Who Benefits from Remote Work?

It’s not just an employee perk. Companies benefit, too.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A former colleague recently described remote working as an employee “perk.” Most of the companies I’ve worked for share the same mentality. In their eyes, it’s a reward for good behavior: if you show up on time and do your work, then you get to work remotely someday. What’s rarely acknowledged, however, is that remote work also benefits the employer.

Company Benefits

Companies with a remote staff could save money. That’s what Cisco found in their 2009 survey of nearly 2,000 employees. “The company has generated an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by allowing employees to telecommute and telework.” It’s reasonable to see why. Instead of paying rent for a huge downtown location, for example, companies can opt for a smaller office. A smaller space means reduced costs on utilities and equipment, not to mention fewer supplies for the kitchen and bathroom.

Saving money is good, but let’s look at productivity. A whopping 91% of respondents in one survey said they’re “more productive when working remotely.” The survey examined answers from over 500 American employees, 58% of them were between the ages of 25 and 44, who work remotely. Adding to the evidence is a 2014 study that compared the productivity of office-based and home-based employees at Ctrip, a Chinese travel service provider. The results were impressive.

“People working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did,” explains Nicholas Bloom, a professor and an organizer of the Ctrip study. To put that in context, “Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them.” It doesn’t end there. The same study found that Ctrip saved nearly $2,000 for each employee during the nine-month experiment. Plus, attrition rates for home workers “fell by over 50%.”

The Benefit is Mutual

However, these benefits are often overshadowed by employee ones, which seem to be misunderstood. Some companies paint a vision of employees working in their pajamas, saving money on their attire and commute.

But what’s motivating for me, as an employee, is the autonomy to work where I like, instead of where someone else thinks I should work: in an open office with an endless number of visual and auditory distractions imposed upon me. It’s hard to get work done at work when phones buzz, people talk, and games chirp. Plus, it’s mentally exhausting to block out all these distractions, so when I can avoid them my productivity soars.

That’s why I see working remotely as a tool. It’s like having a company computer: both help me do my job better. Although I can write an article on a notepad, the entire researching, writing, and editing process is much more efficient and effective when I use my laptop. The same is true when it comes to remote working. It’s possible to write in a noisy open office, but I get far more quality writing done when I work remotely.

It’s not to say that offices need to go away entirely. In fact, there are benefits to going to the office for a few hours or even a couple of days each week, to work and collaborate with others. But employees should have a choice in the matter, and working remotely should be an option that’s readily available.

So instead of touting remote work as an employee “perk,” it should be regarded as a workplace feature that enables employees to do great work. In the end, my company and employee both win. I, as an employee, work how and where I like, and my company reaps the results, since I get far more quality work done when I work in an environment that fits my needs.

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