There is no doubt that an increasing amount of work being completed for U.S. companies is happening away from the office. That’s especially true for Information Technology (IT). A Gallup survey revealed that 57 percent of workers in computer and information systems industries said they spent at least some time working remotely in 2016. That’s three percentage points more than in 2012. The polling agency told The New York Times that “Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays.”
With more than half of IT employees working away from a central office, what was once a trend is now a dominant business model. There are advantages to these arrangements for both the employee and the employer. There are also drawbacks. Available data and anecdotal evidence is pointing to a hybrid model, where those working from home also spend time at the office. Global Workplace Analytics research showed there is a “sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).”
Kelly Gough, Lead Technical Recruiter at TDK Technologies, is in a unique position on the topic. After the family’s third child was born, she started working from home a couple days per week evaluating and placing IT consultants in new positions.
“I see the benefits as well as the challenges. Overall, I must say I really enjoy it. I feel lucky to have this arrangement. It gives me a good work-life balance, which was my goal. If companies can look at it and make it work, it would be important for providing employees a good option compared to a traditional working week. That’s important to most people,” Gough said.
The Proper Tools
Technology makes the remote workplace possible. But the proper infrastructure is essential if the arrangement is to be effective. At a minimum, remote workers should have a proper office set up at home with high-speed Internet access available along with a desk, chair, computer and telephone.
The business must also have the correct infrastructure established to make sure remote workers can succeed. The central office should have sufficient Internet bandwidth to handle all concurrent remote users and sound security protocols (including firewalls and user authentication practices). The company should also provide services like email, file access and access to connected systems that remote workers would need to productively perform their assignments. The company will also likely have input on the hardware, software, Internet connectivity and security available at those home offices.
“These are all important factors. Prospective remote workers should ask if their employer has the proper infrastructure in place to be effective and successful in a work from home scenario,” said Bill Courtney, Director of Recruiting at TDK Technologies.
The Importance of Trust
People who succeed in remote working scenarios tend to be open, honest, self-motivated, results-oriented, and good communicators. These are all elements that help build trust. Such people understand that working from home is still “work” which requires discipline and organization. Employees need to approach it professionally across the board, from setting up the correct work space, to getting dressed for work, to developing a work routine, and being on time for conference calls and appointments.
“I do think it’s probably not for everyone. I’ve even come across candidates who don’t want that option. Plenty of people tell me they don’t have the structure and self-discipline to do what they need to do without letting household distractions get in the way,” Gough said. “But for every person who I speak with that doesn’t want the work from home option, there are many more who are asking for it before I submit them for a position.”
“When I was in the Navy, the cliché used daily was, ‘plan your work, work your plan’. That is a philosophy all work from home employees need to embrace,” Courtney said.
The effectiveness of a work from home program is tied to the way it's executed. Perhaps most importantly, remote workers earn trust by hitting deadlines and getting deliverables turned in on time.
“We work with clients who have implemented a hybrid model, but usually not right at the time of the candidate joining the company. There is usually a period of evaluation where the client assesses the candidate’s ability to hit their deliverables consistently,” Courtney said. “If there are no issues during the evaluation period, the client company would then extend an opportunity to work from home a few days per week. Several of our clients have limited office space, so they see the value in it. But the production must be there.”
The people managing remote workers need the proper mindset as well. Managers should have clear processes that focus on results while avoiding micromanaging and control. They should take advantage of project management tools to keep files organized, and calendars/due dates should be updated regularly. Feedback and recognition of good performance is also important for remote workers, just as it is for everyone on the team.
“How do managers make sure the person is doing the work at home? In my case, there are daily tracking sheets that cover what I accomplish. But that really isn’t what matters. The biggest thing is ‘Are the results there?’. If I’m sitting at home not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, my employer won’t see the results,” Gough said.
Increasing Productivity = Reducing Distractions
A lot of evidence suggests working from home increases employee satisfaction, with two-thirds of those in a Global Workplace Analytics survey saying they want to work from home and 36 percent saying they would give up a pay raise to do so. It’s also proven effective in both reducing attrition (important because it’s expensive for employers to replace valued employees) and in recruiting younger workers (who especially value flexible working arrangement when seeking employment). High satisfaction levels can also increase productivity. Several companies that have shared data report productivity increases ranging from 15 to 40 percent from remote workers.
But those benefits are not possible if remote workers are distracted. A study by FlexJobs.com found that 84 percent of at-home workers deal with distractions whether from children, spouses, pets, or others in the household. By comparison, 16 percent of virtual workers are completely alone when they try to get work done.
“Distractions are a huge concern when it comes to implementing a work from home or hybrid-type model. There must be trust from the employer that the employee will mitigate the effect of distractions,” Courtney said. “Distractions are a part of any working environment, whether the employee is in the office or working from home. Proper time management is the key to any successful workforce model.”
“There are days, at home and at the office, when distractions occur. It is important to structure your time, set a schedule and stick to it,” Gough said.
Collaboration = Engagement
One of the potential drawbacks for those who work from home is a lack of in-person contact with other members of the team. There is a lot to be said for quickly bouncing a project idea off the person sitting next to you or talking with colleagues over lunch in the office cafeteria.
Regular time in the office can be beneficial for remote workers and their company. The Gallup survey cited earlier indicated that those who spent 60 percent to 80 percent of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagement. “In spite of the additional time away from managers and co-workers, they are the most likely of all employees to strongly agree that someone at work cares about them as a person, encourages their development and has talked to them about their progress,” Gallup reported.
“One of my biggest concerns going into it was feeling detached from the team, or that they would feel detached from me. But that really hasn’t been the case. I start off my week in the office and then by the end of the week I’m ready to be back in the office. So, it is a good blend,” Gough said.
A hybrid approach can help overcome obstacles to remote working that include social isolation, decreased collaboration, and a potential invisibility to co-workers and management that can negatively affect promotions and professional networking opportunities.
The Bottom Line
The trend toward increasing amounts of office work being done at home is poised to keep going. Research by PSFK estimated that by 2022, 60 percent of current office-based workers are expected to work remotely. The trend is attractive financially for companies, with Salary.com estimating $10,000 of cost savings per year, for each employee who works remotely. Its attractive to employees, who are happier with flexible work arrangements and control over their schedules.
“It’s becoming a pretty big trend. I feel that the companies that are not going in that direction will need to have reevaluate because they’ll be missing out on some talented workers. People seem to like it,” Gough said.