Can you imagine a world where your employees work from anywhere except the office? Where they can send emails from the comfort of their favourite coffee shop with a steaming hot latte on the side? Perhaps you’re a die-hard nine to fiver, and the idea of your staff working productively anywhere but in the office fills you with utter confusion – how on earth can they be productive if they’re not actually in front of you?
But the fact is the traditional office is under attack and remote working has never been more popular with more than 4 million people working remotely, according to the Office of National Statistics. This figure is predicted to rise to half the UK workforce by 2020.
Fear not, though - it’s not an all or nothing solution to 21st Century business and there are lots of variations on the theme. At one end of the scale are employees who virtually never come into the office, working almost permanently from home or their favourite hot desking spot. Then there are those who are often away but touch base on a regular basis like sales people. Laptop happy managers might work away from time to time and finally there are employees who would rather stick pins in their eyes than not come into the office.
Whether remote working is right for your staff ultimately depends on your company culture and the type of business you run. It can prove a really attractive benefit when you’re recruiting but equally not all roles are suited to remote work. But before you decide whether to let your staff try it out, take a moment to consider the pros and cons.
The benefits of remote working for your staff are obvious – no commute into work and greater flexibility but what about the benefits for your business?
Far from stymying productivity, remote working can actually improve it because your staff members are able to work in the places where they feel most comfortable and happiest. Research has shown that remote workers consider themselves more productive than those who are office-based with productivity ranked at 7.7 out of 10 compared to 6.5 out of 10 for those who are office-based and more than half of workers said working remotely would improve their motivation levels.
Reduced sickness and older worker retention
Not only that, remote working is better for their health, meaning less work days lost due to sickness and stress. And it’s also a great way to keep older, highly experienced workers in your business – with increasing demands on their lives outside of work, such as caring for families or elderly relatives, remote working can be an ideal solution, allowing them to still be productive but offering the flexibility to deal with other commitments.
Reduced operating costs
If you allow your staff to work remotely, you’ll need less office space to accommodate them, saving money on operating expenses. Figures from Global Workplace Analytics revealed if bosses in America allowed their staff to work remotely just half the time, they would save an average of $11,000 a year.
Lower employee turnover
Recruitment and employee retention can be expensive for businesses so holding onto talented staff is vital. By offering them a more flexible way of working you are providing a better work life balance and promoting greater employee loyalty. These are all things that will increase retention and reduce the cost of onboarding new employees down the line.
Weeding out the slackers
While many staff will appreciate the opportunity to work remotely some of the time, you’ll always get those who take advantage of the situation, slacking off to meet friends or disappearing down the gym when they should be working for you. Holding them accountable becomes much harder and you’ll need to consider what tools to use to monitor their time and track productivity such as online HR software. Remote working can be great for self-starters or those with a proven track record as part of your team but is more of a risk with juniors or those with no history with your company.
Harder to maintain company culture
Staff who work remotely miss out on the usual office banter and water cooler chat which can often be vital in building a cohesive team. Video conferencing can make up for some of it, but it doesn’t completely negate the effect. Office staff might not view remote workers as part of the team and remote workers can feel like they’re permanently left out. You also can’t just pull them in for a quick meeting or stop by their desk to see how their work is going.
Harder to communicate
There are loads of ways to communicate with remote workers but this in itself can be overwhelming. With so many forms of communication on offer there is a danger of information slipping through the cracks and you can use as many different forms of communication as you like but they only work if the person on the other end is there to receive it.
While remote working can boost productivity, there is also a real risk it can reduce it. Noise in coffee shops, loads of a distractions and a less than reliable internet connection can all seriously hamper remote working. The lure of Netflix, the sofa, the snack cupboard or a procrastinating walk in the park can all put a serious dint in productivity.
Working remotely can increase the risk of security breaches, especially if your staff work with sensitive data. The loss of a laptop, for example, could lead to a serious data breach and even fraud. If you’re worried about security it’s probably better to stick to office-based work, or at the very least use encrypted software and password management programmes.
Before you leap headfirst in the world of remote working look at your business and your staff and identify whether there are opportunities to offer remote working, be prepared to invest in new technology, create a communications plan and figure out how you are going to benchmark and review performances. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure your workforce is ready to embrace such a shift in workplace practice.