Points of View

Ensuring Remote Employees Work Well

Sam Stebbins

In March of 2017, IBM announced that it was calling thousands of remote employees back to the office after standing as a leader in telecommuting since the 1980s. Many studies find that remote workers are more productive. However, some companies (including IBM) feel that the opposite is true, while others say remote work receives unfair criticism when other issues get ignored.

 

The Benefits of Remote Work

Despite the challenges, working from home is a good option for many employees. In 2016, 22% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time. Their reasons vary, but many enjoy the flexibility, time saved on a commute, or fewer distractions while working at home in a quieter space. 

Working from home is also a good for working parents or students with complicated schedules. In today’s tight labor market, some employers may be willing to consider remote work to appeal to those with difficult schedules. Some have even estimated that increased telecommuting could help close the gender pay gap, since women are more likely to carry childcare responsibilities. Working from home can allow parents who would otherwise opt out to participate in the labor force.

 

Challenges in Working from Home

Working from home is convenient for many employees, but has its own unique challenges. Communication problems may arise, for example. Most remote employees rely on email to communicate with their coworkers, which is slower than a face-to-face or telephone conversation. In some situations, it is also more difficult to communicate a problem in writing, leading to lost time and productivity. Coordinating communication and organizing meetings when employees work in different time zones is an additional challenge.

Some companies also feel that their remote employees do not take their work seriously enough. Despite statistics showing that those working from home tend to work longer overall, individual companies have surmised that their remote employees log fewer hours and take more time off. 

 

How Employers Can Make Telecommuting Work

Most employers who offer the option to work from home choose to have employees work from home 100% of the time rather than hold flexible hours, often in order to save money on the extra real estate that traditional employees would require. However, some choose to give employees the option to work from home part of the time or as needed to suit their schedules and responsibilities outside the workplace. 

Employers can encourage (or, in some cases, enforce) practices that promote productivity, such as keeping a regular schedule and communicating proactively. Setting due dates and goals, maintaining a calendar, and utilizing communication tools like Skype or Slack are just a few ways that remote employees can retain productivity.


Does your company allow employees to work remote some or all of the time? Have you felt the benefits (or challenges) associated with using this as a talent attraction and retention tool? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn!