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Risks and Rewards of Remote Working from a Performance Management Perspective

Stuart Hearn
Stuart Hearn

Is telecommuting a viable option in terms of productivity?

As the years advance and technology improves, it has become clear that remote working is the way of the future. There are many benefits of telecommuting in terms of engagement, morale and employee retention. However, the topic of working from home also raises pertinent HR issues and concerns that should be addressed. Adjusting existing processes and policies to allow this flexibility might take time and significant effort, so we should seriously consider how the cons might stack up against the pros.

Is it really worth adapting your performance management system for employees wishing to work from home? Here are some of the outcomes of remote work that may impact your decision to let employees telecommute.

Negligible face-to-face contact or team collaboration

One concern HR executives and line managers understandably have in relation to remote working is that of human contact and employee communication. Human beings are sociable creatures, and it takes a specific type of individual to thrive with remote work. They have to be unphased with long hours of solitary working and they need to be able to motivate themselves and remain productive.

The value of workplace communication should not be undervalued. In fact, research has shown that creative moments of brilliance are often prompted by spontaneous watercooler conversations. There is certainly a worry that employees who lack this environment will miss out on these moments. This is where modern technology, software and communication tools can step in to bridge the gap.

Remote companies must make frequent use of these tools if they are to remain united. Fortunately, these tools are improving by the day. If companies are looking for collaborative tools, they might look to Microsoft Teams, Slack or Workplace by Facebook. Daily communication is a must. On top of this, video conferencing and regular phone calls will help to create a feeling of community, while letting managers keep up-to-date on employee performance.

A boost to productivity and performance

Managers may be concerned that the introduction of remote working may result in a decrease in productivity and performance. Though these certainly are important considerations, studies have shown that when employees work from their home offices, productivity increases as a result. The Harvard Business Review reported on a study which indicates that remote workers were happier, more productive and less likely to quit than those who traveled to work.

A 2016 study showed 91 percent of remote workers thought they were more productive at home, and a further U.S. study showed a remarkable 35 percent increase in productivity when employees were permitted to telecommute. For this reason, remote working is a serious consideration for organizations wishing to boost efficiency.

Increased commitment and employee engagement

There are a number of studies which indicate remote workers are happier and more engaged than those who are tied to a traditional, office-based 9-5 working pattern. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found employees who worked from home were less likely to take time off work. A Gallup poll also showed that telecommuters were more engaged, on the whole, than office workers. Given the proven link between employee engagement, productivity and retention, this is a huge factor to consider.

Employees can work with their individualized productivity rhythms

Part of the reason 9-to-5 working is dying out is because it isn’t conducive to everyone’s productivity rhythms. Some people work best at 5am, and they are mentally exhausted by the afternoon. Others might prefer evenings, and this is the time their performance peaks. The practicalities of adapting to these productivity rhythms in a traditional office are unfeasible. However, remote workers have the freedom to work hours that feel more natural. This will work to the company’s benefit in the long run, though managers should take care to ensure that appropriate weekly hours are being maintained.

Reduced commuter stress

The lack of a lengthy commute is an undeniable benefit for the remote worker — and for the company employing them. One study, financed in the UK and conducted over multiple countries, found 18.5 percent of employees consider leaving their jobs as the result of a long commute. This number rose to 25 percent for employees who traveled for an hour or more one way. In order to reduce turnover and hold onto employees who would normally be forced to abandon their positions, remote working can be a great alternative. It should be noted that long commutes can have a serious impact on productivity and employee health, given the stress and fatigue involved.

The necessary shift to results-based performance reviews

Clearly, what works for a traditional office in terms of performance management will not necessarily work for a remote team. A certain degree of trust is involved when a worker is telecommuting, but individual and team productivity can be monitored and tracked — as long as individuals are given a clear set of SMART objectives and expectations. To get the most out of remote workers, your performance management processes need to be adapted to review progress, based on the accomplishment of goals. Managing simply by observation will no longer be enough.

To keep track of goals, managers and employees should collaborate on SMART objectives, which can be tracked with relevant performance management tools. As the years progress, it is likely that telecommuting will become increasingly normalized. It is also true that technology will become more and more sophisticated, thereby allowing employee behavior to be tracked and monitored. This will certainly help, but managers should keep in mind that a forward-thinking, results-based performance management system is the optimal way of ensuring everyone on board is united and working together to achieve corporate objectives.

Photo credit: Alex Brylov/Shutterstock 

Stuart Hearn
Stuart Hearn Member
Stuart Hearn has twenty years of experience in the HR sector. He co-founded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.