Thanks to advances in technology, office work no longer needs to be done only in the office. As employers strive for a more productive workforce and employees demand flexible working conditions to better balance work and life, remote work – or telecommuting, which is performed by about one-quarter of Australian workers – offers a win-win solution for both groups.
Indeed, all senior executive jobs in the NSW public service will be open to employees choosing flexible working arrangements by 2019. Plus, major infrastructure works in Sydney and Melbourne will increase traffic congestion and commuting times, making remote work a more practical option for many employees.
But contrary to what many employers and employees may believe, the key to successful implementation of remote work is offering it as standard practice rather than a perk or privilege.
For employers, the most significant benefit of remote work is that it improves productivity because there are fewer distractions and employees are better able to concentrate. Plus, employees have enhanced autonomy and control over their work environment, including how they dress, lighting, temperature and background noise, which enhances job satisfaction.
Companies with remote work policies also report reduced absenteeism, increased employee retention, an ability to attract high-quality talent and cost savings on things like real estate and utilities.
For employees, remote work provides more time to balance work and family responsibilities, such as doing the school drop-off and pick-up or waiting for the plumber to turn up sometime between 9am and 4pm.
What’s more, because remote workers are not subject to direct face-to-face supervision, they experience increased feelings of freedom. Remote workers report feeling less pressure, finding work more enjoyable and experiencing fewer physical complaints and improved wellbeing.
Of course, not all employees and employment situations are conducive to remote work.
Some employees who regularly work remotely report feeling lonely and isolated because they miss out on face-to-face guidance from managers and support and advice from co-workers. Plus, they’re often not privy to office gossip and forego the chance to develop friendships with colleagues. When it comes to career development, remote workers often worry they’ll be passed over for promotions because their contribution is less visible.
And even though remote work provides great potential for better work-life balance, many workers continue to struggle to manage those competing demands, which can impact on success in both domains.
From the employer’s perspective, remote work has been touted as a major organisational shift for many years but hasn’t obtained expected traction because many companies are concerned about decreased productivity – despite evidence to the contrary.
Employers worry they will lose control over remote workers. They fear they won’t know when employees are struggling and need assistance, and are concerned about how best to monitor output and performance. Indeed, some managers struggle to do just that.
If employers assess the pros and cons and decide to offer remote work to employees, it’s best to implement it as standard practice – not as a reward to high-performing employees or employees deemed more competent – to maximise the benefits for both parties.
Shifting organisational focus from face time to results and developing a pro-remote work culture is crucial to successful implementation of the practice. Employers should concentrate on managing objectives and set specific performance targets, timeframes and communication guidelines so remote workers know what’s expected.
Assisting managers to change their perception of remote work by outlining the benefits and providing information on how it is a strategic business tool, standard operating procedure and legitimate way to conduct work rather than an employee perk or exception is key. Ultimately, there shouldn’t be any difference between managing remote workers and non-remote workers.