Remote working, allowing employees to spend some, or even all, of their working week outside the traditional office environment, has become an accepted part of our working culture. A recent survey by job-search company Indeed found that 37% of the workers it surveyed currently work remotely. Demand is growing, with almost half (47%) of the respondents stating that the option for remote work is a very important factor in considering a position. In markets where employers face tough competition in attracting the best talent, it is an approach they cannot afford to ignore.
But approaches and attitudes to remote working are by no means universal – there are differences between the management of an organisation and its employees, and to a certain extent also between male and female staff.
For those companies that embrace remote working, the arguments are primarily about saving money, staff morale and expanding their talent pool. Dell, who has a stated goal of having 50% of its employees working remotely by 2020, estimates it has saved $12m a year in real estate costs through remote working. Other organisations cite lower absenteeism, lower staff turnover and higher productivity from higher morale as the primary reason for offering remote working. Many now take pains not to talk in terms of remote working as a ‘privilege’ for staff, but as part of the corporate culture. Remote working removes geographic barriers to an organisation’ talent pool, giving them access to the best candidates, regardless of location.
There is a slight turning of the tide with some organisations however. There are some high profile companies who have declined to embrace remote working, favouring the benefits of the collaboration they believe only comes from face to face contact and ‘water cooler conversations’. Google has declined to embrace remote working, and others, like IBM, one of the earliest adopters, have reversed their stance, calling staff back into the office.
Employees tend to see remote working as a positive, to the point where, according to the Indeed survey, 40% would even consider a pay cut in return for the opportunity to work from home and 30% of those who currently have it would look for a new job if it was removed.
The top reason that employees across the board love remote working is the flexibility to balance work and personal commitments. A massive 75% of those surveyed cited this as the biggest benefit. Other upsides were lower stress, greater productivity, fewer sick days and higher morale.
Eliminating the commute is a very significant factor. Avoiding the ever higher prices of fuel, parking and public transport puts cash back into employees’ pockets, but above all, gives them that most precious of commodities – time. Commuting is seen as ‘dead time’, whereas working from home saves workers as much as two hours a day, eliminating a ‘time tax’ of 25% on an eight hour working day.
Remote working is seen to particularly benefit women, as it can remove some of the barriers to leadership that can traditionally slow down, or even halt, their career progression. The Pew Research Centre asked 1,800 workers the question, ‘What’s holding women back from top jobs’. Family responsibilities was cited as a key factor (an estimated 43% of women still give up their job when they have a family) with remote working seen as a key way to overcome it.
Women hold up to three times more of the management positions in companies that embrace remote working - 42% of leadership roles, compared to an average of 14.2% across all S&P companies – according to Remote.co, who provide best practice and support for companies implementing remote working.
There are employees, anecdotally more likely to be men, who feel that working remotely reduces their visibility and that this has a negative impact on their profile and their chance of progression. They feel they need to be seen to be in the office and to have contact with the company leadership if they are to move up the corporate ladder.
Overall though, attitudes to remote working amongst employees are positive, and broadly similar amongst men and women. After all, who doesn’t want to save time, be more productive and have the option to spend the day in their PJs?
Global recession, wealth inequality, trade tariffs between China and the US, Brexit, global warming and volatile housing markets are just a few of the challenges we'll face in 2020.
If you lead an established, market-leading firm, you face a dilemma.
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