What happens when you tell a tech team to take a hike? Well, they make a remote staff, of course. Ha! If that doesn’t suit your fancy, how about this old question about nature: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Here are a few (slightly edited) answers from The Guardian:
- “What if vegetables suffer when we pick them, but can’t tell us?”
- “Yes, of course.”
- “The traditional answer is that it makes a sound but not a noise”
- “If a man speaks and there isn’t a woman to hear him, is he still wrong?”
- “If implies it hasn’t happened; therefore, there is no sound.”
- “To quote Forrest Gump: ‘I think that it may be both.’”
Honestly, I’ve never even thought about how vegetables feel… I just know how they make me feel when I see them on my plate. 🤢
Here’s the real question: If an employee works remotely and no one is around to watch them, are they really working? Maybe you’ve already wondered this.
Perhaps you’re also concerned about the potential difficulty of handling urgent tasks, disrupted company culture, tensions with positions that cannot be remote, or multi-state insurance / payroll tax requirements. These things mean that we must evaluate costs and benefits carefully.
In this post we’ll take a look at five of the benefits of remote work. One thing to remember is that these benefits often affect clients as much as employees, so that can be a hidden benefit. I’ll explain more below.
More Flexible Scheduling and Travel Needs
This is great because your employees can arrive at their desks more rested and stay a few minutes late or check something on the weekend without letting work dominate their schedule. Remote work can also help them balance other responsibilities like time with family or childcare.
Employees can even customize their own work environment. Some things matter less to employers, like colors and décor, but others can bring real value. Perhaps ergonomic tech and accessories will reduce time on workers’ comp or help staff start putting in some hours more quickly after medical leave.
Buffer’s 2019 report on the State of Remote Work found that 40% of remote staff rank a flexible work schedule as the primary benefit of remote work, and another 30% said they thought it was the opportunity to work from any location. Similarly, an MIT professor piloted a flexible work program and discovered 90% of employees felt like it improved their family and personal life and 85% were able to reduce stress levels. These are obvious wins.
Others might consider themselves early birds or night owls… maybe they have hobbies or classes during the day. What about doctors’ appointments? Even breaks can be more creative: exercising, power-napping (in a real bed!), running errands, or calling those annoying B2C companies that are only available during business hours. 😉 Sure beats surfing FB at your desk.
Many of these benefits transfer to clients or customers as well. If you have employees working early or late hours, or in different time zones, you can provide customer service to clients who do the same. If they can’t be bothered to setup a meeting in person, your team is ready to go on Zoom.
Increased Productivity and Mutual Trust
We started this post with a question about how we can know if remote staff are working. Surprisingly, it’s pretty well known that working remotely actually increases productivity. We need to understand why or how in order for this to make sense, though. Here’s some helpful data about remote staff:
- 2.4x as likely to work >40 hrs/wk because they enjoy what they do
- 2.7x as likely to continue working despite flu (i.e. pandemic), terrorist, roadway, or weather-related disasters
- 47% strongly agree they make more daily progress when working remotely 60-80% of the time (vs. working remotely < 20% of the time)
- 80% said that morale and engagement improved when remote
- 63% fewer unscheduled absences compared to an office setting
It also reduces illness (no surprise these days). It’s such a relief to remember you’re safe on a Zoom call when someone says they’ve been sick and thought they could put in a few hours! Working, usually from home, can be a super peaceful environment compared to the noisy hubbub and distractions of traditional office cubicles and break rooms.
I saved the best for last, though. Airtasker’s survey of 1,000+ full-time employees discovered, “On average, remote employees worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than those who worked in an office.” That’s enough time to offset entire PTO allowances. And how much revenue could your company earn in 17 extra business days each year?! Or maybe infrastructure can’t keep up with demand… how much progress could your team make if you were able to pause the whole world for 3+ weeks?
All this extra production capacity naturally leads to improved confidence and mutual trust. Managers can focus on timelines and outcomes instead of nit-picking and micromanaging. Staff practice written communication all the time, helping them learn how to write more clear and concise emails. Compensation begins to follow performance and incentivize behavior, and office politics are kept at bay by eliminating most opportunities for gossip and idle chatting.
How does this affect clients? Well, more “uptime” for staff means more consistent service, and extra days at work with more accomplished per day translates to quicker turnaround times. Aaron, our Marketing Manager, often says that “money likes speed.” So do clients!
Better Employee Retention and Involvement
While researching this article, I actually found more stats and explanations about this point than any other on the list. Employee retention is a really big deal, and remote work options almost always make it better.
The Center for American Progress produced a report in which they analyzed 30 case studies from 11 research papers evaluating the cost of turnover. They found that the average was “remarkably consistent” across all salaried positions in the $31,000 – $75,000 range: it costs about 21% of an employee’s salary to replace them. That’s anywhere from $6,000 – $16,000 per person, or about 11 weeks of full-time PTO, flushed right down the toilet. 😵
Now that we’re on the same page about the terrible implications of employee turnover, let’s survey the interesting information about the impact remote positions have on staff retention. It tells a super fascinating story.
- 39% turned down a promotion, have not taken or have quit a job because of lack of flexible work options
- 66% would take a different job if it eased their commute (imagine how many if it eliminated their commute!)
- 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on retention
- Remote employees usually rate their happiness 29% higher than non-remote staff
- 82% would be more loyal to their employer if offered flexible work options
- 90 – 99% plan to stay that way for the rest of their career
- 95% encourage others to work remotely too
Summary: Employees often don’t like it when they’re not able to work remotely so they usually look for, take, enjoy, and keep jobs where they can. Then they’re hooked and never want to leave, so they tell everyone around them to follow suit. Imagine if 95% of your clients sent referrals?
Speaking of clients, this also relates to them. ZDNet’s article on the rise of telecommuting explains, “Business is all about relationship building and if your employee population rotates often, your employees and customers can’t build those valuable relationships.” This means that staff retention is critical to client retention, and we know client retention is critical to business survival.
BTW, clients also seem to prefer talking to happier employees: 😊 vs 🙂.
Expanded Candidate Options for Recruiting
Even in a best-case scenario for retention, a company will still have to recruit staff when current employees grow old or die. It’s a fact of life. Recruiting is a necessity, and thankfully remote options make it easier.
The most obvious benefit is the freedom from geographic constraint, even though time zones may still be a factor. Remote talent pools are vastly larger than local and pretty much eliminate any relocation requirements. Even better, you’re still able to retain employees if/when they relocate (e.g. for lower cost of living, to live near family, for continuing education, etc.), and you might get them back faster after maternity or paternity leave and medical absences.
Another benefit is the access to greater levels of talent and specialization. This is fantastic for staff performance, and it also minimizes the training time you have to take from the schedules of your existing staff.
Third, some candidates aren’t even going to consider your position if you aren’t able to provide a remote option (see above). Surveying other companies competing for that same talent, we find that 43% of companies have positions that sometimes work remotely, 38% predict remote positions will dominate hiring over the next decade, others think it is “one of the biggest drivers of transformation of business models,” and 91% of companies already intend to support remote work at some point. Your business might wind up needing to offer remote positions, just to stay competitive.
These elements of remote staffing definitely benefit clients because they mean that you can hire more experienced staff to provide higher-quality service and results. Every client wants that in their life! Further down the road, this can also improve your brand reputation and increase your client referrals.
Reduced Overhead Costs for Both Parties
Lastly, shifting into remote gear is usually cost effective for both employers and employees. This is usually one of the most appealing and obvious implications of allowing employees to work somewhere besides the physical business location. It also varies the most widely, so we’ll keep this brief.
We already saw how employers can save by improving employee retention. They can also save by reducing, or entirely eliminating, other costs like real estate, office furniture, utilities, and hardware since staff members often sort out customized, personal offices at home. The reductions in salary (or at least foregone raises) as a tradeoff for remote options is also a win-win that can help your business’s bottom line while your staff enjoy the increased flexibility.
There are also distinct benefits for employees. Remote positions often spare them a hefty commitment to vehicles, transportation, food, parking, office clothes, childcare, and lunches. Estimates from Inc.com, Connect Solutions, and Global Workplace Analytics range from $2,000 – $7,000 per year, which explains the willingness to skip a raise. All of these things mean employees can spend more time focusing their attention on the well-being of your clients.
Some Tips for Starting a Remote Team
If you’re looking to get started with a remote team, or if you’ve recently transitioned an employee to a remote role, here are a few pointers:
- Automation is critical. Remote work is all about production, and if you can standardize something then you can probably automate it.
- The demand and talent pool involved means that HR needs efficient processes to sift through larger response volumes for job postings.
- The nature of remote jobs means that most training can be saved to avoid repetitive training, e.g. video tutorials and SOP documents.
- Set clear expectations for remote employees establishing new workspaces by addressing things like video backgrounds, audio quality, internet speed, professional attire, and meeting punctuality.
- Ensure basic business processes are reviewed and improved on a regular basis, especially as it involves various technology platforms (e.g. software for databases, conferencing, communication, collaboration, storage, passwords, emails, portals, etc.). These things are as important to remote employees as a functional front door is at a normal office.
- Setup regular meetings with teams, direct reports, and skip-level associates. Make sure you have time for them to express ideas.
- Set clear expectations up front rather than murky concepts that require you to constantly follow up and waste their time in micro-interactions.
- Look for fun ice breakers and ask questions about life outside of work when you start meetings to incorporate a more personal element.