When considering whether to allow employees to work from home, business owners often wonder whether remote worker productivity will be sufficient to advance the company’s goals. With no supervisor physically present to ensure the work gets done, how can the company really be sure that its remote workers will be focused on the task at hand? Will the temptation be too great for them to end up just playing Xbox all day?
With telecommuting on the rise — Gallup recently estimated that 37 percent of American workers have now worked from home — some business leaders may be concerned about how to best address this growing trend while ensuring productivity doesn’t take a hit. Fortunately, statistical data indicates that remote workers can often be incredibly productive and satisfied at work, sometimes even more so than their in-office counterparts. Companies may be able to reap the benefits that work-from-home arrangements deliver for the four following reasons:
1. Fewer Interruptions Mean Greater Focus
According to a recent survey from TINYpulse, 91 percent of teleworkers report they are more productive when working remotely. With fewer interruptions throughout the workday, they can settle into a state of sustained concentration and work more effectively on their projects. Compare this with the traditional office setting where, according to The Washington Post, each office worker is interrupted or switches tasks every three minutes and then requires an additional 23 minutes to regain their focus. This de facto interruption culture can negatively affect the morale of office workers, who might mutter into their cups of coffee about how they can’t get a moment’s peace. This is not so with teleworkers, however, who may enjoy a greater ability to concentrate on their work and tend to make the most of it.
Additionally, a flexible working environment and increased autonomy help workers optimize their productivity. Teleworkers may be able to arrange their tasks in a way they find most effective, cycling through their to-do lists with ease. Although it is true that telecommuting newbies working from home must contend with distractions in their environment and learn the ropes of working well in that setting, by and large, they are able to stay on top of their work and meet deadlines.
2. Remote Workers Understand the Importance of Collaboration
Perhaps partly because they are not located in an office where collaboration opportunities are automatically woven into the workday, many employees who work from home understand the importance of proactive collaboration and accountability as active team members. Remote workers say that they regularly stay in touch with their supervisors, if on a somewhat less-frequent basis. A generous 34 percent of respondents to the TINYpulse survey report that they are in touch with their supervisor once a week, while 31 percent say that they check in once per day and 21 percent note that they check in multiple times per day. This actually lines up pretty well with how frequently most remote workers say they would prefer to be in touch, so it appears they may be satisfied with this arrangement.
Remote worker productivity is typically highest in cases when both the supervisor and employee have a clear, shared understanding of what needs to get done and fewer check-ins are needed to keep the work moving. Interestingly, 92 percent of teleworkers say they are happy with the way they receive feedback from their supervisors, so it seems both remote workers and their bosses are communicating effectively in this setting and likely use a variety of tools to do so, from video conferencing to email.
3. Remote Workers Feel More Valued at Work
When employees have the ability to work from home, they may be able to more comfortably balance their professional and personal obligations. For example, parents might find it easier to get their children to doctor’s appointments and caregivers may be better able to tend to older relatives. When employees experience greater independence and improved work-life balance, they typically report higher levels of employee satisfaction.
According to the TINYpulse survey, teleworkers say they are happier at work compared to their in-office colleagues. They frequently also feel more valued at work. Increased job satisfaction contributes to greater employee retention in the long run. Employers, who know well that it costs more to hire and train a new employee than it does to retain an existing one, should find this metric attractive when considering their ability to keep top talent and preserve their budget.
4. Inclement Weather Isn’t an Obstacle
Companies offering teleworking programs may be able to stay productive in the event of inclement weather, since nothing prevents employees from taking care of their work safely from home, even if a storm is raging outside or the public transit system is experiencing issues. This reduces liability for the company while simultaneously creating opportunities for productivity that simply did not exist before. Yes, teleworkers are going to have to stay home and actually work on those TPS reports instead of running outside to pelt their friends with snowballs during a major snowstorm. However, those same employees will likely appreciate not having to experience the frustration (not to mention wasted time) involved with a difficult or treacherous commute. Instead of bundling up and trudging out into the elements, they can simply make a cup of hot cocoa, sit down, and get to work.
Teleworking may be a new frontier for some companies, but it’s one that may offer significant promise in the form of greater productivity, increased job satisfaction, and more proactive communication among staff. Company decision-makers who have not yet explored the benefits of allowing their employees to work from home might find that it is not only worth their while, but also takes their business to a whole new level.
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Virtual offices are extremely popular right now, and for many good reasons. For one, a virtual workforce can be a powerful talent recruitment tool. It’s not uncommon for top performers to rank telework as high or even higher than salary when listing their priorities, and teleworking aids recruitment further by opening up the talent pool to candidates located throughout the country.
Working from home has been known to increase employee job satisfaction, boost productivity, and lower turnover costs. Virtual offices are also often cheaper to run, as they require lower overhead costs associated with office space and utilities. And there are many other tangible benefits of having an intangible office. However, being a virtual company isn’t yet a perfect fit for all companies or industries. Here’s how to determine whether it’s right for your business:
Can Your Business Thrive with a Virtual Office?
Some businesses flourish with a virtual workforce, while others may face challenges in adopting such a model. Certain industries, such as health care and IT, have found that telecommuting is an excellent fit for their needs. It allows employees such as engineers or developers to enjoy greater productivity while working on their own. These are professions that require strong attention to detail and might be significantly hindered by distractions in the office, such as overly chatty colleagues. Virtual offices do a great job of future-proofing startups and small businesses, who tend to find the flexibility and low cost especially helpful at that stage of their growth. Larger businesses are also capitalizing on virtual offices more often, particularly when starting branches in new locations.
Businesses with a significant creative function often find that a virtual office is a good match for them, as there is less of a need for face-to-face conversations or in-person review of a physical work product. Marketing organizations in particular tend to thrive in a virtual setting for this reason. When it comes time to compare notes with colleagues, virtually located professionals can take advantage of conferencing and collaboration technology that allows them to share their screens with one another and join a conference on demand.
Sales, IT, project management, administrative, customer service, and education or training roles also tend to thrive in a virtual office since it supports independent work especially well. In those cases, any internal collaboration needs that employees have can be met with cloud-based unified communications services that enable them to message or exchange files with one another throughout the workday.
However, businesses or specific business units that require a great deal of in-person customer service or team collaboration may decide that a virtual office doesn’t quite fit the bill where those activities are concerned. They may still rely on a physical office or a combination of traditional and virtual office settings to do their work.
What to Keep in Mind When Setting Up a Virtual Office
If your business decides to set up a virtual office, there are a few steps and precautions you should take in order to ensure a smooth transition. First and foremost, it will be essential to have a clear and well-communicated teleworking policy in place before launching the virtual office. This policy should cover several aspects of the teleworking arrangement, including the following:
- A clear explanation of the criteria determining how teleworking privileges will be granted
- A description of how many days per week or month will be worked in the office versus a remote location
- An outline of teleworking employees’ general working hours
- An overview of the business’s expectations of remote workers
It’s also important to make sure that as teleworking gets underway at the company, staff members understand the performance goals they must achieve in their new virtual office environment. Most businesses find that when a significant percentage of their employees work remotely, managers concern themselves less with the amount of time their staff spends working than the actual results they achieve. Even so, supervisors may find that it’s a bit of an adjustment to oversee their staff when they’re no longer physically located together in the same brick-and-mortar office, so they should make sure they have the training they need to properly carry out their responsibilities in this regard.
Teleworking employees often report they are more productive when working from home. Terrific as that may be, teleworkers can sometimes feel isolated from the life of the company when working alone. Some businesses address this concern by proactively arranging regularly scheduled virtual events or meetings in which the staff or various teams share information about what is happening at the business, or they create virtual water cooler spaces where employees can engage in the same kind of casual workplace banter they would at a traditional office. Others secure co-working space for some of their employees so they still have the benefit of social interaction as well as networking and professional events where they may make useful contacts or engage in professional development that benefits the company.
A virtual office can be a great benefit to many types of companies of various industries, sizes, workforce configurations, and geographic locations. If your company has been looking for ways to cut costs, improve employee job satisfaction, and boost productivity, it might be worth considering the benefits a virtual workforce may offer. While it isn’t a fit for each and every business, teleworking can be a major asset to the companies that do choose to offer it.
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Teleworking is experiencing a boom as businesses and their employees discover the benefits of flexible work-from-home arrangements. Teleworking improves productivity through virtual communication, aids in recruiting talent (particularly among millennial job seekers), reduces overhead costs associated with office space, and can even be environmentally friendly.
According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 68 percent of workers expect their jobs will soon be performed remotely rather than in a traditional office. Many businesses already offer such arrangements or are preparing to do so. However, in order to maximize teleworking’s benefits, businesses must make sure they have a smart policy in place. Here are five tips for doing just that:
1. Clearly Explain the Rules
When allowing staff to work from home, it’s essential to have clear rules. Not all roles are suited for teleworking, so businesses must first understand what teleworking employees want out of their teleworking arrangements, define which positions are eligible, and decide how often staff will be permitted to take advantage of this option. It may be wise to start by offering limited teleworking days and then expanding on them once it becomes clear that teleworking is going well. Employees can sometimes become envious when they learn someone else has a more generous teleworking arrangement than they do, so businesses should get out in front of that potential problem by clearly explaining the rationale behind any differences in teleworking privileges that may be granted to the staff.
Employees and their managers must also have mutually agreed-upon expectations for the teleworking staff member’s availability under this arrangement. Any team members with whom the teleworking employee collaborates must know how and when they can establish virtual communication with them — whether via a video chat, an instant messaging session, or a phone call — and when they can expect a response. As with any major initiative, businesses should define the goals their teleworking policy intends to achieve and track metrics related to those goals, such as productivity, reduced absenteeism, or employee satisfaction. Teleworking staff should also have clear individual performance targets that are tracked and reviewed on a regular basis.
2. Actively Foster Collaboration
Teleworking can boost workplace collaboration, but doing so requires thoughtful leadership and the right technology for the job. Employees who work from home sometimes feel left out of important business developments, wishing they were as “in the know” as their colleagues. This could lead to a fear that their contributions to the business might be overlooked, setting them back professionally. Remote staff may also feel that they cannot enjoy the same productivity as their office-based colleagues if they do not have access to similar technology tools at home.
Businesses must make sure teleworking employees feel like they are a part of the life of the company. This requires thinking carefully about how to best bring teleworkers into staff meetings and team events. For example, video conferencing solutions may be a good option to help teleworkers participate. If important company announcements are coming down the pike, it’s vital to ensure teleworkers are informed via the appropriate channels — whether that’s in private conversations with their managers or through a companywide email. Businesses can go a long way toward keeping their remote staff engaged by equipping them with teleworking and mobility solutions that help them stay plugged in to what’s going on at the company.
3. Ensure Proper Oversight
As much as businesses might like teleworking to be a “set it and forget it” type of arrangement, it’s usually a work in progress — especially in the beginning. When teleworking doesn’t go well, it’s often due to a lack of sufficient oversight, frequently because there has been little to no training for managers on how to monitor their remotely located staff.
Contrary to what you might assume, virtual communication can introduce challenges for some managers and their employees, since it becomes harder to understand the nuance of what a person is trying to say. Managers in particular need practical guidance on how to supervise their teleworking staff and how remote team members can best collaborate with their office-based colleagues. With proactive oversight, gradual adjustments, and the right technology features, a business can ensure its teleworking policy is successful.
4. Understand Teleworkers’ Unique Needs
Teleworkers are a unique class unto themselves when it comes to supporting both managerial and technical needs. Business processes that hum along seamlessly when everyone is physically collocated in the office may not work quite as well when staff is working remotely, requiring tweaks or adjustments. Remote workers may also face barriers to productivity that their colleagues in the office don’t encounter.
Check in with teleworking staff periodically, particularly after they have just begun working from home, to make sure they have everything they need to work efficiently and feel like a valued member of the team. This feedback can be helpful, particularly when you’re keeping an eye out for technology solutions that facilitate effortless virtual group collaboration in online meetings or video conferences with a single tap or click — even across devices, so colleagues can remain in touch on the go.
5. Consider How Teleworking Ties Into Other Policies
When businesses let staff work from home, they often find that teleworking ties into many other aspects of IT and operations, including BYOD policies, mobile device management, procedures on closing the office in the event of severe weather, and business continuity. IT managers should review how teleworking intersects with other aspects of how business gets done at the company and determine whether it poses any opportunities or challenges that must be addressed.
With a thoughtful approach to a teleworking policy, both businesses and their employees can enjoy the best of what it has to offer.
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