A Changing Perspective: Telecommuting to Remote Offices

By Chuck French on 7/8/20

Telecommuting to Remote Offices

A Changing Perspective: Telecommuting to Remote Offices

( PART 1 OF A 4-PART SERIES: WORK FROM HOME – THE NEW NORMAL )

Introduction

While part-time telecommuting has been trending upward for the past few years, a nationwide work-from-home directive to stem the tide of covid-19 infection saw nearly 30% of American employees shifting their full-time work to home offices. This sudden transformation has left management and their teams scrambling to maintain business continuity without the benefit of normal office or person-to-person interaction.

But as business adapts, so, too must attitudes about the virtual office. Like it or not, working from home on a global scale is here to stay.

Economic Drivers, New Expectations

Even before the pandemic, surveys repeatedly showed that 80% of employees expressed interest in work from home for at least part of the week. How will the fact that so many have now experienced telework in real time influence those attitudes? Kate Lister, author of Telework in the 21st Century and noted researcher in telecommuting trends, had this to offer in an article for Global Workforce Analytics titled Work-At-Home After Covid-19 – Our Forecast:

“We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices. For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption. My best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis within the next two years.”

For managers of a traditional office-based workforce, this sudden shift presents a significant challenge to their attitudes and approach. In a Forbes article titled If Remote Companies are the Future of Work, What Does That Mean for Leaders? author Sally Percy notes, “Prior to this crisis, many leaders were fixated on the outdated idea that only ‘certain roles’ could be done remotely. These same leaders tended to perceive people who wanted to work from home as being ‘driven by a need for balance.’ As a result, remote office workers were seen as lazy while more ambitious workers were ‘present and accounted for.’”

But in fact, surveyed attitudes among those seeking remote work opportunities do not support that perception. According to the 2018 Global State of Remote Work report by video conferencing provider Owl Labs, increased productivity/better focus was the number one reason why people were choosing to work remotely, when just a year prior it was the third-ranked reason behind work/life balance and reduced commute.

“We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices. For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption. My best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis within the next two years.”

And yet, skepticism remains for many who suspect a negative impact when employees are removed from direct supervisory view, an attitude famously reinforced when Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayor very publicly banned remote work organization-wide. But that was 2007. Today, the data tells a different story. A 2019 study conducted by Business News Daily reveals the following:

Remote workers take longer breaks on average, but they remain productive for an additional 10 minutes per day.

Remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year.

Remote employees lost 27 minutes per day on distractions, as opposed to the 37 minutes distracted office workers lost.

Office workers spent an average of 66 minutes per day discussing non-work topics, while remote employees only spent 29 minutes doing the same.

What’s more, a workforce that includes remote employment is more economical.

“Over the past several years, the primary driver of work-at-home programs has been the attraction and retention of talent, but during the last recession, it was largely about saving money,” says Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. “Organizational leaders, desperate to shed costs, found they could do more with less real estate. Since that time, occupancy studies have shown just how inefficient office space was being used. Employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time! That’s a huge waste of money.”

True, supporting a remote workforce still requires added capital outlay to equip employees with appropriate hardware, software and security tools, but it appears the savings realized through reduced office overhead should easily justify the investment in a modern online communication ecosystem.

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