Remote working has rocketed since the early 2000’s in fact data from the ONS shows that 4.2 million people regularly work from home in the UK. The improvements in technology has increased the ability to communicate globally, at a pace never seen before. But technology is just the enabler of this culture – what are the key business drivers for shrinking your office based teams in favour of remote teams and individuals?
1. Grow the talent pool: Acquire resources beyond geographical limitations, journey times, borders and political constraints – why not have the best people for the job, rather than selecting from a narrow pool of local talent?
2. Product reach: as companies expand and want to deliver their product to the four corners of the world, they need to add scale to their business quickly. Placing local boots on the ground by adding new team members to your secure corporate domain network wherever they may be on the planet, on any device, has never been easier or quicker (with the right technology in place)!
3. Flexible Workforce: Offering workers the flexibility of working from home or whilst out of the office, is a great perk and a motivator, meaning happier staff and less staff attrition. Additionally, if the option exists to log in at home, staff may wish to finish off work in the evening that they couldn’t complete in the day due to an over-running meeting, or similar. Without this flexibility, projects could be delayed.
However; there are still many companies whose staff work from a central office or group of offices, and there are even cases of businesses who have tried a remote working policy and then reverted back to office working. So, the question is which is better for your business?
Anecdotally you’ll most likely have heard a variety of tales surrounding remote working, from those who find it so much more productive and helpful to work outside the constraints of an office; to others who say working from home is full of distractions and they can’t get anything done.
Surepayroll a US firm conducted a report which proposed that remote working, in general, is more beneficial in terms of productivity, 86% of staff said working alone helps them reach ‘maximum productivity’ and crucially their managers agree, with 66% saying they believe their remote staff are more productive. Another 2016 American study by TINYpulse, an employment engagement company found 91% of employees said they were more productive working from home, however, they may have an ulterior motive so perhaps a better study to reference is a Chinese travel company who monitored the performance of remote and office based workers, they found remote workers made 13.5% more total sales calls with a higher success rate than their office based colleagues.
Office working has its benefits too:
1. Company culture: It is more likely to result in the support of building a coherent company culture and values system; conversely, for staff working remotely, possibly from different countries and cultures, this will likely be more difficult to achieve.
2. Peer to Peer support: Any minor issues – e.g. user doesn’t know where a file is kept, or ‘how to do xxx in Word’, can often quickly be resolved by asking a colleague sitting nearby. However, this can also be a negative – considering distractions limit productivity.
3. Collaboration: Arguably, people are better able to work on projects and problems together, when sat in a room together. However, this is not always the case! Consider if your subject experts happen to live miles from the office, and their commute is over 90 minutes, they may feel demotivated and tired – whereas if they had the flexibility to work from home they could be far more energised! Often of course, there is a simple geographical limitation – e.g. project resource in one country and delivery team in another.
Offices are also very good for enforcing time management, there are generally fixed hours and an expectation to start at a certain time. Additionally, if something requires someone to work late, it’s easier to stay in the office than it is to carry on working at home, when the kids are back from school and want to see you!. Arguably, communication is better in an office environment, staff quickly learn how to interact with each other on a day to day basis whereas remote workers can become reliant on email and messaging services, and office staff may be reluctant to call remote staff.
So, what should you do? Ultimately, as with most things, there needs to be a balance. Here are some thoughts/ideas off the bat:
1. Offer a flexible working policy – your staff will love you for it! But ensure the policy is managed and staff know the boundaries – i.e. when they can work from home/remotely and when they cannot.
2. Some roles will always be more suitable for remote working, and there may be some that are completely unsuitable, e.g. Office Front of House Reception – how do you meet and greet remotely? It’s possible in that example if staff have split roles (e.g. front of house/ office admin) and there is sufficient cover for front of house.
3. Try a time split – e.g. 3 days a week in the office and 2 days a week working remotely, but at the same time operate a hot/shared desk policy to save on wasted office space.
4. The golden rule: monitor on an on-going basis, both in terms of productivity, KPIs, and staff satisfaction/motivation/attrition.