As technology advances, more workers than ever before are working remotely. There has been a 103 percent increase in companies that use remote work since 2005, according to Global Workplace Analytics. Additionally, 38 percent of workers in management, business, and financial operations occupations, as well as 35 percent of those employed in professional and related occupations, did some or all of their work from home in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Traditionalists argue that working at home decreases productivity, but there's little proof to support that line of thought. If anything, new tech has made remote work just as productive as in-office work – if not more so.
"Advances in technology over the last 10 years definitely make it easier for companies to support teams that work remotely," says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a company that helps connect workers with remote positions, and founder of Remote.co, a website that gives companies information on remote work programs. "And a natural progression has occurred right alongside the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, where people are conducting work outside of the traditional office building. Whether or not a company officially supports remote work, there's a very good chance their employees are already working remotely to some extent. Thankfully, companies are starting to realize that if they put some structure around this growing tendency to work from outside the office and actively support remote work, it can be a big benefit to business."
In Practice: Advice from Those Who Know
During a survey of 102 companies about their remote work policies, programs, and practices, the Remote.co team received dozens of positive comments and advice about remote work programs. A few of Sutton Fell's favorites were:
1. "In order to select and build the tools, systems, habits, and culture that really enable remote working, everyone has to feel both the pain and benefits – especially the company's leadership." – Jake Goldman, president and founder of 10up, Inc.
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2. "Having a remote workforce allows us a much deeper talent pool to select from as we look for world-class people to deliver our unique brand of world-class service. It also provides us with more flexibility in terms of managing the volume across our servicing network. We've been able to offer more part-time and even split-shift options because those flexible work arrangements appeal to many of the employees who work virtually." –Victor Ingalls, vice president of world service at American Express.
3. "Always begin with the end in mind. Starting with your strategy, ask yourself what you want your product and organization to achieve. If remote work ultimately lines up with your vision and goals, then it might be worth investigating further." – Brian de Haaff, cofounder and CEO of Aha! Labs, Inc.
If You Do It, Do It Right
It seems easy to just let everybody stay home, take off their pants, put on their slippers, curl up with the dog, and log in from their laptop, but companies that want to let workers operate remotely need to make sure they have the right policies and technology in place for success.
"One of the biggest mistakes companies make when integrating remote workers is using 'casual flex,' where the program isn't clearly defined and hasn't been thought through," Sutton Fell says. "A remote work program that hasn't been tied to business objectives, that doesn't have a policy that defines who can participate and how, and that doesn't set parameters around things like communication and management is not setting itself up to succeed."
Additionally, managers often hesitate to support remote work programs because they worry about a loss of control over their teams. They may also feel like they can't take advantage of the remote programs because they just have to be in the office. However, once a structured program is implemented, managers should work remotely, at least on occasion, to set a positive example for workers.
"Managing remotely is a bit different from managing in-house, but the great news is that the skills that make really good managers can make really good managers from any location," Sutton Fell says. "The main difference is that remote managers need to shift in management practices to rely less on visuals and more on proactive communication, regular check-ins, goal-setting, and results-focused management. But really, all managers can benefit from relying less on face time and more on processes and results."
When done right, remote work programs can have a number of benefits for businesses and employees. A few examples include the ability to expand recruitment nationwide instead of limiting the company to a local candidate pool, eliminating employee commutes that may limit productivity, and fostering higher company morale through better work/life balance.
If your corporate culture needs a little shaking up, consider whether or not a remote work program might be the change that your office needs.