Despite the fears of some business leaders, working from home doesn’t broadly correlate with reduced productivity or lower engagement. In fact, the right telecommuting policy can be seen as a major benefit and encourage workers to perform at or above the level of their colleagues who work in the company offices.
Let’s look at how remote work can be more productive work as well as address some of the traditional concerns associated with this strategy.
Concerns about working from home are generally not accurate
Hesitation around instituting broad work-from-home policies is understandable. Business leaders can quickly point to some potential issues that could arise from such an arrangement, from a lack of communication and connection with team members working remotely to concerns about reduced quality of work.
While these concerns are logical absent additional evidence to the contrary, there are a number of factors that support a modern approach to staff members telecommuting:
- A range of tools exist to support employees as well as address potential accountability issues, if they arise at all. The right teleconferencing software, for example, offers video and voice connections, along with the ability to share presentations and automatically record calls for later reference, among many other valuable functions.
- Work-from-home privileges don’t have to be universal or automatic. Businesses can easily create policies that require new employees to demonstrate competency and reliability before they are granted this option.
- Providing opportunities for full-time remote staff to visit the office or gather with colleagues can help support the human element of working from home, building connections face to face and digitally that enable increased collaboration and other outcomes.
Productivity is another major concern that comes with a work-from-home policy. Allowing staff to work occasionally or on a regular basis from the same place they spend their free time might seem like it could reduce performance and create other negative outcomes. However, there’s plenty of evidence that a well-structured telecommuting policy can actually raise productivity.
Productivity gains tied to working from home
There is a wide variety of research that supports the claim that working from home allows remote staff to be just as or even more productive than their in-office counterparts. Although it’s difficult to make extremely broad assertions about the entire U.S. or global workforce due to variations in duties, experience, and the specific work-from-home policies of various employers, many studies find a connection between positive outcomes and allowing staff to work from home. Some examples include:
- A study conducted by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University business professor, and facilitated by James Liang, CEO of large Chinese travel agency Ctrip, included 500 employees and nearly two years of observation and data collection, Inc. contributor Scott Mautz explained. Bloom found advantages in terms of performance, attrition rate, and other key elements of operation among the group that worked from home. There was one major caveat: The stay-at-home group noted that 100% remote work began to feel removed from their colleagues, so Bloom suggested that partial telecommuting is the best path forward for many organizations.
- A survey from work marketplace Airtasker highlighted a number of different advantages stemming from remote work that apply to both staff and their employers. It pointed to benefits that range from more time spent exercising and savings on commutes to the potential for reduced turnover, less daily unproductive time on the part of remote workers, and reduced distractions.
- The Harvard Business Review looked at a study of a work-from-anywhere program offered to patent examiners who work for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. This broader application of work from home rules allows the examiners to work anywhere that can address the basic needs of their role, like electricity and a stable internet connection. The Review found the employees using work-from-anywhere and work-from-home programs had productivity gains above in-office staff.
When structured thoughtfully, taking different employee roles, operational needs, and other vital considerations into account, work-from-home programs have the potential to boost employee productivity.
This is a benefit that, outside of the time spent structuring the policy and the provision of hardware and software that staff would also need to use in the office, also offers cost savings. Everything from a reduced need for office space to lowered HVAC costs can stem from allowing employees to engage in remote work on a part- or full-time basis.
It’s also worthwhile to note the value of working from home to many employees. Advantages such as eliminating commuting time and reducing spending on a personal vehicle or public transportation can be powerful motivators. Companies that offer the opportunity to work remotely can keep employees happier and more engaged while realizing productivity increases and savings of their own.
Setting employees up for success as remote workers
There are a few considerations that should be at the forefront when creating or updating a work-from-home policy:
- Making the options for remote work clear to staff. There shouldn’t be any confusion about when or if staff are expected to work in person, and distinctions should be made for those working locally versus in other parts of the state, country, or world.
- Providing the right tools to support telecommuting. Videoconferencing software, cloud-based applications and storage options, and similar needs must be addressed.
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