When remote work (also referred to as telecommuting) first began, many companies didn’t immediately trust the concept. What they probably pictured was employees slacking on the job watching re-runs on television rather than working. Without direct supervision, companies didn’t believe that employees would do as much work at home as they did in the office.
Another concern that companies had with remote work was that it would negatively impact communication and collaboration with other team members if all the employees weren’t on-site together.
Fast-forward to present day, where remote work has now become more than just a “nice to have” benefit; many workers now expect to be able to work remotely. Remote work isn’t just a benefit for the workers, but also for companies. Remote workers are more productive, take less sick time, and tend to stay in their positions longer (lowering attrition and decreasing hiring costs).
Read on to find out why the data is undeniable: remote workers are more effective and productive than in-office workers, which translates to financial savings for the company and better work-life balance for the employee.
Technology Makes Remote Work Accessible
Technology makes remote work easier and accessible to many. There are plenty of communication/collaboration tools that make remote work possible. According to CoSo Cloud (formerly ConnectSolutions), 88% of remote workers say that email is the tool they use the most, 47% use direct messaging platforms like Slack, and 32% use video conferencing tools like Skype.
Mobile devices also play a large role for remote workers. 40% of the remote workers surveyed by CoSo Cloud said that they did at least half of their work on a smartphone or tablet.
Remote Work Productivity Factors
According to the Avast Business 2018 Mobile Workforce Report, employees are more productive at home than in the office, and employee productivity is affected more when in the office. 35% of study participants said that stress and anxiety have the biggest impact on their productivity while in the office. 27% of remote workers, however, reported that domestic tasks and television impacted their productivity at home the most.
When employees work remotely, they are less bothered by distractions than when they’re in the office. For example, 25% of the respondents said that office politics were a distraction to their work, but only 15% of remote employees were affected by office politics. When in the office, 34% said that interruptions from colleagues affected their productivity, compared to only 16% of remote workers who reported the same issue. Probably one of the most impactful statistics for remote workers is the productivity increase that’s created by not having to commute to a physical location. 28% of office workers said that their commute negatively impacted their productivity, compared to only 18% of remote workers.
Remote Work: What the Data Shows
In 2015, CoSo Cloud announced the results of its 2014 Remote Collaborative Worker Survey. What CoSo found was that remote work saves money and increases productivity for the company, as well as providing benefits for the workers.
The CoSo Cloud study included 353 workers. Of the 39% of workers who worked remotely at least a few times a month, 77% said they were more productive when they worked offsite. 30% of the remote workers said they accomplished more in less time, while 23% said they were willing to work more hours offsite than they would on-site, and more than half of the workers said they were less likely to take time off (even when ill) if they worked remotely.
42% of the remote workers said that communication and collaboration with teammates was unchanged from when they worked in the office together.
According to the CEO of CoSo, Michael Fitzpatrick, “Our Remote Collaborative Worker Survey suggests there are significant benefits to be gained by both remote workers and their employers with off-site employees motivated to work harder and more efficiently to protect both the personal and professional benefits of working remotely. Even the personal benefits workers experience can be viewed as employer benefits since workers tend to be happier, less stressed out, and healthier, thereby bringing down the costs of turnover, absenteeism, lower productivity, and other issues.”
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of the employers surveyed said that allowing remote work has increased employee retention rates. When companies lose a valued employee, it can cost them $10,000-$30,000 in decreased productivity, recruiting, training, and other new hire costs.
Companies like Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and others say that remote workers are 35-40% more productive than their in-office counterparts. More than 65% of employers report increased productivity with their remote work force. Sun Microsystems says that because their remote workers don’t have the commute that in-office workers do, those remote workers spend 60% of their saved commuting time doing work for the company.
Utah’s 2-Year Remote Work Pilot Program is a Success on Many Levels
In 2018, the state of Utah began a 2-year remote work pilot program that involved 136 employees in four different state agencies. Utah based its program on successful remote work programs in other states. For example, the state of Tennessee has been running a remote work program for the past several years which has decreased worker sick time by 37% and collectively saved workers about $1,800 a month in fuel expenses.
Overall, the remote employees’ productivity increased 23%. The pilot program reduced the number of people in the office, which meant that the state of Utah could lease the previously used office space to the University of Utah. Being able to lease that space also means that the state saves about $220,000 in operations and maintenance every year.
Because the program was such a success, the Lt. Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, is planning on expanding it to include more than 2,500 workers over the next 18 months.
The Stanford Study: Ctrip
Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom partnered with China’s largest travel agency, Ctrip to design a study to measure the productivity of remote workers versus office workers. Ctrip is headquartered in pricey Shanghai and has 16,000 employees. Not only was office space expensive, but most of the employees couldn’t afford to live in Shanghai, so they had long commutes, which led to a high attrition rate. Ctrip’s CEO and co-founder, James Liang, wanted to give the employees the option to work remotely, but he had to prove that it wouldn’t negatively impact productivity. That’s where Bloom’s study comes in.
The two-year study was conducted on 500 employees, divided into two groups. One was a control group who continued to work in the office and the other group consisted of employees who volunteered to work remotely.
What Bloom found was that the remote workers had a productivity boost, rather than a decline. In fact, the remote workers worked a full eight-hour day. Many office workers don’t put in a true eight hours of work, if you count leaving early, distractions of other coworkers, etc. The study also found that attrition rate of the remote workers decreased by 50%. The remote workers took shorter breaks, less sick time, and less time off in general. Ctrip also saved about $2,000/employee on rent by being able to reduce the size of their office space.
Conclusion: Remote Work Increases Productivity
The verdict is in: Remote workers are just as productive (if not more) than their in-office counterparts. Office environments can be noisy and distracting, often with constant interruptions. Working remotely removes most of the normal in-office distractions and allows employees to have control over their day and focus on their work. The teamwork doesn’t suffer like some companies think because of the available collaboration and communication tools available.
Right now, millennials are the largest generation in the work force, and they have a very different view of how “work” works as compared to their parents. Millennials (and even Generation Z) don’t believe working means driving to an office space. Instead, they want to be comfortable in their work environment, have a more flexible work schedule, and take control of the work-life balance that their parents never had.
Today’s workforce is truly global and leveraging remote workers can save companies money, especially in high-rent areas. The nature of life is changing, as is the nature of work. Organizations need to embrace this change and understand that allowing employees to work remotely increases (rather than decreases) productivity, reduces attrition, and attracts talent, all of which equates to savings. Even allowing employees to work remotely a few days a week can have a tremendous impact on productivity, effectiveness, and overall employee satisfaction.
Remote work and the demand for it will only continue to increase. Companies who have a more flexible work force are well placed and well-prepared for the future.