the same technology that lets remote workers email, chat, video conference, and share documents over the cloud all from home. These workers may be sitting on their couches in their sweat pants, but according to Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of Aha!, "It should not matter where people are getting the work done—as long as they are focused and working hard each day." Haaff's company is one of the fastest-growing software companies in the US, and 100% of their team works remotely.
There are a number of reasons why Aha! was founded on the premise and promise of remote work, with one of the biggest factors being that Haaff has found that remote workers outperform office workers. With greater autonomy and no office-environment distractions, at-home workers tend to experience greater productivity and better cross-team collaboration. Distance demands improved communication. Without physical proximity, remote workers must rely on frequent, purposeful communication. "There is a stigma that remote workers are disconnected from the rest of the team, yet [a new study] proves that they are more sociable and proactively reach out to develop strong relationships," says Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace. "The new technology tools that enable communication and collaboration are actually motivating workers to pick up the phone, seek face time, and create lasting bonds." And, while office workers must call in sick or sneak out for appointments or errands, remote workers can design their working hours to meet life's daily demands without sacrificing workdays.
Haaff's company, Aha!, is not alone in its findings. In 2006, Best Buy introduced a flexible work program and employee productivity jumped 35%. In 2014, the co-founders of CTrip, a Chinese travel website, allowed some of their workers to work from home on a regular basis. Their productivity was compared to their office-bound coworkers, and with all other factors being equal, the at-home workers made 13.5% more calls. This was equivalent to an extra day worth of work each week!
Not all at-home workers are more productive, but according to a ConnectSolutions study, 77% of remote workers benefit from being in an environment with fewer distractions and get more done in less hours compared to office workers who are frequently interrupted by meetings, conversations, and noisy coworkers. But it is not just traditional office disruptions that are contributing to lessened productivity in normal office environments. According to one study from the Auckland University of Technology, the recent rise in open office floor plans have led to "increases in distraction, negative relationships, uncooperative behaviors and distrust" as workers have been forced to use shared work environments with decreased privacy.
It is more than just the companies who are reaping rewards from their remote workers; at-home workers also report being more satisfied with the arrangement. In a 2016 self-reporting survey of American remote workers, about 91% indicated that they feel that they are more productive when they work from home than when they are in an office environment, and the same survey found that these workers were more satisfied with their jobs, and happier overall. There is a common belief that remote work is typically sought by working parents, caregivers, and students, but according to a public survey by FlexJobs of more than 5,500 people who work remotely or who are interested in doing so, only 35% of respondents were working parents, and only 9% were caregivers or students. Instead, many respondents classified themselves as freelancers, introverts, or entrepreneurs.
The success or failure of a work-from-home program depends on many factors, including how the program is executed, the type of position each employee is in, and the personality of each individual, according to an evaluation by the Association for Psychological Science. While it is clear that remote work is not feasible or well-suited to every employee in every situation, it is safe to say that there are benefits for both the company and the employee. For example, employees who can work from home have the potential to save their employer thousands of dollars in office expenses, and remote workers take fewer sick days and less vacation time. In addition, remote work alternatives give employers access to an incredible pool of global talent. Even with our work at Createpossible and Resource Global we bring in a lot of stay at home moms and remote workers. We have two people who work with us in Jakarta and another three in Nairobi. They are wonderful to work with. Now I will say some personalities are not the right personality to work at home. It does require some discipline on organization on their end.
"When you hear of those companies that are closing their remote work programs, it might seem like, 'Oh, this is it—the end of the trend,'" says Brie, Weiler Reynolds, Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs. "But it seems like more companies are taking it on...There have actually been many more companies advertising for more telecommuting jobs, adding on telecommuters, deciding to close their offices and go more completely to telecommuting instead of having the hybrid in-office work model," says Reynolds, citing companies like Amazon, Salesforce, Philips, Nielson, Dell, and Sigma that have jumped onboard to follow the trend.
It’s a growing conversation and the once norm of the 8-5 office jobs is now changing into a new norm.