We’re in the midst of what’s been described as the biggest remote working experiment in history.
Many managers and executives are understandably anxious about productivity levels among their employees, who are now working outside of their immediate view.
But the idea that remote workers are less efficient and often take advantage of the physical distance between themselves and their manager is a myth.
Remote employees are currently facing various obstacles to work, and many require or expect additional support from their employers in order to navigate through this difficult time.
Many of these challenges have been enhanced by the current lockdown, with employees having no respite from their makeshift home office and no knowledge of when they’ll get it.
Without the luxury of time to put effective measures in place, many businesses have adopted a “ride it out” mentality and are waiting for regular office life to resume.
But in doing so, these companies are passing up an excellent opportunity to benefit the wider business through remote working strategies.
Our syndicated B2B research highlights employee perceptions about remote working under ordinary circumstances – removed from the anxieties and frustrations brought on by the pandemic.
This ultimately enables us to understand some of its long-term benefits, and suggests how committing to improved remote working policies post-pandemic will reward businesses in the long-run.
You also can also find full reports and updates on the consumer response to COVID-19 in our hub.
Remote working is linked to business agility and personal empowerment.
Employees of companies that broadly permit remote working have reported several benefits in the past.
We often think about the advantages of working from home in structural terms, such as saving money on office rents or accessing a wider pool of job applicants. Simply Business, for example, identifies the main benefits of remote working as cutting out commute times and saving on unnecessary expenses.
Yet, our data suggests its advantages run much deeper.
Those with a broad permit to work remotely are significantly more likely to demonstrate positive attitudes toward their company and its strategy: 72% of remote workers believe their company is prepared to quickly adapt to industry changes.
This nimble mindset also works on an individual level and fosters creativity among employees. For example, 7 in 10 remote workers feel empowered to make strategic decisions or pursue new business opportunities, compared to 47% of those based in an office full-time.
This suggests that businesses licenced to work from home acquire a culture of personal autonomy and independent problem-solving. As such, the remote working environment cultivates employees who maintain faith both in the company itself and their personal ability to make worthwhile contributions.
One drawback we identified among this group were feelings of detachment from the shared understanding of what their organization stood for: 63% of remote workers would like to feel more aligned with their company’s vision, values, and operating principles.
The Chartered Management Institute highlights the importance of ensuring cultural consistency during this period of lockdown.
Rather than micromanaging staff or emailing out copies of mission statements, clear and concise communication at every level of the business is suggested as the key to company-wide empowerment.
For remote working to function as well as it can, company communication should reiterate values as well as performance.
While this has been highlighted by remote workers as an area needing improvement, this group is still more likely than office-bound employees to say they have a clear understanding of their personal goals and objectives (81% do), and know what they need to do in their role to be successful (82% agree with this).
It’s been suggested that close to half of Americans are unsure of what is expected from them at work, and the pandemic has only served to spotlight an absence of plain and realistic performance benchmarks in many cases.
Companies with broad licence to work from home (and with clearer individual road maps) were ultimately better equipped before the pandemic hit; and their practices offer lessons that can be applied once life returns to normal.
Remote working stimulates goodwill among employees.
Though many companies haven’t had the luxury of time to experiment with and finesse certain aspects of remote working, our past research demonstrates the potential advantages of introducing or extending this freedom.
Pre-outbreak, remote workers were significantly more likely to praise their overall working environment than their office-bound counterparts.
8 in 10 remote workers rate their company’s work culture as good or excellent, with employee morale and satisfaction also receiving the seal of approval from 75% of this group.
More surprising are the figures accounting for communication and collaboration among remote workers, who rank these aspects much higher than those who aren’t licensed to work from home.
This can be linked to their company’s decision to invest in video-conferencing and collaboration tools: before the outbreak, 62% of remote workers used collaboration tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams on a daily basis, compared to 35% of the office-bound workforce.
Companies lagging behind on the remote working front are now being forced to trial these solutions for the first time.
This time last month, Slack reported 7,000 new customers in the space of 7 weeks, with Zoom’s daily users ballooning to more than 200 million in the same month.
While a significant number of these figures represent personal (rather than professional) use cases, Zoom has been described as the “darling” of remote workers during the crisis.
As put forward in our research on working behaviors during the pandemic (conducted between April 8-14), 59% of those currently working from home in the U.S. and UK say collaboration tools are essential to their productivity; with 27% describing them as helpful.
Given the wide-reaching advantages of remote working and collaboration tools on employee confidence (as indicated by our B2B work data), there’s certainly a business case for extending these policies and practices in the long-term.
Success comes from getting the balance right.
Some analysis has drawn on behavioral psychology to suggest that remote working can often make employees less motivated and productive; the argument being that once workdays move to the private realm, accountability systems begin to fail. Without this structure in place, motivation becomes the first casualty of a remote working environment.
However, workplace culture, job satisfaction and employee morale (ranked higher in companies with lenient remote working policies) are all essential to motivation; which is likely why our ongoing research contradicts the sentiment that remote workers are less committed to business outcomes.
Working overtime or late is noticeably more common among remote workers: 59% work overtime at least once a week, and 55% report working late within the same time frame.
Though this group documents longer working hours and higher levels of productivity, the pandemic is drawing attention to certain aspects of remote working practices that companies should remain mindful of.
While remote employees are more inclined to rate their company highly and therefore invest extra time into its success, the reality of burnout or fatigue looks a lot likelier in a remote working set up.
Just under three-quarters of remote workers check messages outside working hours.
The boundary between work and home life is often shattered in the absence of a physical office and without the ceremonial aspect of leaving work.
Consequently, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is something that should be actively encouraged and promoted from a business leadership point of view.
It’s therefore especially important to implement structure across a distributed organisation. Company actions like signposting breaks and creating a clear work schedule are key to establishing routine. Likewise, regular feedback allows businesses to keep track of worker sentiment and assess the value of these practices.
With over three-quarters of remote employees rating their company’s openness to feedback and work-life balance as either good or excellent, it’s clear their companies have taken such ideas on board.
This suggests that, though remote employees work longer hours, companies that have normalised this practice are more likely to have policies in place to support the wellbeing of their workers.
Given the relationship between happiness and productivity in the workplace, businesses should both recognise the contribution of remote working to overall office culture, and discover the best ways to maximize employee satisfaction in a home-based set up.
Upon getting this balance right, they can expect great results.
The bigger picture
Remote working has become an overnight necessity for many businesses worldwide.
Although this practice was fairly widespread before the crisis, many companies that had never meaningfully tackled it have had to adopt remote working practices, or scale them up massively.
While the enforced remote working experiment doesn’t portend the death of the office, it allows executive management to flirt with alternative ways of structuring the working environment; affording them the opportunity to determine what works and what doesn’t.
This research presents a real vindication of extending working from home policies in the long run, and showcases the competitive advantage that can be won when adequate remote working structures are put in place.
Nimble thinking and inter-team collaboration will be more important than ever in the coming months, and a successful remote working operation can be the key to unlocking better business performance – both during these trying times and beyond.