American Express knew the future of work wasn’t confined to mass cubicles and strict work schedules. The credit card giant wanted to foster more innovation as well as optimize office spaces to facilitate collaboration. To do this, they decided to focus on their employees, and the BlueWork program was launched in 2005.
American Express’s BlueWork initiative separated employees into four categories (Hub, Club, Roam, or Home) based on how much they were needed in the office. ‘Hub’ employees worked strictly on-site, ‘Club’ employees worked from the office and home, “Roam” employees were usually off-site, and “Home” employees worked remotely. Employees with flexible work arrangements created their own work schedules and had freedom over their hours.
The program was a tremendous success. Employee engagement and productivity were up, and the company saved $10-$15 million a year in real estate costs. Employee satisfaction also increased, while turnover decreased. Those reasons, among many others, helped American Express rank ninth in Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2020, its 20th year on the list In fact, 92% of employees say it’s a great place to work (compared to the 51% national average).
Whether you’re running a team of 20 or 2,000, here are a few more ways a flexible work policy can positively impact your company.
1. Remote employees are more productive
Remote workers are just as productive as their office-bound counterparts, if not more. A Stanford University work-from-home experiment with Chinese online travel agency CTrip led to a 13% increase in productivity, as well as higher employee satisfaction and lower turnover. Another study found that remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts.
The boost in productivity is attributable to several reasons. A study by Airtasker shows that, by eliminating their commute, remote employees gained an extra 17 days of free time every year. The same study also found that office workers spent an average of 66 minutes per day discussing non-work topics, compared to just 29 minutes for remote employees. With fewer distractions to worry about, remote workers can redirect their focus on completing tasks.
2. Organizations can access a wider talent pool
When Adam Schwartz founded the e-learning software company Articulate, he didn’t want his talent pool limited to New York. Schwartz knew that launching a startup required the best talent for his company’s needs, which meant casting a global net. In order to attract prospective employees, Schwartz decided to make Articulate a fully remote organization that allowed employees to work from anywhere. More than 18 years later, Articulate’s remote work practice still lives on.
Remote work removes the geographical limitations and opens organizations up to a global talent pool. Organizations in San Francisco can access skilled workers in Singapore and vice-versa, filling roles both strategically and cost-effectively.
Organizations can use flexible work as a talent attraction perk, too. A Global Workplace Analytics survey found that 70% of employees consider flexible work options to be an important factor in choosing their next job, and 36% would choose remote work options over a raise.
3. Remote employees are happier and healthier
Remote workers can take breaks at their own convenience, avoid overly-chatty colleagues, and adapt their schedules to better suit personal needs and working styles. This level of flexibility and control can be a big stress reliever for remote workers. A study by Owl Labs found that full-time remote workers were reportedly 22% happier in their jobs than office workers.
Again, eliminating commutes is a big factor in why remote employees tend to feel so much happier and healthier than those working on-site. Whether you drive, carpool, or use public transportation, commuting to work every day adds stress and time to your day. In fact, many professionals have even quit their jobs to avoid a difficult commute. On the other hand, remote workers can catch up on sleep, spend more time with their families, and get more exercise, leading to a better work-life balance and increased job satisfaction.
4. Remote businesses are more resilient
The COVID-19 pandemic blindsided many organizations. Most had to transition their teams to remote work almost overnight, and the sudden shift gave managers and employees little time to prepare.
Some companies have managed to hastily adapt, while others have struggled. Remote workers need more than a laptop and a dedicated desk to successfully work from home. Those who are new to the working arrangement have had to learn how to manage a remote team, hold virtual meetings, and set boundaries and expectations on the fly.
These exceptional circumstances highlight the many ways a remote work strategy can help businesses survive and even thrive through tough times. For one, it allows employees to work from a safe location, with access to the necessary tools and data they need. It also allows companies to keep their fixed costs low. According to PGi, the average real estate savings with full-time teleworkers is $10,000 per employee per year. With less overhead, remote companies can focus more of their resources and energy on maintaining business operations and supporting their staff.
5. Remote workers are more autonomous
As long as remote workers have a solid internet connection and can communicate with their teammates during the workday, most can work wherever and whenever they want. This level of autonomy isn’t for everybody, but those who want to work this way often excel.
Results and deliverables are the main ways to track a remote employee’s performance. This means that remote workers need to show responsibility and self-motivation to get the job done on their own. Plus, remote employees often work on very different schedules, so they need to make smart decisions when no one can immediately answer their questions.
Even if employees don’t possess natural skills in these areas, working remotely can help foster a “culture of productivity” in an organization. Studies show that more personal autonomy at work correlates to lower turnover, higher engagement, and increased job satisfaction.
Unified communications prepares organizations for remote work
The traditional office space has been a fixture of corporate life for generations, with flexible work arrangements viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ employee benefit. After months of mandated work-from-home orders, the tables have turned. Companies big and small are adopting remote work policies for good, halting office expansion plans and even ditching their physical spaces altogether.
Although remote work requires coordination, advantages like increased productivity and a global talent pool prove that remote work is a worthwhile investment. After all, we’ll never know when the next event will force employees to work from home. Make sure your organization is prepared.
Organizations considering permanent remote workforces need productive remote workers, and that starts with having the right communication technology. Remote employees and distributed teams need to collaborate effectively regardless of their location. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app combine team messaging, video conferencing, and phone into a single platform where employees can communicate from anywhere on any device.
Originally published May 13, 2020, updated Aug 12, 2020