It’s long been thought that the key to a high-functioning work group is a central location. Separate offices became cubicles, which became open bullpens, and these days, some companies–for example, Yahoo!, where remote working was recently banned–are still bound by the idea that good work can’t get done unless employees are physically located within inches of each other. But emerging data and changing philosophies point to a new future for remote workers and the companies they work for. And that future looks like a bright one if companies choose to think open-mindedly about the benefits of a remote, or at least a partially remote, workforce. Especially with the proliferation of Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and collaborative software reliant on only a fast Internet connection.
Later this month the founders of 37Signals will publish a book called Remote,which calls the modern office an “interruption factory.” Here, our favorite talking points about why working remotely is not only the future but a good future for companies and their employees:
1. Productivity: A recent Gallop Poll showed that remote workers work longer and are more engaged on the job. When people are left to their own devices they are more prone to get as much work done as they can, lest they come to be seen as lazy. It’s reverse psychology: Without in-person micromanaging, an individual’s sense of responsibility about being productive and remaining necessary increases. Research from Indiana University shows that people are better at problem-solving when they’re located further away from it.
2. Creativity: The less employees are monitored and strapped to their company chairs at the Company’s Deathstar the more they can control how they spend their time. But that’s not a bad thing. Very often the employees that were hired for the right reasons will exercise their rights to read articles and explore ideas and hobbies that may fall outside their current project and/or job description. These activities, however, may very well lead to ideas and creativity that enhances what they are currently working on for you. The fear is that the home worker has too much distraction at his or her fingertips. But actually, home workers may work better in fast spurts and then spend more time building their idea-base and skill-set so that the company will benefit overall from their growth and satisfaction. Remote workers can actually lead to a more creative workforce that changes the game for its company, instead of a workforce that clock-watches and goofs off in the breakroom when they’re not working only on their assigned projects.
3. Money-Saving: This recent Forbes piece mentions that one third of Americans are freelancers, and that in six years there will be more freelancers than so-called full-time workers. This isn’t the most humanitarian benefit to mention, but the company that hires more freelancers has less to pay out in benefits. On the other tip, you can keep your employees covered with good healthcare but save money on office space and equipment as well as services. Your employee may even prefer a certain kind of workspace–say, a stand-up work-station, or a set-up that’s more friendly for the disabled–that they have already set up in their home. This will save companies on special needs and increase productivity as well as a feeling that the company respects their personal needs. You can also grow your company quicker and larger with a remote workforce. Just think: No walls.
4. Reverse-Inertia: A body at rest…, right? Well, just because an employee is working from home does not mean that they are resting. And even if they’re working in their pajamas from bed, it’s not a good feeling to spend too much time at rest, and this is instinctual. The human impulse is to be busy, mentally and physically, and companies are finding that home workers do not loaf around, at least mentally speaking. They’re multitasking better, handling more responsibilities, and they’re hungry to keep working. Because if there’s one thing a home worker wants to feel it’s a sense that their day has been worth it, and they didn’t just goof off. Human impulses are to want the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. Well, maybe not hard, but good. Working from home will also likely spur along most employees to want to visit the office from time to time. People want to feel involved, necessary. So, all the better, to make them want to come to work here and there, as opposed to making them feel like all they want to do is leave.
5. Round-the-clock help: This is a simple one. We are a big country, and a bigger world, with lots of time zones. The more home workers in different locations that you have, the more that you can ensure you’re always getting some kind of work done. It’s amazing to start your day seeing that the team-member three hours behind you has already completed the work necessary for you to take your assignment to the next level. It’s motivating, and it keeps work moving steadily along. The 40-hour workweek may still exist, but it will work better for your company if employees live in different locations and work when they are most productive.