Traditionally, workers have commuted to offices, worked onsite, and then traveled home at the end of each day. This work pattern continued day after day, decade after decade, for more than a century. That’s the traditional method of work, but is the traditional way of work the best way to get work done?
For years, proponents of remote work have challenged the traditional model that requires everyone to work in the office all of the time. They argued that some types of work do not need to occur in a specific place to be executed successfully. The Covid pandemic proved them right. During the pandemic, companies were abruptly forced to have employees work from home. Studies by the University of South Hampton and others indicate that despite the haphazard transition to remote work, most remote workers reported no dip in productivity when working from home, and the majority even reported increased productivity. Post pandemic, some companies now want employees to return to the office. However, the 20th-century model of containing all workers in a building every day does not address the reality of today’s labor market.
To stay competitive in most fields, employers must offer jobs that contain some degree of remote work. Therefore, as companies call their employees back into the office, most are now allowing hybrid work that allows employees to work from home one or more days per week.
Workers Want Remote
Companies across the nation face an unprecedented labor shortage. The U.S. has 9.9 million job openings, but only 5.9 million unemployed workers . Forbes recently cited a study of U.S. workers in which 80% said they would turn down a job if it doesn’t include some remote work. A Gallup poll places that number at 90%, and a Bloomberg poll sets that number at 97%. Whether the number is 80%, 97%, or somewhere in between, the point is that most workers don’t want jobs that require them to commute to an office every day. Workers have several reasons for wanting jobs that offer the flexibility of remote work.
Remote Workers Save Money
Employees like remote work because they can save money. Working in an office can be expensive for employees. Workers can incur the following direct and indirect costs when required to work onsite.
Gasoline has always been a cost factor for commuters. American families spend about $5,000 on gas annually . Nationwide, average gas prices have increased by 60% in the past year. Automotive maintenance costs average nearly $800 annually, and tires can add another $150 per year to the cost of commuting . Other direct costs of going to the office can include higher insurance rates, parking fees, and road tolls.
Regarding clothing, going into the office every day can be expensive. Consider your own choices for wardrobe. It’s been estimated that some employees can spend more than $2,000 per year on cosmetics and moisturizers, and daily they spend nearly one-hour grooming for the workplace. Dry cleaning costs add to the expense of working onsite.
Grabbing a breakfast sandwich and coffee at their favorite coffee shop can cost commuters $1,700 to more than $2,000 per year. On-site employees use lunchtime for socializing, and that’s good. However, buying lunch every workday can be expensive. Spending $5 to $10 per day on fast food adds up to $1,250 to $2,500 per year. Lunches in a sit-down restaurant can run from $15 to $25 per meal, which equals $3,750 to $6,250 annually. By the time people get home from work, they’re often too tired to cook, so they buy more takeout food, which adds to their total cost of working on-site.
Children of commuting parents often need before-school and after-school care. When school is not in session, commuting parents need to arrange for childcare. Childcare costs vary depending on location . On the low end, families in Mississippi pay about $5,500 per year, and on the high end, Massachusetts families pay approximately $21,000 per year. While remote work does not usually eliminate all childcare costs, it can usually reduce them.
Remote Work Supports Wellness
In addition to the financial costs of working in a traditional office, onsite jobs also have stress costs for employees. Commuting imposes considerable stress on the human mind and body. Commuting cuts into family time, which can generate additional stress and have a negative effect on family relationships. Most remote workers cite the stress of commuting as the number one reason they prefer remote work.
Employees report that remote work enables them to minimize the stress created by co-worker interruptions. Research indicates that after each interruption in the office, workers require more than 23 minutes to regain their focus. This is why, when compared to working in an office, remote workers often report higher productivity.
Working remotely can help alleviate some of the stress associated with finding, accessing, and paying for childcare. When parents save money on childcare costs, they can reduce financial stress. When parents have an employer who allows remote work, they have the peace of mind knowing that if they can’t have childcare on a given day or if they have a sick child, they can work from home.
The traditional workplace has emphasized the importance of work and minimized the importance of employees’ family and wellness. However, in recent decades, forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the value of work-life balance. Work-life balance is the idea that employees need to thrive in their personal lives as well as in their professional lives rather than depriving one aspect of our lives to succeed in the other.
Remote work takes the concept of work-life balance to a new level. The flexibility of remote work allows employees to address family responsibilities and focus on their personal well-being. They can sleep later, avoid the stress of commuting, eat home-cooked meals, work in more comfortable surroundings, have time to exercise, and spend more time with family. Research indicates that when employees experience work-life balance, they reduce their chances of burnout, they have greater job satisfaction, and they are more likely to stay at their jobs longer.
Remote Work Benefits Companies
When employers allow workers to work remotely, workers keep more money in their pockets, and they like that. From the employer’s perspective, remote work has the effect of giving a pay raise without increasing employee pay. When employees save money, experience less stress, and enjoy work-life balance through remote work, they can experience increased job satisfaction, which can increase employee retention.
Fully Remote: Pros and Cons
A fully-remote job has no requirement to work on-site in a company office. By requiring no physical presence in an office building, fully-remote positions have four primary advantages.
Pros: First, when the job is 100% remote, companies can recruit from a larger labor pool, which can be regional, national or international. Second, when employees do all of their work remotely, they don’t need company office space, and this can reduce overhead costs. Next, surveys indicate that employees insist on flexible work arrangements. Therefore, remote or hybrid positions can attract prospective workers. Finally, when workers feel ill, they may not feel like traveling to the office, but they often feel well enough to work at their computer. Remote work allows them to work rather than calling in sick. And as Covid taught us, remote work helps prevent coworkers from spreading illness to each other.
Con: As we try to imagine the cons of remote work, here is one: Fully-remote employees may be at a greater risk for feeling isolated and disengaged. Employees who never work face-to-face with colleagues inside a physical office building can miss out on the social events and spontaneous interactions that occur within the hallways and offices of the traditional workplace.
All employees want to feel valued and supported, but this can be difficult when employees work offsite and never meet their supervisor or coworkers in person. To overcome this challenge, companies and supervisors need to develop strategies for including remote employees and making them feel like genuine members of the team. Organizations must find ways to engage remote employees and imbue them with the company culture.
Hybrid: Pros and Cons
Surveys indicate that most employees still value going into the office, and they want to work onsite with their supervisors and coworkers. A recent Gallup poll found that 60% of workers want a hybrid job, 20% want fully-remote, and 20% want to work only onsite. A hybrid work arrangement allows employees to work offsite part of the time and onsite part of the time.
The hybrid workplace has several pros. Employees benefit from the social and work-related interactions that occur within a physical office while enjoying the flexibility of working remotely part of the time. This combination of onsite and remote work enhances employees’ work/life balance. Employers also benefit because hybrid positions contribute to employee job satisfaction, which improves employee retention. Furthermore, the on-site interactions of hybrid allow employers to reinforce company culture through employee participation in company events and informal communication.
Hybrid positions can help a company reduce real estate costs through remote rotation, a space-sharing strategy. For example, let’s say that a company has five open office spaces, but it has 10 employees. With remote rotation, the company would identify two five-person teams. We’ll call them the orange team and the blue team. On Mondays & Wednesdays, the five employees of the orange team use the five office spaces. On those days, the five employees of the blue team would work remotely. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the teams switch work locations. The blue team works on-site in the office spaces and the orange team works remotely. On Fridays, both teams work remotely.
One con of hybrid workplaces occurs in employee recruitment. Because employees commute to a physical office, employers must recruit within a smaller, local pool of talent rather than from the larger labor pool that’s available for fully-remote positions.
The Remote Swiss Army Knife
Employers can adapt remote and hybrid work in ways that make sense for different positions. For example, some workplaces have different versions of remote work. In one department, employees might have a hybrid arrangement that allows them to alternate between remote days and on-site days. In a different department, all employees might work remotely unless there is a special event that requires their attendance. For these two scenarios, employees who don’t want to work remotely don’t have to. Finally, still another team might be composed of 100% remote employees and they never visit a physical office.
Converting Jobs to Remote or Hybrid
If you’re an employer, and you think that jobs at your company can’t be done remotely…think again. For example, a “hands on” job like occupational therapist has traditionally taken place in person. However, U.S. News and World Report now lists occupational therapist as one of the top 20 remote jobs in America. Search job sites, and you will find some surprising remote positions that include physicians, fitness instructors, and admin assistants.
Of course, some jobs cannot be done remotely, but many can. Employers just need to sincerely analyze a job to determine which tasks can be done from anywhere. To illustrate the process, let’s analyze a traditional, onsite job like restaurant manager. Let’s see if remote work could be an option for this job.
Managing a restaurant requires the manager to spend many hours interacting face-to-face with employees, vendors, customers, and others. However, even this position has potential to become a successful hybrid position. Consider the following list of managerial tasks that can be done from anywhere: scheduling staff, tracking and approving employee hours, recording payroll, ordering food and supplies, creating reports, scheduling interviews, developing budgets, scheduling training, plus reviewing and updating menus. With the help of basic technology, numerous managerial tasks can be done remotely. Perhaps all of those tasks could translate into one remote workday per week, or every other week, for the restaurant manager.
When companies find ways to add flexibility to a position, they improve their ability to recruit and retain quality employees. If job hunters have a choice of a hybrid job that allows at least one remote workday per week versus a job that requires commuting every day, most people will choose the hybrid job if all other factors are equal. Therefore, if possible, employers should try to integrate the flexibility of some remote work into jobs.
Effective Remote Policies
Some work situations may warrant intense monitoring by supervisors. However, in most traditional offices, supervisors have better things to do than spy on their employees to make sure they are working. In effective onsite workplaces, companies set clear expectations. They teach employees how to meet those expectations. They then measure how well employees meet those expectations. Bosses measure productivity without directly observing every action onsite workers take, and they can take that same approach with remote employees.
Accountability for remote workers starts with having company policies that are designed specifically for remote workers. Many companies accidentally stumbled into remote work, and they have not updated their traditional company policies to address the unique challenges and conditions that remote workers face. Remote employees can’t do what their employers expect unless they know what their employers expect. To be fair to employees and supervisors, companies need clear, logical policies that directly address the unique conditions of the remote workplace.
To be effective, companies must revise their current policies and job descriptions to be remote relevant. Once remote and hybrid employees understand what’s expected of them, companies need to teach workers how to meet those standards.
This training presents a challenge for companies that lack expertise in the technical, physical, social, financial, and psychological hazards that exist within remote workplaces. Therefore, companies may want to consider having supervisors and employees take self-paced, online training courses from an organization like WorkForceRemote.org. When everyone in a company takes the same research-based, standardized training, supervisors and remote workers can avoid the mistakes and misunderstandings that occur when people operate based on assumptions rather than standards.
One possible solution is to create a merit system to reward employees with remote working opportunities. This emphasis on training can support a company’s remote merit policy. A remote merit policy requires new employees to earn the privilege of working remotely. New hires work onsite every day for their first three months. The trial period acclimates new employees to the company culture, and it allows supervisors to ensure that employees are ready (and worthy) for remote work. After their probationary period and remote-policy training, new employees are allowed to work remotely one day per week. The number of days can then incrementally increase according to a timeline that fits the company’s needs. With a remote-merit policy, companies present remote work as a privilege for trustworthy employees who meet remote work standards.
The Future is Remote
Remote work, in some form, is here to stay. To compete in a challenging labor market, successful companies will be the ones that not only offer the flexibility of remote work, but also provide the professional development and support that remote employees need to thrive and serve their customers.
For more training on remote professional productivity, sign up for our Remote Professional Certification. In this certification track, you will learn more about factors that can enhance to remote productivity.
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- Child care costs in the United States. (n.d.). Economic Policy Institute.