How beneficial is working remotely?

Flexible workplaces, also known as remote working, allow employees to establish their own work environment at their home. This benefit is often seen as solely beneficial to the employee, and is frequently used to advertise positions and capture more talented employees who would otherwise be unavailable. Some employers don’t see the other side of the coin and fail to ascertain how remote employees could further benefit the company. Some even fear that remote work just leads to bigger problems. However, flexible workplaces are beneficial to both employers and employees alike - they just each get different benefits. Remote work done right can lead to happier and more loyal employees, increased productiveness and efficiency, and even reduced costs for the company.

Allowing employees to work remotely inherently allows them to establish a better balance between their work and their personal life - such as family, friends, and hobbies - leading to happier and more loyal employees. A set of case studies suggests that happy and loyal employees are one of the most appreciated benefits of flexible workplaces. Compiled by Giglio through the Work and Family Researchers Network, the case studies sought to evaluate how actual companies fared with flexible workplace programs. Among the thirteen that had programs related to remote working, eleven explicitly mentioned a noticeable increase in employee retention after implementing the program (Gilgio, n.d.). While employee retention may just sound like a number to some, it has strong effects on other aspects of the company that can greatly benefit it.

Several companies go on to cite the reduced costs of needing to replace these employees (Gilgio, n.d.). Training new employees takes a long time and a lot of manpower to make sure they get up to speed on policies and expectations, and cutting that out of the equation means those employees who would otherwise be occupied with training new recruits through shadowing or other methods can instead be focused on getting more work done. As well, being able to offer the perk of working from home increases the talent pool. Some companies happily stated that they were able to find higher-skilled employees to fit into new roles because they offered flexible workplaces (Giglio, n.d.). By not being limited to the immediate area where offices are located, companies can greatly increase their range of places they can seek new employees, which means they can find untapped talents which would greatly benefit them in the end rather than settling for just the best in the area.

Not everyone believes that remote working is so great for companies, though. Brad Power claims that telecommunication among employees is actually detrimental to the company, and that face-to-face time is something that is needed among employees (2012). Power cites something called an Innovation Center, which is an atypical facility designed to force face-to-face interactions in an effort to break down barriers between teams and encourage them to work together (2012). It did work for that company, but it’s hard to imagine it working for many others. One hugely important factor here is that this facility was designed for use by executives between two different companies who were trying to come to a major decision. This activity involved people who do not regularly work together, and people who have the ability to make the decision for themselves because they’re at the top of the corporate food chain. It’d be quite hard to convince a large mass of regular employees to agree to something like this, and forcing them all to participate would likely result in retention rates dropping off a cliff, whereas remote working has been shown to increase retention rates. So while this activity did increase productivity greatly for the specific situation, it’s not something that can be globally applied to many other situations.

In fact, the case studies from earlier already show that remote working does increase productivity, with seven of the thirteen companies explicitly mentioning an increase in productivity among its employees (Giglio, n.d.). Brad was right about one thing: employees do need face time in order to establish that sense of belonging within the company – to socialize among coworkers. But in today’s modern age, that is perfectly possible to do over the Internet. Video calling is integrated into many communications systems today and it’s quite easy to talk to someone face-to-face from the other side of the world with a simple video feed. Two remote workers video chatting becomes even more personal, because they’re not just chatting at a plain, ordinary office, but inviting each other into their homes. They can see where the other lives, meet their children and pets, and discuss things in a more relaxing environment that suits the both of them.

Another survey of Cisco Systems Inc., conducted in 2008, was analyzed by Gurchiek and finds that “83 percent said their ability to communicate and collaborate with workers was the same, if not better, as when they worked on-site” (2009). This data suggests that communication does not degrade with remote working, but is in fact just as manageable or even improves. Gurchiek continues to explain that employees working remotely experience fewer interruptions throughout the day that would otherwise distract them from their work (2009). But the employee’s word doesn’t have to be the final say. Cisco itself has also claimed that its employees were “more focused and dedicated to completing the task at hand” while working remotely, being one of the seven companies which identified increases in employee productivity during a case study (Giglio n.d.). When both the company and its employees are claiming that productivity has increased, it’s safe to say that remote working is a net benefit in that regard.

Perhaps the thing every company wants to hear is that they can reduce their operational costs with telecommuting. Bill Powers outlines several ways that employers and employees alike can save money by staying at home and working from there. By having more employees working from home instead of the office, companies need less office space and smaller buildings, meaning they can pay less in real estate costs (Powers, Summer 2013). As an example, Powers explains that the federal government owns about four percent of all office buildings in the nation, accounting for about 0.4 percent of the nation’s overall energy consumption (Fall 2013). Reducing the number of people that need those buildings, thus reducing the number of buildings, would cut many real estate and energy costs for the federal government. Further, the Telework Exchange estimates that if all full-time workers in the nation were to work remotely at least twice a week, they could save up to $215 billion (Powers, Fall 2013). But don’t just take Powers’ word for it, the companies can back him up. Cisco in the same case study compiled by Giglio explicitly reported a reduction in operational costs due to flexible workplaces (n.d.). They also go on to detail additional gains due to the fact that their employees can continue working from home during natural disasters and severe storms - time that would otherwise be lost if its employers were unable to reach the office (Giglio, n.d.). Different companies might experience different benefits from remote workers, but some of the greatest benefits are often hidden gems that the company never even considered before allowing employees to work from home, and only reinforce their decision to do so.

Giving employees the option of flexible workplaces and schedules has frequently shown to enhance companies in ways that lead to higher employee retention rates, more skilled labor, better focused workers, and even reduce operational costs for the company. Some companies even continue to find added benefits of these programs as time moves forward – benefits that don’t necessarily help the employee at all but do wonders for keeping the company alive. That’s not to say every employee should be working remotely - it’s certainly not for everyone and shouldn’t be forced upon an entire company. There are plenty of people out there that do function better in an office environment. Establishing a balance between office and remote workers is no simple task, but there are thirteen very large and successful companies out there that have given it a fair shot and found it to be extremely beneficial to the company in many different ways. One company, Ward’s Furniture, even reported a 5-10 percent increase in annual earnings during periods where their competitors had been struggling or even went out of business completely (Giglio, n.d.). So it’s worth a shot to put fears of all the problems that might arise to the side, trust in the data that has shown those fears to be nothing more than unsubstantiated excuses, and give remote working a try. Flexible workplaces are a great benefit to employers and employees alike, and the perk opens the door to happy, loyal, productive, and efficient employees who can work to increase profit and reduce costs.

Giglio, K. (n.d.). Workplace Flexibility Case Studies. Work and Family Researchers Network. Retrieved from Gurchiek, K. (2009, November 16). Survey: Done Right, Telework Ups Productivity, Job Satisfaction. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from Power, B. (2012, December 12). In Praise of Face Time. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Powers, B. (Summer 2013). Tele-what? Organizational necessity! Part One. Inside Homeland Security, 11(2), 85+. Retrieved from Powers, B. (Fall 2013). Teleworkonomics: the evolution of telework: Part two. Inside Homeland Security, 11(3), 61+. Retrieved from