Remote working has been put in the spotlight because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s something that’s been transforming work for a while now. So what counts as working remotely? And how do you make it work for you?
Many are finding remote working evolving and transforming our daily lives – and we like it. According to one survey, 65% of people1 want to work remotely full time after the pandemic. And nearly three quarters of companies say at least some of their workers will remain fully remote after-COVID-19.
What is working remotely?
Remote working is about working anywhere outside the workplace – whether that’s home, a coffee shop, a co-working space, a library, a park or – if you’re lucky – a beach.
During the pandemic, office-based employees around the world suddenly found themselves hard at work at their dining tables, ironing boards or any flat surface they could find in their house or apartment. But remote working and working from home aren’t the same thing – there are lots of ways to work remotely.
Working remotely from home
How do you work remotely?
It depends who you are and what you do. For frontline workers like salespeople, remote working means mobile working. They log in when they’re out in the field, whether that’s a train, a café or a hotel room.
For some people, remote working is all they do – a little under half of US employees who work remotely do it full time, according to Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace Report.
Then there’s the rise of fully remote companies. These companies don’t have premises, and colleagues use technology to keep in touch with each other. Around 30% of remote workers now work for companies that are fully remote.2 It’s about as far from the traditional set-up, with its daily commute and banks of desks, as you can get.
But remote workers don’t necessarily abandon the office altogether. What’s more common is coming in for meetings or get-togethers, or for a few days a week or month. What’s right will depend on each individual, as well as the company’s policy on remote and hybrid working.
Remote working is also associated with working alone, but again, that’s not necessarily the case. You might share your home office with a partner or roommate. Or you might work alongside other people in a coworking space. How to work remotely is very much down to the individual and the organization they work for – and it’s evolving all the time.
Is remote work the future?
Millions of people have now had a taste of life without the daily commute, or flying thousands of miles to attend face-to-face meetings. And it’s unlikely that things will go back to ‘normal’.
Since the pandemic, many companies have announced their commitment to remote working, and organizations like Dropbox 3 and Quora say they intend to become primarily remote.4
“I think this is a big catalyst to shift towards more remote working and managing relationships remotely,” says Sam Walters, Director - Professional Services at global professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters.
“Work-life balance and flexible working was a concept that was brought to the fore as more millennials entered the workforce. With the widespread mandatory implementation of remote working, we can now expect policies that promote more flexibility and balance will be the preference of almost all people in the workforce.”
But coronavirus may well have speeded up a process that would have happened in any case. Working remotely – wherever you do it – is here to stay, and it’s getting more popular than ever. It’s what people want to do, and the technology is there to help us do it well.
People increasingly expect flexible remote working arrangements
The benefits of working from home (or a coffee shop or a co-working space)
“Remote work not only improves outcomes and employee branding but is a policy that the most talented employees desire,” say business consultants Gallup.5
And they’re right. Here are just some of the benefits of remote working for workers and for employers.
Benefits of working remotely for employees
While remote working isn’t for everyone, it’s opened up a new, more relaxed lifestyle for many people. Here are just a few of the pros of remote working.
Better work-life balance
Without commuting eating into the day, remote workers can free up hours to spend with family, friends, hobbies – or just watching TV. That free time is yours.
Remote working doesn’t just offer more choice over where you work – there’s also more choice over how you work. You don’t have to listen to background chatter, freeze in arctic air conditioning or drink lukewarm coffee from the office machine. You’re in charge of your own working environment.
Without having to deal with commuting, office politics and lack of flexibility, life can be a lot easier. In fact, 86% of professionals think a remote job would reduce stress,6 and 77% of people say having the option to work from home after COVID-19 would make them happier.7
More choice of jobs
Working remotely can open up a whole world of job possibilities, as you don’t have to live near your office. You could even find opportunities overseas or, if company policy allows it, take your laptop and set up in another country.
Strictly speaking, remote working and flexible working aren’t the same thing, but remote working tends to offer more choice about when you carry out your work. So if you need to take a break to see your child’s school play or get your car fixed, it can be a lot easier.
Benefits of working remotely for employers
And what’s good for workers is often good for the businesses that employ them. Here are eight ways working remotely can benefit your organization.
Remote working can boost employee productivity across varied job roles. A well-known Stanford University study shows a 13% performance increase among call center employees at a Chinese travel agency when they worked from home. And 2018 research shows that working remotely has a positive effect on performance for people with complex jobs with low levels of interdependence on others.
Enable business continuity
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of being able to work remotely. If people can do their work from home or another location, businesses can carry on even if something happens to their premises or people are unable to come into work, for whatever reason.
With 50% of the workforce having the opportunity to work remotely at least one day a week, any organization that doesn’t offer it as an option is behind the curve. Organizations that don’t give the chance to work remotely may find themselves losing people to ones that do: 54% of office workers say they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time
Enable a better work-life balance
Remote working is inextricably linked to flexible working. Even if people don’t have more choice over the hours they work, the lack of commute gives them back extra hours. This flexibility is particularly attractive to Millennials
Research shows that having the option to work from home is a priority for this age group.8 And that means it needs to be a priority with companies that want to attract them.
Protect the environment
Transport is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. And business travel, whether it’s commuting or flying to a conference, contributes to those emissions.
By cutting out commuting and encouraging video conferencing, remote working can be an effective way of reducing a company’s carbon footprint. The US Patent and Trademark Office’s policy of allowing patent examiners to work from anywhere, for example, has cut emissions by an estimated 44,000 tons.
Widen your talent pool
Organizations that are looking to hire employees they need on-site at all times face restrictions. If a company is based in an area where housing costs are high, this can be particularly limiting.
But if you’re hiring remote employees who don’t have to come in every day – or don’t have to come in at all – you can hire from almost anywhere. People can be working from around the corner or even from overseas. Geography is no barrier to tapping into talent and creating a truly diverse workforce.
Boost employee engagement
People who work remotely have higher levels of engagement than those who don’t. They’re happier too: full-time remote workers say they’re happy in their job 22% more than those who never work remotely. Not surprisingly, this makes them more loyal. Those who work remotely say they’re likely to stay in their current job for the next five years – 13% more than on-site workers.9 Given the costs of recruitment, it’s an option that companies can’t afford to ignore.
Reduce real estate costs
Offices are a huge expense for companies. With a larger proportion of teams working remotely, it's possible to reduce these costs considerably. For example, allowing patent examiners for the United States Patent Office to work from anywhere cut office costs by $38.2 million.
How do create the best remote working policy?
What are the disadvantages of remote working?
As much as people want to work remotely, and despite the advantages for employees and companies, there can be some drawbacks. Understanding the true nature of the challenges can help you take steps to overcome them.
In one study, 27% of remote workers cited communication as their number one challenge.10 It can be difficult to connect when you’re not in the same room as your colleagues and you can’t meet face to face. Geographical separation also means that remote workers can quickly feel out of the loop with what’s going on in their organization.
Breaking down these barriers is where communication tools come in. Effective video calling and conferencing, instant messaging and group chat give people a choice of communication avenues – not all of them formal and pre-arranged. Communication can evolve to be as organic as it would be if everyone were just a desk away.
Loneliness and isolation
This is one of the biggest issues faced by remote workers, with 19% citing it as a problem.11 It’s an issue for organizations, too, because loneliness can affect engagement and productivity levels.
To be successful, working remotely can’t mean feeling disconnected from the organization and your colleagues. Daily check-ins, virtual meetings and instant messaging can help replace water cooler conversation. Collaboration tools can be used to create social spaces where people can come together.
Distractions and lack of boundaries
Many people work from home because they want more time to spend on their hobbies or with their family. But the lack of a concrete boundary between work and home can lead to distractions such as interruptions by the kids or doing domestic chores during work time.
But distractions can happen on-site too, of course. One study shows disturbances at home impact productivity between 15% and 27% of the time, while distractions in the office impact productivity between 20% and 35% of the time.12 While it’s not possible to exclude interruptions and disturbances completely, getting your home office space set up properly can help.
Get more advice on balancing working from home with your personal life.
Knowing when to stop
As a remote worker, it can be difficult to know when to unplug and stop working, making work feel never-ending. In one study, 39% of remote workers reported working longer hours than they were supposed to.12
‘Always on’ working can harm mental health and productivity, so managers need to be clear about the number of hours an employee is expected to work, and employees need to be strict with themselves about sticking to it.
Impact on creativity
Can your organization maintain creativity when people are working remotely? When researchers asked marketers in large enterprises about this, 61% said it would be a critical or significant challenge.13 But some studies show that remote working can have a positive impact on creative tasks. If your company has a creative culture where you feel empowered to share ideas and where the technology is there for you to do so, you can be creative, regardless of where you work.
Lack of opportunities to socialize
Even the most enthusiastic supporters of remote working would agree that it can mean missing out on the fun element of work. So grab opportunities for face-to-face socializing when they arise. And when they don’t, a bit of imagination and good communication tools can fill the gap. Virtual coffee breaks, drinks, quizzes, chats, and sharing jokes and memes can all be a part of working remotely.
7 top tips to make working remotely work for you
7 Top tips for working remotely
Working remotely for the first time is a big adjustment. Experienced remote workers know how important it is to have the right place to work – and the right mindset. Here are seven tips to make working remotely work for you.
Find the right space
Whether it’s a room in your home, a shared workspace, or a favorite coffee shop, the environment matters when working remotely. Make sure temperature and noise levels are comfortable for you, you have plenty of space for your equipment, and it’s somewhere you’re not likely to be disturbed. Look for areas that offer natural light to help you feel energized.
Dsicover some top tips for setting up your home office
Set a schedule
Working remotely often means more flexibility – so you might have more choice about when you do your tasks. But while this can be a very good thing, you might find that not having such strict deadlines means work bleeds into other areas of your life, which can be stressful. So it’s important to set yourself a schedule and stick to it as much as you can.
No, seriously. It may be tempting to work in your pajamas, but it won’t make you feel professional. And it’s not a good look on a video call. Clothes influence our mood and emotions, so wear something that makes you feel motivated, professional and confident. Getting dressed for work will also help you mark the distinction between work and home life, helping you switch off when the working day is over.
With no prompts to take lunch and coffee breaks, remote workers can find whole days passing in front of a screen. Taking a break is energizing, especially if you can get outside, so set yourself a schedule and make sure every day features at least a walk around the block. If it’s not possible to go out, get some activity going indoors.
Walk up and downstairs, exercise to a fitness video, or just do a few stretches to invigorate yourself and get rid of tension.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Working remotely requires more communication – not less. Use instant messaging and group chat to stay in the loop with colleagues and projects, video call into meetings, and above all, check in with colleagues and managers.
Even if you’re shy, make an effort to contribute to chat. Many people will be feeling the same way, but getting involved in a remote version of the water cooler conversation can stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Adjust your communication style
Body language and audio cues can be lacking when you’re not speaking face to face. Because of this, communication needs to be more explicit when working remotely. Check your messages for clarity and conciseness to make sure colleagues understand what you mean.
Ask for support
People working alone can find themselves soldiering on with tasks, even if they need help. It’s okay to reach out when support is needed – and it’s the right thing to do. For managers, providing regular check-ins with proactive offers of help is vital.