Working from home is an idea most companies are still warming to. The hyper-visible 9-5 office work model still reigns king, and it’s easy to be suspicious of alternatives – especially those where your employees are completely out of sight. But despite managerial hang-ups, the practice offers significant benefits for employers and employees alike. The most impressive? Remote working may actually be the most productive work model going.
The rise of remote working has been accompanied by a huge research effort into its productive impact – and the results are unanimously positive. According to a 2018 global Jabra survey of business professionals, nearly 1 in 3 UK employees considers working from home to be most conducive to productivity. Similarly, a 2018 FlexJobs survey of 3,100 workers revealed that 65% believed they were more productive working from home than in a traditional office setting.
And profits tend to agree. Travel agency Ctrip in Shanghai, for instance, teamed up with Stanford economists to conduct a nine-month work-from-home study on a group of 249 call-center employees. Contrary to their expectations, (that remote workers would be less productive) bosses found that remote workers’ productivity increased by 13%, increasing profits by $2,000 per employee that worked from home.
Why exactly? One primary reason lies in the pitfalls of the open-plan office setting. The same FlexJob survey revealed “fewer distractions” as a primary reason for being more productive at home (75% of those surveyed). Following closely behind were “fewer interruptions from colleagues” (74%), reduced stress from commuting (71%), and minimal office politics (65%).
But there’s also something to be said for greater self-direction and autonomy. The connection between employee engagement and organizational trust is strongly established – as is the sense of being a master of your work, in full control of your schedule as a reliable, fully-formed professional.
Without the office distractions, politics and stressful commute, employees naturally find themselves more at ease and better able to focus. What’s more, at home, employees can design their workspace in whatever way - more light, less light, less noise, more noise - suits them best.
They can effectively create the conditions for their most productive work – engaging more frequently in deep work. This form of working is arguable the most valuable for companies and employees alike. It requires long periods of unbroken focus and intense cognitive effort, which in turn makes it so rewarding for employees. It’s no surprise that your most enjoyable work happens when you’re “in the zone”.
But employees can also arrange their day according to when they are most productive – whether that means frontloading their day with their most difficult tasks, using time blocking to break up their day, or saving complex tasks for late afternoon. The increased sense of control over your working day breeds a new type of accountability; you realize you alone are responsible for your performance, you alone can improve and perfect it.
But the productive benefits of remote working extend to employers too. Working from home is happily very simple to set up. Most of the digital tools used in offices – Outlook, Skype, Dropbox, Google Cloud, Slack – are unwittingly “virtual”. They use the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere, offering real-time collaboration and a fluid experience across all devices. So managers don’t have to spend a ton of time researching or investing in remote tools; they usually are already using them. This in turn means there is no huge learning curve required in making the transition to working from home.
But how do you actually know your employees are being more productive? If you can’t see what they’re doing, how do you know they are working on your most important tasks? This one is also beautifully simple – you just need a tracking tool that can help employees monitor and share what they are working on. The best are automatic and protect individual employee data, so you can lead with trust. Working remotely really doesn’t require you to sacrifice visibility; if anything, the transparency brought by these collaboration tools helps everyone stay on the same page. You can immediately see what the whole team is working on, and quickly see who has extra capacity to help out on a task.
Then there’s the benefits of being able to attract the best talent and build a more inclusive workforce. For disabled employees and new parents, among others, the option to work from home can be the difference between taking a job and being forced to turn it down. Candidates are also increasingly seeking flexibility from their employers, privileging those who offer working from home and remote opportunities.
Making the change
Slowly, employers and employees are waking up to the fact that the 19th century invention of a 9-5 office-based job is not the most productive working model. It not only boxes employees in, but presents them with a blanket stretch of unfocused hours, which they are unable to tailor to their working style. Given the extensive evidence suggesting remote work produces happier, more productive businesses, any competitive company should seriously consider at least giving it a go.