For employees, virtual work and flexible schedules mean zero commutes, additional recreational and family time, greater freedom to travel, more comfortable and personalized working environments … and the list goes on.
But what about for businesses? While some companies are mandating a return to the office post-COVID-19, others are embracing remote or hybrid workforces. While not all positions support full-time remote work, offering employees the option to work from home at least part of the time can help companies retain talent, attract candidates and stand out in today’s tight labor market.
However, organizations may be unclear about the impact of these arrangements on their bottom lines. Do remote environments impact worker productivity? Is it possible to nurture both flexibility and increased engagement within your organization?
The short answer is yes. Remote workers regularly meet and exceed objectives, identify new processes and contribute to company culture just as much as anyone in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting. They tend to accomplish more. According to a recent work from home survey from Stanford University, 40 percent of respondents felt they worked more efficiently remotely since no commute was required. The average worker saves about 72 minutes of commute time daily, 40 percent of which they devote to working, reported the National Bureau of Economic Research.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the stereotypical image of a virtual worker ― someone sitting around in their pajamas, prone to distractions and in desperate need of a shower ― has little basis in reality. Instead, imagine a diverse community of empowered, autonomous and entrepreneurial-minded professionals.
Consider a few reasons why remote, at-home working arrangements increase team engagement ― and, by extension, organizational productivity.
Common human resources wisdom states that engagement starts with recruitment. To maximize job satisfaction ― and, therefore, job performance ― you need to hire the most qualified, relevant candidates. Unfortunately, businesses are frequently limited by their local talent pools.
Call center positions, for example, typically are entry-level jobs with high rates of turnover. It’s not that employers don’t care but that few highly educated, experienced individuals are willing to take on low-wage, full-time work in traditional, regimented call center environments. Other would-be candidates have family commitments, geographical restrictions or disabilities that preclude their ability to sit in an office answering phones for hours straight.
By shifting to a remote workforce, companies of all kinds can expand their talent searches to include parents, people who work multiple jobs and out-of-state workers ― whoever the best fit for the job may be. [Related article: Don’t Play Favorites ― Or Risk Losing Remote Workers]
Beyond better hiring and recruitment, consider the benefits flexibility offers to your existing workforce. Remote workers have more room to balance their jobs and personal lives. They can relocate, travel, care for their families, go to the dentist, pursue hobbies and engage in other nonwork-related activities without sacrificing their careers.
It should come as no surprise, then, that 78 percent of full-time workers who work from home say that it has improved their well-being, reported Cisco. In addition, 82 percent say that the ability to work from anywhere has made them happier and more than half (55 percent) say that remote work has decreased their stress levels. But virtual teams aren’t necessarily looking to avoid work ― quite the opposite. Remote workers say that some things are just easier to do remotely, including focused work, cited by 70 percent of respondents and avoiding distractions (50 percent) in Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2023 report. In other words, workers care as much about their engagement as you do, which is why many of them prefer to work remotely.
Given the nature of their jobs, virtual teams are not entirely confined to conventional working schedules. Someone in a creative field may be compensated based on the projects they complete rather than the hours they put into those projects while service-oriented professionals can work on an as-needed basis.
These kinds of arrangements not only help companies lower their overhead costs but incentivize workers to take their careers into their own hands. Remote workers are able to devote their time to getting the job done, rather than wasting time doing meaningless tasks to “look busy” until it’s time to go home. Extra time can be spent problem solving, coming up with creative ideas and being proactive, all wins for the employer.
One common concern among companies that haven’t embraced remote, on-demand work is team cohesion. How do you ensure the members of your workforce don’t become isolated? The truth is that companies should be more concerned about teamwork in their brick-and-mortar environments.
Thanks to a proliferation in communication technology, virtual teams tend to connect more frequently and on a deeper level than they would in person. In addition to everyday tools, such as Slack, Zoom, Dropbox and Google Drive, which make virtual collaboration easy for any team, remote workers benefit from self-paced and self-directed learning and gamification embedded in their workflows.
Collaboration is built into many remote working arrangements and talent networks. The most effective networks optimize virtual communication and productivity in tandem, bringing together skilled workers across states and countries and allowing members to share tips and stories and forge connections with one another. These relationships wouldn’t happen outside of a virtual environment.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a theme: It’s distractions, not distance, that hinders worker engagement. Think of all the distractions present in a typical, centralized working environment: office politics, gossip, idle conversation, unnecessary meetings, “check-ins” from micromanaging supervisors, multiple breaks for food and coffee and so on.
These distractions can disrupt a worker’s sense of focus, personal space and well-being, impacting their productivity and morale in ways big and small. At best, someone loses a few minutes of their time. At worst, we’re talking about potential harassment, bullying and other forms of unsafe and illegal workplace behavior.
Once again, autonomy increases engagement. Remote workers have greater freedom ― the ability to avoid a troublesome co-worker, to leave an unproductive conversation, to choose when and how to engage. They’re in control of their own environments and they report feeling less stressed as a result.
So, now that you know how beneficial remote working can be for your company, how do you attract and retain remote workers? Follow these steps:
Since you will be recruiting remote workers online, it is imperative that when potential applicants research your company, they find plenty of information that is going to encourage them to apply. This is especially important when the potential job candidates are not local since people who live close by are more likely to be familiar with your company or even know someone who works there.
Your website’s career sections should showcase your company’s culture, not just by describing it but by giving examples of your culture in action. This may include photos or videos of employer-sponsored community service events, office parties and employee recognition ceremonies. You can also feature testimonials where employees talk about the company and why they like where they work.
Your job listings should describe your company culture and the compatible characteristics that a successful job candidate should have. It goes without saying that your company should treat employees with honesty, respect and empathy since if it doesn’t, this is sure to come out on Glassdoor or other online venues where it can sour a prospective applicant’s desire to apply for a job at your company.
While large job searching sites, such as Monster and Indeed, have filters for people seeking remote work, you are likely to get more applicants for your remote positions if you post your job on remote-focused job boards or specialized remote worker social media groups. Some of these are:
Don’t be afraid to ask current remote workers to act as brand ambassadors, telling people they know who are looking for a job about open positions.
You will probably do most of your interviewing via video call. In addition to stand-alone software, such as Zoom and RingCentral, you can use Spark Hire, a specialized platform that enables you to capture, review and compare candidate interviews. Other platforms like Jobma allow you to post interview questions and have the applicants upload a video with their answers on their own time or even do an initial interview via text.
When you have developed a short list, you can use tools to assess candidates’ likely cultural fit, predict how well each candidate will work in the job role or remove any unconscious bias on the part of the interviewer.
While it is true that remote workers may be willing to accept a slightly lower salary to be able to work from home if the alternative is an in-person job. However, if you are competing with employers who are also offering a work from home opportunity, you will need to be competitive.
As a small to medium-sized business, you can create a competitive employment package even without a higher salary by offering compelling and unusual benefits, such as duvet days, sabbaticals and other creative perks. You can also sweeten the deal by offering paid professional development or company retreats or paying for any needed office furniture or equipment.
While working remotely is generally enjoyed by the people who do it, WFH is not without its downsides, including feelings of isolation and a fear of being forgotten when it comes to promotion. That’s why it is important to create events for remote workers who live within a general area to get together in person. This can be for training, team building or something purely social. Just periodically seeing co-workers in person can make remote workers feel more connected to each other and the company.
To make remote workers feel that they have a future career path at your company, institute a mentorship program. It could be monthly video calls between each employee and a mentor or, if they live in the same area, periodic in-person meetings. In addition to getting valuable help and advice to advance their careers, remote employees will also become more engaged, knowing that the company values them and sees them as an integral part of its future.
As with in-person employees, remote workers will not want to keep a job that has a toxic work culture. If you have particularly high employee turnover, complaints or burnout, this can be a sign that you need to improve your work culture. Start with a code of ethics and code of conduct to establish the values you want the company and its employees to demonstrate and properly train managers and employees in what is expected of them.
In a remote work environment, it can be more challenging to have a consistent culture since everyone is scattered. However, you can and should express your culture through communications to your employees, customers and vendors, your policies and your management style. In addition, you can reinforce your company’s values and priorities through company-wide, in-person or virtual events such as charity fundraisers. When employees know that the company’s values align with theirs, they are more likely to have high morale and loyalty to the company.
It’s important to mention that remote work isn’t for everyone. Not every worker possesses the drive and discipline to transition out of an office job. More often than not, however, that’s because the individual wasn’t the right fit in the first place ― it’s hard to make yourself care about something you’d rather not do, even with a supervisor standing over you.
Fortunately, plenty of people who do care are out there, just waiting to work for your business.
Greg Hanover contributed to this article.