Certain jobs will always require staff to remain at their place of work. When we go to a bar or restaurant, we need people there to serve us. When we have oral hygiene concerns, there's no better place than the dentist's office. But for many employees, the option to work from home is fast becoming more desirable -- and economical.
Nearly four years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reversed the tech company's policy on working remotely, forcing all telecommuting employees to head back to the office. Although some industry experts came to Mayer's defense, most called the move shortsighted. Fast-forward to present day, the argument for working from home has only strengthened. And whether you're the employer or employee, the scenario is surprisingly win-win.
PROS FOR EMPLOYERS
Chinese travel website Ctrip recently gave its call center staff the chance to work from home for nine months. The results were impressive. They completed 13.5% more calls per shift, which meant Ctrip garnered an extra day's worth of productivity per employee per week. To boot, morale increased, and the company saved a whopping $1,900 per person each month on furniture, utilities, and parking.
Ctrip is far from alone with these findings. Several other organizations have dismissed the idea that telecommuting leads to lost revenue and employee apathy. Global Workplace Analytics scoured over 4,000 reports, studies, and articles on the subject. Its conclusion? Employers can dramatically benefit from letting staff work from home, be it full or part time. Some advantages:
Expanded talent pool: The quality of hires increases when jobs open up to prospects outside commuting distance. Telecommuting also provides more options to hire workers with disabilities. And let's not overlook the cost of bringing talent to your office: Nortel estimates it regularly saves $100,000 per employee it doesn't have to relocate.
Lower salaries: Not only do two thirds of people favor working from home, 36% would choose it over a pay raise. In fact, 37% say they'd take a pay cut for the chance to work remotely.
Reduced attrition: When companies lose quality employees, recruiting and training costs can climb into the thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, 95% of businesses say working from home significantly improves employee retention.
PROS FOR EMPLOYEES
Some employees may have concerns about working from home. They may question whether they can properly adapt to such an unfamiliar set-up. Turns out, there's little to worry about:
No more daily slog: Few things in life are despised more than the daily journey to and from work. Telecommuting can put an end to this process, getting rid of travel costs (gas, transit) and freeing up between five and 15 hours per week.
More focus, less stress: Whether it's cramped conditions or intrusive coworkers, offices can be the enemy of productivity. Working from home can not only curb these distractions, it's been proven to reduce stress and enhance overall mood.
Work and family can come first: There's a long-held belief that says it's nearly impossible to commit to a career and a family. And although this may have once been true, times have changed. In a recent Microsoft study, nearly one-third of respondents wished they could work from home to spend more time with family. Whether it's allowing workers to keep an eye on the kids or share more face time with a spouse, telecommuting is a simple and effective way to balance work and home.
OVERCOMING THE CONS
It would be naive to think working from home doesn't come with its share of obstacles. Fortunately, steps can be taken to smooth out the process:
The issue: Lack of in-person communication and collaboration. Many businesses rely on face-to-face meetings to troubleshoot, provide feedback, and discuss policy changes. Telecommuting has the potential to disrupt this process.
The fix: Mandatory in-office days are an option, allowing companies to round up their entire staff for high-value meetings. (Not to mention team-building social events.) That said, with services like Skype, FaceTime, and various conference call providers, it's easier than ever to keep the lines of communication open. Email and secured instant messaging are also on hand to fill in any gaps, allowing direct collaboration to continue. This approach is particularly helpful to workforces that span numerous time zones: employees can simply reply to a written query when they're back at their desk.
The issue: Concerns employees will perform poorly due to lack of at-home supervision.
The fix: Managers can feel a loss of control when allowing staff to work remotely. But direct oversight is still very achievable. The key is in the metrics. By setting measurable performance targets (e.g. specific sales, customer service, or production outcomes), it's easy to track accountability and boost performance.
The issue: Privacy concerns. Employees working from home can leave businesses vulnerable to everything from data loss to security breaches.
The fix: Although such threats are real, the risks can be minimized. The company's IT department should carefully review all network protocols, and be placed in charge of remote access granted to staff members. On top of this, employees working remotely should attend mandatory security training, and only be given access to databases relevant to their job duties.
HOW TO TRY IT ON FOR SIZE
Any business considering a work-from-home option needs to know it isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. There's no shame in proceeding with caution before making a firm decision either way. Some options:
Test the waters: It's easy to turn a workplace nuisance into a productivity experiment. Has the power gone off in your building? Or maybe you need to assemble a skeleton staff for an upcoming holiday weekend. Why not use such opportunities to let staff work from home? So long as their output can be monitored, you're in a perfect position to see if telecommuting can benefit you (and them).
The rotation solution: Instead of clearing the decks by having everyone work remotely, consider a rotating schedule. This way, a certain percentage of staffers are always under management's watchful eye. Most employees will still relish the opportunity to work from home once or twice a week.
Place emphasis on performance: Here's a low-risk method for ensuring productivity and accountability. Employees who meet weekly or monthly performance targets can continue to work remotely. Those who can't meet agreed-upon goals will be sent back to the office. No fuss, no muss.
THE WORKING FROM HOME TAKEAWAY
If you're looking to diversify your workforce -- or simply outsource projects to third-party development teams -- 2017 is the year to look at the options. Statistically, remote workers are more driven, focused, reliable, and cost-effective than their in-office counterparts. And they're just plain happier to boot. Now that's a win-win scenario.