To remote work or not?
There is ample research showing the benefits of remote work but businesses continue to stress the return to office narrative. If remote work is so good for us, why should we ever return to the office? Some of the benefits of remote work we are all familiar with are:
- Increased Productivity: Many studies show that remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts. The flexibility to work in a preferred environment at preferred times can lead to fewer distractions and higher efficiency.
- Cost Savings for Employers and Employees: Companies save on costs related to physical office space, utilities, and supplies. Employees save money on commuting, work attire, and on food expenses.
- Work-Life Balance: Remote work allows employees greater flexibility to manage their personal and professional lives. This balance can lead to reduced stress levels and improved mental health.
- Improved Inclusivity: Companies are not limited to hiring talent in a predetermined geographic area. This access to a broader talent pool can lead to more diverse and skilled teams. Remote work can be more inclusive for people who may find it difficult to work in a traditional office, such as those with disabilities, caregivers, or those living in remote areas.
- Reduced Commute Time: Eliminating daily commutes will reduce time spent in transit, leading to more time available for both personal interests and work tasks.
- Higher Employee Retention: Employees who enjoy the flexibility of remote work are more likely to stay with their employer, reducing turnover rates.
- Increased Employee Engagement: Workers who are given flexibility in remote work often feel more trusted and valued, which can increase their engagement and loyalty to the business.
- Agility and Scalability: Remote work allows businesses to be more agile and quickly scale up or down as needed without the constraints of physical office space.
- Reduced Office Politics: The lack of a physical office can sometimes lead to a reduction in office politics and cliques, fostering a more focused and fair work environment where promotions and salaries are based more on merit.
- Emergency Preparedness: Having a remote work infrastructure in place can help companies maintain operations during emergencies, such as natural disasters or pandemics. Companies with a single centralized operation are at risk to a complete shutdown in the case of an emergency.
This all sounds great but it doesn?t tell the full story. On the other side, there are many valid reasons for limiting remote work.
- Isolation and Loneliness: Working remotely can lead to feelings of isolation, especially for employees who thrive on social interactions in the workplace. This can impact their mental health and overall well-being.
- Overworking and Burnout: The absence of a physical separation between work and personal life can lead to employees working longer hours, potentially leading to burnout and stress.
- Communication Challenges: Without face-to-face interaction, communication can become more challenging. Misunderstandings are more common, and the lack of informal, spontaneous conversations can impact team dynamics.
- Technology Dependent: Remote work is heavily reliant on technology, which can lead to problems if there are connectivity issues or inadequate equipment for employees and increases the threat vectors for cybersecurity teams.
- Difficulty in Monitoring and Managing Performance: For managers, it can be more challenging to oversee and support their team's performance and productivity without the regular in-person interactions.
- Weaker Company Culture and Engagement: Maintaining a strong company culture and keeping employees engaged can be more difficult remotely, potentially impacting employee morale and loyalty.
- Limited Career Development Opportunities: Remote workers may miss out on in-person training, mentoring, and networking opportunities, which can hinder their professional development and career progression. Building trust and strong relationships, critical for advancement, can be challenging in a remote setting, especially for new employees who haven't met their colleagues in person.
- Distractions at Home: Home environments can be full of distractions, especially for those with family responsibilities or inadequate workspaces, which can negatively affect productivity.
- Inequality in Remote Work Opportunities: Not all roles are suited to remote work, which can create disparities among employees. Additionally, some employees may not have a conducive home environment for remote work.
- Reduced Creativity and Innovation: The lack of in-person brainstorming sessions and spontaneous interactions stifles creativity and the generation of new ideas. Apple and Google have both shown this and made concerted efforts to encourage spontaneous in person interactions to generate new ideas.
Some of these detriments are directly contradictory to the benefits. How can remote work both increase and decrease productivity or improve and worsen work-life balance? When most businesses discuss remote work options, they tend to use the group of research supporting their already predefined stance on remote work. If they want their employees in office they find the data to support it and vice versa. So which is it?
The answer seems obvious, but no one wants to discuss it. It depends on the employee. Some people will thrive in a remote work environment, some in a full onsite environment and some in a hybrid environment. People are all different so it seems like common scenes that they would handle remote work differently. The oversimplified solution of "everyone must work in office" or "everyone can work remote" is a cop-out. To truly gain the most from a remote work policy, you need to be engaged with your employees on the front line and make case by case decisions.
You cannot treat your creative teams the same as developers the same as office support staff. Office support will need to be onsite; there is no way to get around it. Developers can tend to work anywhere anytime so it comes down more to the personality type of each developer. Your creative staff will likely need some in-office time to ideate and collaborate since in person communication supports the creative process. This obvious information seems to support mixed remote work policies for a business.
That is not want managers want to hear because it is hard. Case by case for employees? Think of the time that would take. True, but that is the role of management, to get the best out of their employees and support them in the way that works best for the employee. If you can?t take the time to help your employees at this level, your management structure is broken. The first real step to an inclusive remote work policy is a management structure built to support employees. Once that is in place, the detriments of remote work fade away and the benefits flourish. So, should you support remote work? Yes, you should support your employees in the ways that best benefit them, including remote work. Start with making sure your management team can support your front line and build remote work policies out from there.