Is The Future Of Workplace Remote?

by Sohini Bagchi    Apr 10, 2017

The age-old debate on work from office vs. work from home is becoming passé, with many arguing that today’s workplace is a global one, with companies and even teams stretching across geographical boundaries, where distance is no longer a barrier to collaboration. Thanks to more advanced and immersive technologies that are allowing for instantaneous communication across state and country borders.

Despite that working in an office setup and the idea of supervising and working with employees in a virtual setup often put employers on a dilemma. While there’s still a perception that remote workers are easy-going, anti-social and unproductive, some of the latest research reports finally put to rest this allegation.

home office

A new global study of 25,234 professionals by Polycom, titled: “The Human Face of Remote Working” across 12 countries, including India, uncovered how collaborative technologies have made employees more empathetic and build better co-worker relationships, despite the remote working stigma of laziness and isolation. [Read the full report]

Riding high on video conferencing

A whopping 98% of employees said that collaborative technologies make it easier to get to know, or build relationships, with co-workers and nearly half said that they know colleagues more personally thanks to video conferencing.

As Mary McDowell, CEO, Polycom mentioned, “We predicted that 2016 would be the ‘year of video’, and it’s satisfying to know that people are starting to adopt this way of working. What it also tells us is that more businesses need to be able to offer collaboration tools – to enable that human contact that people crave – or risk losing out to those businesses who are able to offer flexibility and have access to talent and retain talent as a result.”

The study also revealed that an employee’s reliance on technology, especially video conferencing, actually drives them to pick up the phone more regularly. In addition, with the acceleration of corporate flexibility programs, and the desire for remote work situations, two-thirds said their favorite colleagues work in a different location.

Flexible working on the rise

Experts believe, workplace flexibility programs that are treated as part of a company’s strategy can generate cost savings, talented worker pools, increased efficiency, and more satisfied employees.

The Polycom study said, nearly three-fourths of the employees say their company offers flexible working and 32% said they regularly work remotely. An entire 79% of employees said they work with at least one person who isn’t based in the same office as them. When it comes to their preferred remote work location, 40% said home office, 24% said personal office and 11% said open plan office.  The top drivers of remote work location preference are: helps them get in the right frame of mind, allows them to focus and inspires their creativity.

Other recent studies have supported the idea that working from home – for the right people – can increase productivity and decrease stress. Research also suggests companies that encourage and support a work from home protocol actually save money in the long run; an added bonus on the employer side.

Anshuman Chakravarty, CEO Relaso Product Suites, believes, the tech industry is well known for its flexible schedules and telecommuting opportunities. As most tech companies are web based, using technology tools and resources such as video chats, conference calls, VPN networks, and wireless internet, they can stay connected just like in the office. Also, working from home can reduce the amount of distractions as the nature of most tech jobs, such as developer and programmer that require attention to detail and long hours of focus.

Versatile energy, more productivity

While flexible jobs have come under quite a bit of scrutiny from businesses, and government agencies, at present a good number of companies are gathering professionals from remote places to provide versatile energy of workers at the workplace. A recent survey conducted by FlexJobs shows that of 3,100 professionals polled, only 7 percent of workers say the office is their location of choice if they need to be most productive on important work-related projects.

The study reveals that 51 percent of professionals said that their home is their preferred place to work. Eight percent said they would choose a coffee shop, coworking space, library, or other place besides the office and another 8 percent would choose the office, but only outside regular hours. Twenty-six percent go to the office during regular hours to complete important work because it’s not an option to leave. 

Your success in working from home might depend on the type of work you do, as discovered in a study by University of Illinois. The study found that telecommuters performed as well as their in-office coworkers. Phil Cicioria, Business & Law Editor at University of Illinois states, “According to the study, telecommuters want to be seen as “good citizens” of the company in order to justify their flexible work arrangements.”

A win-win scenario

Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from working from home; a company can benefit just as greatly from a remote employee. For employers telecommuting can limit absences, increase productivity, and save money, believe experts.

Companies might also retain more employees if they enact a work from home benefit. Stanford professor, Nick Bloom, conducted a study to evaluate the benefits of working from home. He found workers were more productive, got more done, worked longer hours, took less breaks, and used less sick time than their in-office counterparts. These employees were also happier and quit less than those who went into the office on a regular basis. He estimated that, on average, the company saved around $2,000 per every employee who worked from home.

People who work from home also have an easier time eating healthy and striking a manageable work-life balance. A 2011 study from Staples found that employees who worked from home experienced 25 percent less stress. Employees also reported that they were able to maintain a better work life balance, as well as eat healthier.

Long live the Office

With remote working, video conferencing and social networking it’s easy to think that actually going into the office is no longer a compulsory part of anyone’s job. However, some in the industry believe that companies can benefit from giving employees the opportunity to work remotely , it’s still important to offer them the option of office space.

For example, in 2014, the then Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban remote working created waves, as the memo read: “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Like both sides of the coin, remote working has its benefits and challenges. While employees who work remotely benefit from control over their work life balance, more productivity and the ability to care for their children, the Polycom study shows most remote workers (62%) fear that other employees don’t think they are working as hard as them.  Remote workers believe that they can overcome this fear by having their company invest more in collaborative technology and have clearer policies for flexible working. That shows a lack of trust on this workers, or an extra effort from their part to prove to their employers.

“There is a stigma that remote workers are disconnected from the rest of the team, yet studies proves that they are more sociable and proactively reach out to develop strong relationships. The new technology tools that enable communication and collaboration are actually motivating workers to pick up the phone, seek face time and create lasting bonds. This is the upside of remote work we rarely talk about,” said Jeanne Meister, Partner, Future Workplace.

What recruiters should understand

The quality of performers companies are hiring plays the most important part when a company decides to allow select employees the remote working facilities. Communication counts more than ever. While management communication always matters greatly, in the absence of direct in-person contact, and the potential for isolation and confusion that implies, it’s critical that remote managers stay in frequent contact to ensure they know what’s being worked on and the progress being made, said a Forbes article.  

Clarity of employee goals and objectives count more than ever, noted the article. Given the distance and potential to not know exactly what employees are working on and how they’re spending their time, it’s incumbent on managers (and remote workers) to know very clearly what the expectations are, and the work that must be delivered.  

If these expectations are fulfilled, it will help bring the entire remote working arrangement into clearer focus. In addition, more advanced and immersive technologies would make remote working far more satisfying experience in the future, believe experts.