Many people have dreamed of the opportunity to be remote employees working from home – rather than go to the office five times a week. But, COVID-19 changed things for a lot of people. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that only about 7% of the workforce had the option to work from home. But as of April 2020, 20% of employees were now working remotely.
This shift came out of necessity as many offices were required to temporarily shut down to help slow the spread of the virus. But now many are wondering if this change in operations will be a permanent one.
There are a lot of benefits to having full-time remote employees working for a business. Further, given the current status of the global pandemic, it seems to be a safe option for the time being.
But having a remote workforce is not necessarily the perfect fit for every single business. If you have been considering allowing your workers to stay at home, there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself before making a final decision for the long term.
How is Your Communication System Going?
Communication is the most important ingredient to a successful remote working situation – but it is also where most companies fall flat. According to the latest report from Buffer, issues with communication and collaboration topped the list of challenges for remote employees.
It is easy to understand why this becomes a major issue when teams are working from home.
While digital communication can be convenient, it can also be ignored, accidently deleted, or simply lost among the noise. It is also easy to misconstrue messages through emails or Slack messages when you are not able to speak face to face.
So, really take a look at the ways that your team is currently staying in touch. If the communication between remote employees could use some improvement, you need to tackle this head on before making any permanent changes.
Note that the solution to communication issues is not always to communicate more. Take virtual meetings as an example. Many companies have started using Zoom or Google Hangouts to host virtual meetings – since no one is meeting in person. While these meetings are necessary from time-to-time, evidence shows that having too many of these meetings throughout the day actually hurts productivity.
According to a survey from Wundamail, 42% of employees said they felt more productive when their day was not interrupted with multiple video-calls. Further, a third of workers admitted that they had a hard time focusing during these meetings. 30% had to utilize additional platforms due to communication issues, technical difficulties, or a lack of understanding.
The answer to these issues is not necessarily to host more virtual meetings with remote employees – but instead to optimize communication. In order to do this, leaders should clarify:
- When is it appropriate to host an online call and how many people should be involved?
- Which communication channels should be used for specific instances (Zoom call, email, phone calls, Slack pings, etc.)
- Is there an online tool that could help with collaboration, such as a project management software solution?
- Do people’s schedules need to be more regimented so they are reachable?
To ensure that productivity levels are maintained when employees are working from home, communication needs to be the top priority. If this has been an issue, shifting to a remote working situation may not be the best option – or you need to come up with different strategies to remedy the problem.
Is Remote Work Actually Cost Effective?
Having a remote team can save you money in many ways.
First and foremost, it could eliminate the need for a physical office space; your company could downsize and save money on rent. It also means that the company no longer has to provide equipment like desks, chairs, computers, and even smaller costs like coffee and paper supplies.
But this does not mean that having remote employees is always economical.
Certain types of businesses or job roles may require equipment in their home office, like new computers, software programs, printers, or even better WIFI systems. This could wind-up being incredibly expensive if the business has to purchase this equipment for all employees to have in their homes.
One potential solution is outsourcing wherever possible for aspects of the business that cannot be done completely remote. In some cases, it can save businesses a lot of money to outsource specific jobs. There are many types of outsourced agencies that can be used as needed for specific tasks, such as:
- IT troubleshooters
- Inventory management (packaging and shipping)
- Graphic designers
- Customer service
- Marketers and content writers
This type of outsourcing business structure is a great option for some companies, but it may not be a viable solution for every situation. Be sure to determine these costs for all viable options and see if it is the best decision financially to make your employees remote.
Are Remote Working Employees Happy?
This might sound trivial, but working from home is not necessarily the best situation for everyone. Some employees are dealing with distractions or less than optimal working situations which make it difficult to stay productive. Things like traffic or construction noises outside, a lack of privacy, or pets and children who need attention could lead to a decline in efficiency and focus.
Further, remote employees can often feel quite isolated and even experience higher levels of depression and anxiety. As stated in the previously mentioned report from Buffer, 20% of remote workers agreed that one of their greatest struggles with working from home was actually loneliness. Another study found that 41% of remote workers had high levels of stress and anxiety whereas only 25% of office workers shared this experience.
If this experience persists, it could cause morale to drop throughout the company. Continous stress, anxiety, and depression can influence employee’s productivity levels, and overall enthusiasm for work. Over time, it could lose you employees too, as they search for other opportunities.
Now, this is not saying that all remote employees are unhappy. In fact, 84% of employees believe that working remotely would make them happier – and remote employees are 22% more satisfied with their job situation than on-site workers.
Before you make any final decisions on keeping employees remote, be sure to take their emotional well-being into consideration. It may be a great option for some employees and working environments, but it could be disastrous for others who require in-person connections. Could More Flexible Work Schedules be a Good Compromise?
If the answers to the preceding questions are unclear or you have experienced some difficulty with remote working situations, consider a possible compromise.
Many people prefer the option to work from home on occasion, rather than being entirely remote. This allows them to meet people face-to-face when needed and work remotely on slower days.
This kind of job flexibility is a huge draw to many workers.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 96% of employees said that having the option to work at home as needed was necessary for their work. Workers also wanted the opportunity to work unconventional hours when possible to avoid rush-hour traffic or maintain a better work-life balance.
Having flexible scheduling and WFH options can help your company grow. Eighty-three percent of job searchers said they would choose a job that offered remote flexibility over a job where they had to be in the office full time.
There are countless benefits to having remote employees – the ability to work from home in pajamas sounds ideal to most people. However, there are some things that leaders must consider before making a final decision on the transition to long term remote working situations. Just because it is possible does not mean that it is the right choice.
Having remote employees creates a new realm of challenges – and opportunities. Be sure that you weigh out the pros and cons before making a final decision.