To work from home or not to work from home? That’s the question pioneering companies such as Yahoo, IBM, and Best Buy have been wrestling with for years. As the paradigm of remote employees shifts back to office locations, we’ll take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of this issue.
Approximately 43% of all U.S. employees work remotely all or at least some of the time, and 37% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them the ability to work where they want at least part of the time, according to Gallup. Working remotely offers employees a higher degree of autonomy, allowing them to feel better prepared to contribute meaningful work and experience a rewarding work environment, thus positively influencing employee retention and morale.
Less than a year into her tenure, Michelle Peluso, chief marketing officer at IBM, called thousands of employees back to the office. Nearly 2,600 IBM employees were told that they now had to report to one of six different locations, causing resignation notices and low morale across IBM’s marketing department. “Everyone I know is very upset,” stated one anonymous employee in an article published by QUARTZ.
Increasingly, employees want and expect work-from-home opportunities from employers. Studies show that companies have increased productivity and save money when employees are engaged remotely. Best Buy reported that productivity increased 35% on average in departments that shifted to working virtually in 2006. This same article reported that Sun Microsystems saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs alone by having employees work remotely.
Remote employees also log more hours than in-office employees. The finance, insurance, and real estate industries experienced the greatest surge in time spent working remotely, followed by the transportation, manufacturing or construction, and retail industries. In 2016, 31% of virtual employees spent 80% or more of their time working.
Conversely, virtual employment doesn’t make sense for all companies or roles. Studies show engagement climbs when employees spend some time working remotely and some time working in a location with their coworkers. Leaders must consider the demands and expectations of their employees to optimize their companies’ workforces. Gallup studies found the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend three to four days in a five-day workweek working offsite, or about 60% to 80% of their time.
Because managers are not as likely to interact with fully remote employees in organic and spontaneous ways, it can take longer for managers to get to know remote employees and understand their unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs–factors that directly effect performance management. Managers must become more deliberate about when and how they communicate with virtual employees by consistently connecting with them via phone calls, email, text messaging, or video conferencing.
Conclusively, studies show marked differences between workers who work remotely part of the time and workers who do so 100% of the time–and between employees with differing job functions. However, balancing time away from the office with time in the office is generally beneficial.