A 2021 global survey of people who were working at least partly remotely found that 80% of respondents would recommend this style of work to their friends. While this is a 10% decline from the findings of the previous year, it still shows that people overwhelmingly prefer to work from home — or at least away from the office.
Prior to the pandemic, remote work was an option for some workers, but it was hardly the norm. Fast forward to a year and a half after COVID-19, and many employees have found themselves working exclusively from home.
But as we all look toward a hopeful future, one where the pandemic will be a distant memory, business leaders are left to wonder: is remote work sustainable?
Omdia’s Future of Work survey found that 68% of businesses believe productivity among their employees has increased since they transitioned to remote work. These findings are consistent with research on remote work productivity conducted before the pandemic. A 2015 Stanford University study shows that remote work improved productivity by 13% over 9 months.
These findings fly in the face of some leaders’ skepticism about productivity and remote work, with many believing that it would fall, given the distractions that abound at home and other factors.
Employees and businesses alike save money when remote work becomes part of the equation. For one, employees don’t have to deal with costly commutes while employers save on overhead costs, including office space and equipment. The savings can really add up — as much as roughly $11,000 per employee each year, according to research.
Talent Acquisition and Retention
A 2021 FlexJobs study found that 58% of those surveyed would “absolutely look for a new job if they cannot continue remote work.” The remote job-search site also found that 24% of workers would be willing to take a 10-20% pay cut if it meant they could work remotely, while 21% would give up some of their vacation time.
This suggests that employers will be more able to attract and retain employees if they offer remote work as an option.
Lack of Collaboration
When you can’t see your employees and colleagues in a face-to-face setting, collaboration can be more difficult. A fair amount will inevitably take place asynchronously, which is often difficult for people who aren’t used to this type of work arrangement.
Fortunately, collaboration isn’t impossible in a remote work setting. We’ll go into some strategies to facilitate it below.
Work-life balance is all the more difficult when employees are working in the same setting in which they live. With blurred boundaries, they can easily work extended hours and feel exhausted, leading to burnout.
Communication has become more difficult with the remote work scene, too. Many organizations are now relying on video conferencing platforms for meetings and check-ins. While this works for some purposes, many people are finding that virtual meetings are becoming all too frequent. This has led to a phenomenon that now has its own nickname: “Zoom fatigue.”
One study found that this phenomenon is becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly for women. Out of 10,322 surveyed, 1 in 7 women reported feeling very to extremely fatigued post-Zoom calls.
How to Make Remote Work Successful in the Long Term
1. Have a Plan
Of course, a solid plan is critical for remote work to be successful. Collaborate closely with other leaders at your organization, and get input from your employees on their priorities and what they need to do their jobs effectively. You might, for example, administer an anonymous survey to learn about necessary facets of work-from-home plans.
2. Provide the Right Tools
Keep in mind that employees will more than likely need specific programs, systems, and software to complete their work. These tools will vary depending on their roles but, for the most part, everyone will benefit from collaboration tools and cybersecurity software.
There are probably other solutions that are critical for the vast majority of your employees, too. It’s up to you to work with your IT team to determine what they are and how to successfully install them on your employees’ devices.
3. Hone Your Onboarding and Training Process
You probably already have an onboarding and training process in place for new employees, but it will require an overhaul to incorporate remote-specific information and competencies. For example, your employees will need particular skills to work from home, as well as understand how to use certain tools.
Even seasoned employees who have been with your organization for years will need to learn new skills to adapt to a different environment, and your plan must account for that.
4. Safeguard Work-Life Balance
We’ve discussed how work-life balance is threatened with the remote scene. Help preserve your employees’ mental health — which will, in turn, keep them engaged in their jobs — by taking measures to support this balance.
For instance, you might institute a sign-off time policy, insisting that employees stop working and checking their email at a specific time after designated work hours. You could also hold non-work-related check-ins and socialization events.
5. Consider Hybrid
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Today, many employers are combining the best of both worlds and embracing a hybrid workplace model. Usually, this means that some employees come into the office for specific days, say Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while the others come in on the other days — say Tuesday and Thursdays.
That way, employees enjoy the benefits of remote work part of the time and are able to collaborate with their colleagues face to face the rest of the time. It’s a win-win.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to remote work, but it can be a sustainable workplace model. Leaders must put effort into the process to ensure they have an appropriate model for their business and get everyone on board to make it work for them.