Why Businesses Need a Remote Work Strategy to Thrive
Up until 2020, many companies were experimenting with remote work as an option. While some discovered benefits and success in remote work arrangements, others encountered challenges that led them to abandon remote work entirely. But now there is revived interest in making remote work the norm.
Obviously, COVID-19 happened. Amid government mandated shutdowns, demands for social distancing, and even all-out lockdowns, many businesses have been forced to take remote work more seriously.
As recently as 2018, companies like IBM, Aetna, Reddit and Yahoo, which had been pioneers in the work-from-home movement, went so far as to eliminate remote work arrangements. Others, like Google, Facebook, and Apple, were well-known for their efforts to encourage employees to spend more time in the office by way of free childcare, food, laundry service, dog-friendly offices, and stipends for living close to the office. Their logic was that togetherness drives collaboration and innovation, and that social interaction is critical to employees’ mental health.
With the COVID-19 crisis, however, these companies and many others re-evaluated their stance on remote work. Now they acknowledge that remote employees may be more productive and that working from home can be better for their health.
Why is Remote Work no Longer Optional?
The COVID-19 work-from-home experiment has brought about a few realizations that suggest remote work is here to stay and will be increasingly critical to company success. And the revelations are not simply about the ability to weather a disaster. Remote work is becoming a key consideration for cutting operational costs, attracting the best talent, improving employee well-being, and embracing sustainability.
Money drives business decisions. Office space is expensive – real estate, utilities, liability insurance, and incidentals all cut in to company profits, easily to the tune of $5,000 to $20,000 per employee per year. Even if a company were to provide everything a remote worker needs to work comfortably from home, the cost would be around $2,000 per year per employee. The potential for savings, if remote work costs are offset by office space savings, is enormous.
Global companies have been leveraging remote strategies for years to attract skilled workers around the world, but the benefits go much further. Remote work can support a more diverse workforce by opening doors to people who would otherwise be excluded because distance or other obstacles stand in their way. With more work-from-home options on the market, companies that fail to embrace remote work may struggle to attract the best talent.
Remote work can also improve employee health and productivity. While socialization is important, remote work offers other health benefits. Undoubtedly, remote workers spread fewer germs. But also, less commuting means lower stress and more time for exercise. Studies have shown that employees who work from home take fewer sick days. This leads to greater productivity, above and beyond increases observed simply due to the change in environment.
Why is a Remote Work Strategy Necessary?
With the transition to remote work, however, there are growing pains. It takes a strategic approach to do it right, and simply saying “you get to work from home now” isn’t strategy. The benefits of remote work depend on variables that only a comprehensive strategy can control.
Improvements to employee health, for example, require an ergonomically sound work environment, which could mean providing office furniture. This cost has to be offset by savings somewhere else, like a company strategy aimed at reducing office space. Employee health also depends on socialization and support systems that encourage well-being. Companies can take specific measures to address these needs, but their success depends on coordinated efforts.
Likewise, understanding remote work’s impact on productivity is critical. In the office, managers often gauge work based on presence, keeping busy, working late, and so on. Remote management depends on measuring results, using remote management tools, facilitating effective communication, and providing coaching that galvanizes success.
In addition to saving money, attracting talent, and increasing productivity, companies looking to promote sustainability are turning to remote work. Between eliminating employees’ commutes and shutting down centralized office spaces, the promise of a greener workforce seems to be just around the corner. Unfortunately, remote work without restraint may lead to even greater energy consumption.
A remote work strategy can mitigate these and other risks through research, training, and adaptation. A strong remote work strategy could soon mean the difference between thriving and just surviving for any business.