For many, “telecommuting” is still a dirty word. For all the anxieties surrounding remote work, its potential to empower your workplace cannot be ignored.
Ten years ago, the Internet of Things was little more than a theoretical concept. Twelve years ago, modern smartphones did not exist. Twenty years ago, cloud computing was a nascent, barely-realized technology. Thirty years ago, the Internet was barely used outside of academia.
Each of these technologies has, in one way or another, changed the world. They each represent a fundamental shift in how we work, play, and live. For the most part, modern businesses have adapted to these changes.
They’ve implemented infrastructure and policies to support the secure use of smartphones and tablets. They use cloud infrastructure and platforms to help with everything from communication to analytics to recruiting efforts. They’re using IoT to enable new workflows and revenue streams.
Yet even with all this innovation, there’s one area in which I’ve noticed many organizations consistently fall short: Telecommuting. I’m not talking about enabling employees to occasionally reply to emails or edit documents when they’re out of the office.
I’m talking about true remote work.
Allowing an employee to do their job without ever setting foot in the office. Hiring someone who lives in a different city without expecting them to relocate. Giving existing staff the ability to freely work from home if and when they so choose.
For some reason, in spite of all the technological advances we’ve seen elsewhere, many organizations are still openly fearful of telecommuting. Even as they support technological innovation in every other line of business, they approach the concept of employment as though it’s still the 1980s. That needs to change.
I understand the pushback. I get why they feel the way they do. On the surface, it does appear as though there are plenty of compelling arguments against remote staff. Ultimately it comes down to one thing.
“As business leaders, we are afraid to incur the cost and risk of change management — especially with a concept as foreign as unsupervised work environments,” writes global virtual operations consultant Laurel Farrer. “There are both right and wrong ways to implement remote work. If you’re holding back because you’re only looking at the wrong examples, you’re going to miss out on many rewards.”
In her time as a consultant, Farrer has heard a number of excuses as to why remote work doesn’t work. I’ve heard a few, myself. At the end of the day, none of them hold water.
- If one person works remotely, everyone has to. Remote work doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Just as you’ll have a few employees who prefer to work from home, there will be just as many who want to be in the office.
- Without an office space, a business loses credibility. Nope. If your business’s first impression is based entirely on decor, you need to rethink your brand.
- Remote work means sacrificing career growth. The 1980s called. They want their office culture back. An employee’s success (or failure) should be measured by results, not by whether or not they’re fun to talk to at the office water cooler.
- There are too many distractions for remote employees to be productive. As anyone who has worked in an office with an overly chatty coworker or bad climate control will tell you, offices can be incredibly distracting — at home, a worker has more control over their environment. That means they can actively remove distractions when they’re trying to focus.
- People only want to work remotely out of laziness. The notion that employees only want to work remotely so they can work from the beach or so they can be lazy demonstrates a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the workplace. An employee who slacks off at home will find ways to slack off in the office –– people who don’t take their job seriously put a surprising amount of effort into being lazy.
- Remote workers are a security risk. An employee who’s working from home is no more or less of a risk to your business’s data as someone at the office. Moreover, with a proper remote work environment and the right security controls (the ability to remotely revoke access to sensitive files, for instance), remote work is a non-issue.
- Employees need to be nearby in case something urgent comes up. Thanks to workplace collaboration tools like Slack, this is patently false. An employee working from home can be just as accessible as someone working in the office; moreso, even.
I’ve debunked the major arguments against remote work. But why should you support it?
- Prohibiting remote work will soon represent a competitive disadvantage. Like it or not, remote work is here to stay. In a 2017 Gallup poll, a third of respondents said they’d leave their current career for one with remote work opportunities. And nearly two-thirds of US companies offer remote work options to their employees, according to online workplace UpWork — meaning businesses that don’t are now the minority.
- It improves productivity. According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote workers are between 35 and 40 percent more productive than employees who work in the office.
- It’s better for the environment. Less time spent commuting means less pollution, and the ability to prepare food in one’s own kitchen means less food waste from eating out.
- It’s better for your employees. In Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey, 99 percent of respondents indicated they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career. Reasons included a more flexible schedule, the ability to work from anywhere, and the ability to spend more time with family.
- It reduces costs, simplifies the hiring process, and reduces turnover. According to video conferencing specialist Owl Labs, companies which enable remote work take 33 percent less time to hire new employees and see 25 percent lower turnover rates. And when insurance company Aetna cut down on office space and moved toward remote work, it reported savings of $78 million annually
“Telecommuting has moved beyond being just another millennial trend,” writes Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird, which develops and maintains a multipurpose Windows email client. “It’s become a way of life, disrupting the traditional workplace as we know it with employees who are happier and more productive.”
In my role at BlueCotton, there are some jobs such as screen printing and embroidery machine operating that would be very difficult to employ an individual remotely. I truly started believing in the power of remote work when I hired a marketing agency that operates 100 percent remotely. It has no physical office, but it’s able to hire experts in all fields and do not have to worry about relocation issues.
It’s time to stop being afraid of remote workers and embrace them. Your staff will thank you for it — as will your customers, in the long run.