More and more, US employers are jumping on the “remote bandwagon” and permitting employees to work from home at least occasionally. A poll by Gallup consistently found that flexible scheduling and remote work opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job. According to the survey in 2016, 43% of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working from home.
Not all industries have the ability (or the desire) to allow remote work. A teacher working from home? The cashier at the grocery store? Not really possible. But most industries that are heavy users of technology—such as finance, insurance, real estate and IT—have embraced the idea.
First, let’s talk about the fears of allowing remote work:
How do I know if they are actually working? This is an overarching fear that managers have of remote workers. What if they are sitting there doing laundry and watching Netflix instead of working?
First, you have to remember that even if employees are in your building, they are not 100% productive all day. They may look busy, but random conversations and constant disruptions at the office can average more than three hours a day for an on-site employee. People who work remotely can focus solely on their work and not on the noise of the traditional office environment.
Managers should set expectations for remote workers just as they do for employees in the office. Remote employees should be available and reachable during regular work hours via phone, email, etc., Deliverables and goals should remain the same, meeting and committee/team participation is still expected, and so on.
What if they sit around in their pajamas all day? This is a good one, and it has an easy answer: Who cares? If you have employees who work remotely, does their clothing matter when they are home?
It comes down to personal choice. Some employees feel more productive and professional when wearing business attire. Others are more comfortable and can focus better on work when they are dressed casually.
Let employees decide. As long as they dress appropriately for the day—professional attire when in the office and meeting clients, for example, if that is your culture—leave the rest up to them.
We value communication and personal connections in our culture, and that will be lost if people work remotely. It can be more challenging to feel connected when not all team members are in the same location. This makes communication even more important for remote workers.
If an employee works from home only occasionally or once a week, there is still ample opportunity for communication. With full time remote workers, however, companies need to maximize technology and make a conscious effort to include these employees in meetings and informal chats—especially if the remote worker is not in the same geographic area.
Build this into your culture by using GoToMeeting, Skype and other software to include your workforce in all company activities and matters, no matter where employees reside.
Now let’s talk about the advantages:
Recruiting and diversity. One of the biggest advantages of remote employees is the ability to recruit talent outside of a single geographic area. If you are based outside of a major metropolitan area, or your industry is highly competitive with a limited pool of available candidates, you now give your company the ability to recruit on a regional, national or even global scale.
This advantage is not limited to just the geographic opportunities. You also give your company the ability to hire the best talent and build the best teams regardless of location.
Flexibility. Employees are not just asking for flexibility; in some cases, they’re demanding it before they will accept a job. The ability to work from home when you have a sick child or skip a 45-minute commute one day a week is increasingly important to today’s workforce. Not only can remote work options increase employee morale and productivity, it can also reduce turnover and save money!
Cost savings. Remote work employees save gas money and commute time, while companies can save money on the purchase or lease of office space and equipment. Workers who primarily work from home can also hotel, or use shared workstations, when they come into the office. Once you figure in other cost savings such as lunches, clothing, car maintenance, electricity, company-provided coffee and snacks…it adds up for both your company and the employee.
You might also realize indirect savings through greater employee satisfaction. If you reduce turnover, you reduce the cost of hiring and training new workers (which everyone in management knows is expensive and time consuming).
If you’re considering remote work for any of your employees—or if you already allow it—it’s important to have guidelines in place. An HR consultant can help you craft a policy that states when remote work is permitted and establishes requirements for productivity and communication. By setting clear expectations from the start, you’re more likely to have a collaborative, productive and positive relationship with your telecommuting employees.
Of course, not all companies and positions are designed for remote work. But when you can provide this type of flexible work arrangement, the surveys and statistics show a positive impact on company culture and employee engagement and loyalty.
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