Enabled by ubiquitous connectivity and highly efficient communications systems, remote working is facing less and less resistance. In fact, for organisations who believe in it, remote working is proving to increase performance. But is it right for everyone? And what are the drawbacks?
It is now a common practice, no matter what size the organisation, for employees to work from home or indeed from any location. With seismic shifts in technology, and substantial shifts in the perception of professional norms and what constitutes a workplace, remote working can prove to be highly beneficial for all parties. However, it’s not for everybody, or every organisation. Here are a few points to consider when looking at if, or when, it’s right for your organisation.
Research from industry leading employee engagement platform TINYpulse indicated that 10.6% of employees who work remotely report a higher rate of feeling valued at work than their office bound counterparts, despite the absence of face-to-face interactions with their colleagues. The flexibility of remote working arrangements also meant that these workers had a 7% higher rate of happiness.
Productivity is the major argument for proponents and opponents of remote working arrangements. In the TINYpulse research, 91% of employees who worked remotely believed that they get more work done than if they were working in an office. In terms of the ratios, 37% of employees today, according to the TINYpulse data, use flexible or remote working arrangements. However well the remote working dynamic establishes itself though, the need for frequent contact with superiors or supervisors is hugely important, and on average more than half of employees who are working remotely make direct contact with their superior or supervisor every day. In terms of the views of organisation leaders, 34% of those surveyed felt that more than half of their permanent workforce could be working remotely by 2020, with 25% saying that, within the same timeframe, 75% of their workforce would no longer be working in traditional offices.
The fact is, that even if we do a nine-to-five in an office environment, we are likely working from home to some extent already. In fact, it’s almost certain that the vast majority of us are checking up on work emails or documents when, technically speaking, we’re not supposed to be working.
HR Director at ANZ Bank, a major Australian financial institution, Susie Babani, says that allowing trusted employees to have flexible or remote working arrangements has paid dividends in terms of making the bank an attractive place to work, particularly to attract employees for hard-to-fill positions.
Different Types of Remote Worker
An employee who divides their working week, or working month, between the office and working remotely.
Full-time remote employee
An employee who works full-time from a remote location. Normally, they log-in to company systems and work as normal, contactable via email or phone.
Temporary remote employee
An employee who works remotely for a temporary period of time, usually owing to special circumstances or medical requirements.
A person or team which is not employed directly by the company but works remotely for the company, normally on a particular project or for a defined length of time. Typically contractors provide specialist knowledge that isn’t currently available in-house.
Benefits of remote working
- Increased productivity due to removal of office distractions such as idle workplace chat and other distractions or disruptions.
- Reduced stress, and increased time efficiency, from not having to encounter daily traffic to/from the office.
- Reduced employee turnover to increased mutual trust. The remote worker is typically aware of the trust that the employer has placed in him/her due to remote working arrangements.
- Reduced overhead costs for the company and an increase in meaningful employer/employee communications.
- Positive contribution to the perception of the organisation as a dynamic and positive place, with a working relationship built on hard work and a large degree of trust.
Drawbacks of remote working
- The lack of a structured routine is not suitable for everyone, so a lack of supervision can lead to abuses of trust.
- People who work remotely can feel left out of team building activities, feel isolated and miss out on the social aspects of office working.
- Employees who lack the necessary self-discipline could easily become distracted by household items such as television, phone distractions and social media.
- It can be hard for remote workers to establish a firm distinction between professional and personal life, which can make it difficult to fully switch off from work.
- Remote workers are likely to be almost dependent on reliable technology in order to do their jobs properly, interruptions can lead to stress on either side of the employer/remote-worker dynamic.
For organisations with a dedicated HR function, analysing whether a person is right for remote-working should be done with not just the specific needs of that person in mind, but also their colleagues. What’s right for one member of a team may not be right for another, and you don’t want to foster disharmony by seeming to favour one person’s requirements over another. Remember, as an employer, what’s the most important thing is the needs and objectives of the organisation. It’s very likely that some element of remote working will be necessary, and it’s very likely that it will deliver. The research to date indicates that the positives heavily outweigh any negatives.
4 Tips for the mobile worker
With no employer supervision, it can be difficult to stick to set working hours. It is therefore important to set boundaries; ensure that you start and finish at a certain time and take a specific lunch hour where you have a break away from the computer. It can be helpful to have a specific room that you work in, so that you can physically leave the room – and your work – behind at the end of your working day. This can put a clear divide between your home and work life, so the two do not merge.
Protect office equipment
Whether using a company’s equipment or your own, it is important to ensure that all items are protected whilst working from home. Designating a specific work area that is removed from where you eat or drink can help this, as can ensuring small children and pets respect and avoid your work space. Accidents – and burglaries – do happen so it is essential that your office equipment is covered by home insurance. When making the transition to working from home, don’t forget to check your insurance policies and advise your provider of any changes to your circumstances. Not all insurance companies cover business related equipment within the home insurance bracket, so check the small print!
If you are working from home, it is quite likely that you work independently. This is usually classed as general administration and can be covered by your home insurance. However, if you want to conduct client meetings from within your home, you may want to consider public liability insurance. In most situations this is not compulsory, but it can protect you from any claims against you following accidents involving clients. It is also important to ensure your safety when inviting clients into your home, as you do not have the security of colleagues being present.
Health and safety
If working from home for an employer, you are still legally entitled to the same health and safety training as employees in the workplace. If you are self-employed and working from home then you are responsible for keeping your own work space safe. Completing risk assessments can help highlight any potential hazards that need to be resolved. This could include checking that sockets are not over-crowded, and keeping computer leads secure to reduce the risk of tripping over exposed wires. For your own safety, it is also important to use a chair that suitably supports your back and take regular breaks from the computer screen to protect your eyesight and improve your ability to concentrate.