Is Remote Working suitable for your organization?

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the benefits of remote working.

There are many pros. Remote working can:

  • Be a valuable perk to entice quality talent to your organization.
  • Help promote work/life balance in your workforce and improve employee engagement.
  • Help reduce your organization’s carbon footprint due to less overall and peak-time travel.
  • Save on overhead costs, including real estate/office space needs.
  • Save time for employees.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, which was built on manufacturing priorities, the “common wisdom” has been that being present at work means more productivity and hence more profitability. However, as the workforce has shifted and more and more jobs are now knowledge-based rather than based around physical labor, being physically present at an office has become less and less important. Having a remote workforce can save companies significant overhead; for example, the Canadian telecom company Telus allows 65% of its employees to work remotely, saving $50 million in real estate costs compared to a traditional on-site workforce model.

Giving employees the option and technology to work from home can also be valuable to mitigate losses during emergencies. In 2010, when the Federal government was shut down for four days due to snow, the advisory council for the US government revealed that the unexpected days off resulted in as much as $100 million in lost productivity. If more employees had been able to work from home, these losses could have been dramatically reduced. From this perspective, it seems like a “no-brainer” to allow employees the “perk” of at least occasionally working from home.

But is working remotely for everyone, and are there any downsides? And does it hinder an employee’s career advancement, preventing him or her from reaching the top in an organization? For many it is about the perception. Companies must evaluate the pros and cons of allowing remote working situations, and implement appropriate policies to regulate their workforce.

Globalization means companies can be present in several locations, engaging teams that work in different continents and time zones. Especially as organizations use outsourcing for knowledge workers, employing consultants around the globe, it makes sense to allow them to work in a more flexible manner. Most companies implementing a policy for remote working understand these considerations. An effective remote working policy should take this into account, as well as other factors like:

  • Company culture and values. Does the employer want to encourage employees to have flexibility, or implement it only when needed? How will performance be evaluated?
  • Role in the organization. Obviously, some positions (like that of a retail salesperson who deals with the public) do not allow for remote working. Which ones are appropriate in your organization?
  • Industry and reach of the organization. If your organization is international, or has outsourced centers overseas to reduce costs, remote working may be essential.
  • Goals and policies. Having clear goals and clarity for judging employees’ performance and evaluating the effectiveness of remote working policies is essential.

In today’s digital world, the question is more and more about how to promote employee engagement and how well people are really connecting with their work.

Without face-to-face interactions and the constant stream of digital communication, how can loyalty be formed? President Obama, discussing flexible working policies in an interview, said that the challenges faced by working couples to disengage from the modern workplace and find work/life balance is a plight that is unavoidable by many families: “When we were at work, we were worrying about what was happening at home. When we were at home, we were worrying about work." Therein lies the challenge of today’s organizations and modern managers: How to enable a workforce that is flexible, while also being engaged, focused, and ambitious.

Sometimes it seems like being constantly connected through emails and technology gives no room to actually have time away from work. Remote workers, in fact, are likely to have even more blurred lines of work-life balance, as they put in longer hours and integrate work into their home lives. The best way to come to an equitable, mutually beneficial situation is to have clear communication of what is expected of remote workers and to use technology in collaborative ways. Sharing feedback, having weekly check-ins, and making an effort to have regular meetings are all ways you can help ensure it works. And, at the end of the day it is about knowing your organization, hiring people you can trust, and helping them thrive together and along with your business.