HR Insights, HR News & Trends

The Remote Work Advantage, or Why a Big Storm Wasn’t a Big Problem

dailynews-20813

Sometimes when we hear weather reports we tend to turn a blind eye or ear depending upon your medium.

This past weekend in the New York City area, we were warned of a big snow storm that was bearing down on the region. By all estimates, it was a giant one.

I thought of this when I read a press release earlier in the week titled Telecommuting Could Save Employees and Employers Time, Money, Grief. This release by outplacement consultants Challenger Gray & Christmas discussed the big question about whether the nation’s employers should consider making a serious commitment to expanding the use of telecommuting strategies.

Working during the storm

I worked from home that day last week, but I was also joined by my daughter who also worked from home that day. She chatted with me on her breaks from conference calls, and I did the same from my end. I told her that during my first jobs out of college this would have NEVER happened. She could not understand why; she said she felt more productive working from home.

I have always suspected that this reluctance to allow people to work from home was the result of industrial age thinking and leadership in a Digital Age environment. Today’s work environment is light years away from the workplace of even 10 years ago.

Having once worked for IBM, I did a two-year work from home project. This was basically unheard of during that time. When I told people of my work, they could never get over the fact that I did not have to “go in” to the office every day.

It’s not for everyone

What I found was that over time, I did not enjoy working from home. My reason was twofold.

One, there was no separation of work and home. Although I had a dedicated office, I found myself working on Saturdays, Sundays or whenever I wanted to. I could not turn it off. This was something found in the study that Challenger referenced.

Companies that have embraced telecommuting have found that their remote workers are just as, if not more, productive than traditional office workers. Analyses of Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many other employers have found that teleworkers are 35 percent to 45 percent more productive. American Express found that its teleworkers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts.”

The other reason I didn’t like working at home was the lack of face-to-face contact with people. I needed it, because the interaction of colleagues was what I missed most.

From time to time however, I enjoy the option of working from home — just not everyday.

Productivity: office vs. home

Were my office-bound mates more productive than me?

Just because you see someone in the office does not mean that are productive. This is one of management’s major concerns about people working from home.

How can I be sure that they are actually working? But, if being in the office was the key to productivity, everyone would be a superstar. Geography does not denote high performance.

People that are good, productive workers will exhibit that trait no matter where they work. It all comes down to the big “T” — trust. Don’t let your yardstick be based on the imaginary worker in your mind, or for that matter, on the one that you found who was not pulling their weight.

If certain people slack off and take advantage of the situation, believe me, you’ll know it. But don’t punish the others who work hard and responsibly, even if it’s from the comfort of their own couch.

Real estate cost savings

Add to this the reduced cost of real estate. According to a 2008 Workforce Management article, a Sun Microsystems spokesperson said the company had realized “huge cost savings” as a result of 18,000 workers participating in its telecommuting initiatives. According to the article, the San Francisco-based technology company saved $67.8 million in real estate costs in fiscal 2006 alone.

This is the conundrum in talking to senior leadership about this growing phenomenon. If they have the mindset that everyone would just be goofing off working from home, they are sadly mistaken. The new breed of worker is expecting this type of opportunity if their job duties allow it.

The 21st century  worker will expect certain things from an employer. The pendulum has swung in their favor and it is not going back. On top of that, employers have to compete with other enlightened organizations that may offer this opportunity to their workforce.

Not doing so “is simply a lack of vision, a shortage of trust and an irrational adherence to antiquated notions of how and where work should be done,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

So the next time a major storm is coming your way, use it as an opportunity to give your employees the opportunity to work from home. Let them know this ahead of time so they can prepare for it. Come out of the dark ages and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Oh and by the way, I finished my day at 6 and my daughter was done around 7. We both did not skip a beat.

Ron Thomas is a Chief Human Resource & Administrative Officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ronald_thomas.
  • http://twitter.com/SamseChristian SAMSE

    Hi Ron,

    Great post. I like that you recognise the shift in paradigm from “working from home” meaning “hungover” or “pulling a sickie”, to being a preferred work method in many industries. I work for a software SME, and 50% of our designers and developers work remotely.

    There’s no way we could have attracted people with their level of talent had remote work not been an option. Removing geographical limitations is now a central part of our employment strategy – heck, we mention in the posting title! If a developer or designer is working remotely, the project manager can concentrate purely on actual output and tasks completed, rather than the “butts on chairs” factor.

    We have a happier, more productive workforce thanks to remote working. I’m sold!

    Sam

  • MomCorps

    Is a whole day in lost productivity really worth not introducing a remote policy? I think we would all agree not. A recent study (http://www.wellworksforyou.com/faq/what-is-the-average-cost-of-absenteeism/) shows that the average cost of absenteeism for a company of 150 employees is $208,000 per year. Therefore, if implementing a remote policy decreased absenteeism by as much as 17.5%, it could save the company $36,400 per year. It’s time we equip our organizations with the know-how to work this way, so that when the day (or week) comes—and it will—business as usual can go unfazed. –Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO of Mom Corps