In early March I took a trip to see a client. Like with any other meeting, I walked on-site, we shook hands when I entered the conference room, and we went to a fantastic dinner after the meeting. As we dispersed from dinner we made tentative arrangements to meet again at their offices in June. And you now know the rest of the story.
I have not traveled since that meeting. And that client? They, like the vast majority of professionals across the world, have yet to return to their offices and, like many others, are wondering if working remotely will be the new normal.
While it is easy to point to a worldwide pandemic for the reason as to why remote work is “the thing” right now when discussing the future of work, the reality is that remote work was the new normal before any of us knew the word “COVID”. A 2019 study conducted by Buffer showed that a whopping 99% of those surveyed stated that they would “like to work remotely, at least some of the time” for the rest of their career, and 95% of those encouraged others to work remotely.
Whether the pandemic was the last little push that companies needed to enable remote work, or was the trigger event, it is hard to argue that remote work is not the way most of us will work in the future; if even partially.
With any major shift that occurs, there are always learning curves and a series of pros and cons. Below are some that I have identified given my 15-years as a remote worker, along with ways organisations can address them.
The Pros of Remote Work
Flexible Hours for Employees
In the Buffer study referenced above, the number one reason why employees wanted the option to work remotely was having a flexible schedule.
Enabling employees to have a flexible work schedule means organisations will get improved productivity because their employees will be working during their prime hours. This is something I experienced first-hand when I ran an agency for 12 years where many of our employees were remote. We had an unlimited vacation policy and frequently told our team, “work where you want and when you want, just be sure to get the work done.”
Not only did we not have an issue, but it also served to empower our employees with a sense of ownership since they were the ones given control and entrusted to do their best work.
Lower Corporate Overhead
I for one do not believe some of the forecasts that offices as we know them will completely disappear in the coming years. However, I do believe that businesses will be taking steps to reduce their office space and close others in certain areas as a cost-cutting measure.
If companies are going to enable remote work, they would be better served to create “remote working locations” of satellite offices in the event an employee does need to visit an office, attend a team meeting, conduct a client visit, etc.
While this will result in lowering the cost of physical space on the balance sheet, therefore reducing the office footprint considerably; it will be a cost savings to organisations that will enable them to invest elsewhere. My hope is they will invest back into their employees.
Improves Employee Retention
When 99% of professionals indicate remote work is something they would prefer, it stands to reason that when it is allowed, happiness increases. Happy employees do not often go seeking other jobs.
In fact, a study by Owl Labs states that remote employees are 13% more likely to stay in a job than those that are working on-site, leading to more consistency in the workplace and lower onboarding and recruiting costs.
Improved Productivity, Health, and Reduced Absenteeism
There is overwhelming evidence of the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely, including improved productivity, less absenteeism, and improved employee health, according to this 2011 study by the US-based University of Minnesota. All of these add up to benefiting both employer and employee and can produce an ideal work environment.
The Cons Of Remote Work
All of the proof points listed above are positives for remote work, however, there are some potential negatives as well that need to be considered before moving ahead with enabling remote work for your company.
Loss of Human Connection
No matter how sophisticated we get with technology and our ability to connect over video, there is nothing that replaces in-person, face-to-face human connection. Fundamentally, as humans, we are hard-wired for human connection and we will not be able to get that through a monitor.
While remote workers may enjoy their freedom, companies do run the risk of having a culture that is less human unless they take steps to ensure there is human interaction. This will especially ring true for the up-and-coming Generation Z who, as noted in one of my previous posts, put a high value on human interaction.
Lack of Work-Life Balance
Numerous articles have been printed in the last three months that highlight the lack of work-life balance from those who have moved from the office to now working from home. While there has indeed been an adjustment for many, a lack of work-life balance has been a challenge for as many as 70% of working professionals.
This is especially true for those employees who traditionally work remotely. With your office there at your fingertips, it is all too easy to work late, on weekends, step into the office before heading to bed and the list goes on.
For employers who are enabling work from home in the future, they would do well to deliver education to their teams on establishing work-life boundaries so their people can maintain balance. Additionally, for those employees who are working remotely, they need to know what they need in terms of boundaries and what balance in their life looks like.
Having both sides pay attention to this all-important element will ensure an all-around better experience and reduce stress.
From all indications, the future of work is a remote workforce. How companies and employees approach this new environment can be a difference-maker in their culture and the well-being of their employees which will often have a positive result on the bottom line.
Originally published Jun 16, 2020, updated Sep 22, 2020