A new trend is growing in the rising workforce, one that our ancestors likely never imagined—a phenomenon where employees spend more hours working outside the corporate office. Remote work has always been around, but it’s never been as prevalent as today.
About 25% of all US employees work remotely all or most of the time, according to a Gallup poll. Another study released in 2018 by Zug found that 70% of professionals work remotely at least once a week, while 53% work remotely at least half of the week. More companies than ever are empowering their employees to choose to work in a way that makes the most sense for their lives. And for small businesses, this opens doors to fantastic new opportunities.
One of the biggest challenges small businesses face today is finding qualified candidates. More than 56% of small business owners find it difficult to acquire the right employees for their business, but remote work may offer a solution to these struggling under-staffed companies.
Remote work policies can be a double-edged sword when it comes to recruiting top talent. On the positive side, the world is your hiring oyster. No longer is your small business’ talent pool limited to your geographical location. You can hire employees in different cities, states, even countries. Some organizations don’t have even a single physical location—they’re entirely remote, from the CEO down the line.
In a world becoming increasingly focused on work-life balance, you can imagine the power of this recruitment strategy. No longer do you need to compel your recruits to uproot their families and relocate, and neither do you need to move your business to competitive cities to find top talent. With remote opportunities, Silicon Valley doesn’t have to exist solely in San Francisco—it can live in the isolated mountains of Leadville, Colorado, or wherever you choose to call home.
But remote work policies aren’t all rainbows and unicorns when it comes to finding and retaining top talent. On the negative side, freedom to work remotely is becoming an expectation in the workforce, which means companies that don’t offer it will be at a hiring disadvantage.
According to a recent Glassdoor survey, flexible scheduling (e.g., work from home policies) was one of the most important benefits to employees, more than free lunch, tuition reimbursement, stock options, or even paid parental leave. For employees, remote work is right up there beside PTO, paid sick days, and retirement plans…yeah, it’s certainly a priority.
As I said, remote work is a double-edged sword for recruitment. Embrace it and expand your hiring potential or deny it and restrict your candidate pool.
Paranoid managers have this vision of employees sleeping until noon or lounging on the couch binge watching Netflix all day. To see if the stereotype held true, Bloom set off to discover the reality of remote work—is it a productivity booster or drain? Bloom found a willing company to experiment with and split volunteers into two groups: a control group (who continued working from HQ) and a group of volunteer work-from-homers. Bloom’s findings were shocking, even to them!
Remote workers experienced a productivity boost equivalent to a full shift’s worth of work. Remote workers don’t have to fight traffic (so they’re rarely late), don’t have to leave and return to the office multiple times a week to fulfill other obligations, and find it less distracting to work at home. Employee attrition decreased by 50% among remote workers. These employees took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off. The tested company saved $2,000 per employee on rent because they were able to reduce the office space.
Despite the benefits, it’s important to note that more than half of the remote work volunteer group changed their mind and returned to the office. They cited isolation as the biggest influencer in their decision.
Not necessarily. Sure, remote work has plenty of pros, but it doesn’t fit every business’ model or culture. Take IBM, for example. In 2009, IBM reported that 40% of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries were working remotely. But in early 2017, IBM, the remote-work pioneer, called thousands of employees back to the office. Why? Because change was more important than productivity to IBM, and they believed working together in person is a key driver for innovation.
According to a Harvard study, team proximity appears to help foster better new ideas. When researchers worked together in close physical proximity, they produced more impactful papers. Another Harvard report found that employees who have more chance encounters and unplanned interactions tend to perform better.
Remote work has its own set of benefits, but working together does, too. As a small business owner, you’ll need to decide what’ll work more appropriately for your business and its current stage—there’s no one-size-fits-all policy. If improving productivity is your core focus, remote work may be the best answer. And if innovation is your goal, bringing teams together may be the solution.
Remote policies aren’t something to be feared. Every business owner should have the conversation to determine if remote work is a right fit for their employees and business goals. Whether working from their homes or dispersed across the globe, remote workers are part of the business reality today. It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll embrace them or stick to the traditional in-office model.