Does productivity increase when working remotely?

Studies show that it can. Here’s what businesses and employees should consider to make remote work, work

Remote work has been growing in popularity in recent years. Currently, more than four million people work from home in the U.S. at least half of the time, and that number has increased more than 40 per cent in the last five years. 

Workers want flexibility when it comes to where they work. According to a recent survey from LinkedIn, 82 per cent of working professionals would like to work from home one day a week or more, and 57 per cent want to work from home three or more days.

The benefits of working from home for employees seem obvious – less time and money spent on commuting, home-cooked meals instead of takeaways and the ability to complete home-based tasks during the working day, like laundry or signing for deliveries. Flexibility improves the work-life balance for workers, but it comes with substantial benefits for employers as well.

As many businesses around the world shift to remote work for the next few weeks, here is how businesses and employees can be successful working from home.

Can employees be productive while working at home?

When it comes to working remotely, the most common worry among managers is that employees will work less, but the data doesn’t support that concern. In fact, study after study has shown that employees are often more productive at home than in an office environment. 

According to one 2015 study, employees at a Chinese call centre who were given the opportunity to work from home saw a 13 per cent increase in performance; 9 per cent worked more minutes per shift, and 4 per cent handled more calls per minute. A more recent study confirmed these findings, citing the following top reasons why employees are more productive at home:  

  • Fewer distractions
  • Fewer interruptions from colleagues
  • Reduced stress from not having to commute
  • Less pressure to get face time, or to turn up for the sake of turning up
  • Quieter noise levels

Working from home does take a certain amount of discipline, however. The most successful remote employees are those who take regular breaks, have set working hours, and keep to-do lists or use other organisational tools to help them throughout the day. 

How does working from home save companies and employees money?

Employees who work from home save money on commuting, either through decreased fuel costs or the amount spent on public transportation. For those who routinely buy coffee or lunch at the office, working from home gives them a chance to eat at home more and spend less. 

Employers also have the potential to save when they allow employees to work from home. Fewer people in the office means less electricity and other resource usage, and in a flexible workspace, it could even mean downsizing to a smaller office. The call centre from the 2015 study saved an average of US $2,000 per employee by allowing workers to do their jobs from home. 

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A less-obvious benefit of working from home for employers is losing fewer employees to sick days. Many workers feel pressure to come into the office when they’re sick, but during the flu and cold season that means spreading germs. Allowing people to work remotely when they’re ill results in a healthier, more productive workforce. 

Employees who have flexibility are more satisfied than those who don’t. That means better employee retention, which translates to lower recruitment costs to replace dissatisfied employees. 

And offering remote work options allows businesses to compete for talent outside of their geographical location. For example, a company in Boise, Idaho, looking for a web developer can recruit a remote employee based in Silicon Valley, where there is a wider array of top talent.

How to manage work relationships while working remotely

Since working from home is different than physically seeing colleagues every day, there is a need for different expectations and some ground rules. One downside to working remotely – and it’s something that needs to be carefully considered when implementing work-from-home options or policies – is a potential breakdown in communication. 

Ensuring that the technology works before hopping on that video conferencing call is one way to reduce stress.

When employees communicate face-to-face, it’s easy to just walk over to a colleague’s desk to ask a question or get feedback on an idea. Remote work makes those interactions impossible.

Giving employees the tools and technology for remote collaboration is essential for mimicking such interactions. They keep teams aligned and on task when they’re in different locations. Video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration platforms like Slack keep employees engaged and connected throughout the working day, wherever they’re working from. 

And it’s important that any technology used to facilitate communication works well. Most professionals know what it’s like to be on a conference call while outside the office and unable to hear everyone clearly or follow what’s being discussed because they can’t see visual aids. Part of that is ensuring that each employee has a strong WiFi network at their home; another is ensuring that the technology actually works. Inefficient technology can increase stress for a remote worker.

Remote teams don’t need to be remote at all times. Distributed workforces should schedule company retreats or get-togethers on a periodic basis so that workers can interact with one another in person. 

Flexibility in the workplace has long been a nice-to-have, but as more employees seek out remote work, it’s becoming an essential perk. Knowing how to do it the right way requires a little preparation. WeWork offers companies flexible coworking spaces that can grow and evolve along with the needs of the modern workforce. 

Jessica Hulett is a freelance writer, editor and content marketing specialist based in Ossining, New York. She has previously written for Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, DealNews and more.

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