Is working from home the future?

Could working from home be a given in years to come? The rate of technological development in the previous few years feels head-spinningly unprecedented, and is expected to continue in leaps and bounds. While for a lot of us, the advent of driverless cars (here appropriately showcased using another significant area of development: Virtual Reality, with a 360 degree video) take us back to giddy childhood dreams, there are some much more immediate and practical benefits remoulding the way we live – and specifically, the way we work.

Is there any need to change?

You’ve probably been hearing for a while that in many industries, the way we work is changing. There are lots of different reasons for this, not least of all a growing concern with how over-work is impacting upon our physical and mental health and the importance of being able to balance our professional and personal lives. This seems to be a particularly tricky area for us dedicated Brits, who have been found to be putting in more hours at the office than any of our European counterparts.

Before there’s any self-congratulatory back-patting though, it’s important to stress that this does not directly correlate with higher productivity. In fact, many people think it points to the opposite: if you were getting the work done, you wouldn’t need to stay at your desk so long.

How can we increase our productivity?

One big factor which has been found to decrease productivity is our aversion to working from home. Lots of people simply feel (usually mistakenly) that they wouldn’t be able to work remotely. These concerns tend to be based on a few shared misconceptions which people have about working away from the office, and which can be easily assuaged with a quick bit of research or a chat with a remote worker.

But can skipping the office and opting for your sofa, a coffee shop, a hot-desk, the park, or whatever backdrop suits you, really bump up your efficiency? Most studies say yes. Recent findings from TINYpulse and Owl Labs have shown that remote workers are actually more engaged with and invested in their work than colleagues remaining in the office. This resonates with reports that a massive 91% of remote workers feel they are more productive thanks to not having to work from the office.

That’s not so surprising when you consider that a massive 82% of remote workers have reported being less stressed than those working from offices, and were found to be 7% happier. Having the ability to structure your day in a way that suits your work-style and allows you to be sure you’re meeting all of your commitments, not just your professional ones, surely translates to working faster and better.

Losing touch?

A big concern for people who are unsure whether they would be suited to remote work is that they might fall out of step with what’s going on at headquarters. But doesn’t this seem a puzzlingly old-fashioned view to take? Most of us who have worked in an office know that even when we are sitting literally feet from our co-workers, we’re often pinging across emails or IMs rather than actually speaking out loud. Why should working from home be any different?

The ever-growing technology available means that staff have no need to be in the office to be in the loop. From tools as simple and mighty as the teleconference (especially when you can get them totally unlimited and totally free from WHYPAY?) to the mountains of professional apps that help you stay on top and in touch, there is a whole range of technological support for remote workers. Unified communications (UC) – which just refers to a streamlined, integrated use of different communication streams like email, audio meetings, video chats and instant messaging services – enable flexibility by creating instant connectivity. You don’t need to be in the same room, or even the same time zone, to run something by your boss ahead of a meeting, or collaborate on a pitch with your team.

Is it really practical and feasible?

Working from home might seem like a bit of an unrealistic dream, or a special treat, like when the weather makes it impossible to commute as it has the past week thanks to the infamous Beast from the East (this, incidentally, is one of those times when teleconferencing really shows its utility in letting you avoid battling blizzards).

But the fact is, it’s completely realistic, and offers employers and employees alike a lot of compelling, concrete benefits. For one, think of the time saved on commutes. 25% of us are spending an entire month of the year travelling to and from work. A whole month. One-twelfth of the year. There are unquestionably better ways to be spending that time than listening to insurance jingles or cramped onto an underground train. We all know that time is money, and in this case not only could you be doing profitable work, but you could also be saving yourself (or your company) the cost of the commute.

And those aren’t the only expenses which are cut back by offering staff flexible work. Employers can also expect to see a huge reduction on money spent maintaining the work spaces. Even in 2015, studies found that employers in the USA had saved up to $44 billion by allowing employees to telecommute. Those are some quite significant savings, which most business owners would struggle to ignore.

Of course, practicality does depend on the person and the industry. Employers should give careful thought to whether remote working is right for their particular workplace as much as individuals need to think about how they would get on with organising and motivating themselves. Other factors are people’s personal backgrounds and lifestyles.

For example, being a parent brings with it lots of other things to think about when considering remote working. There are a lot of bonuses, like being able to do the school run and attend sporting events and parents’ evenings, and being there if your children are unwell or school is closed. But all this also means there are lots of potential distractions and conflicts, as well as the general aura of chaos which can exist in a home filled with children. Thankfully, there’s a lot of good advice out there for telecommuters with children, and you can have a look at which different remote jobs are best for parents, too.

Are you ready to take the leap?

After giving consideration to the factors discussed, have a chat with your employees about what they think of the opportunity for remote work. The probability is that they will be really keen to find a way to make it work – on average, staff would take an 8% pay decrease in exchange for the ability to work from home while Aviva has reported that 63% of employees are more likely to stay in a job if there’s the chance to work remotely.

And bear in mind that nobody is suggesting you just pack up and put your office up for sale next week. The key word is flexibility. Try to strike a balance that works for your company, your staff, your colleagues, and your work – it’s different for everybody. You could give people the chance to work from home a couple of days a week, or once a month, or just when they need to. You could restructure the working day, and only ask people to come in between 10 am and 2 pm and let them do the rest when it suits them. Or take a leaf out of the Scandinavian book and just cut down on working hours.

However you do it, get your team together and make sure it’s a decision which everybody is happy with, and nobody is being forced into any type of working situation which makes them uncomfortable or unproductive. As always, not only are we trying to reiterate that a happy worker is a good worker, but as we said in this post’s opening, looking after not just the profit margin’s health, but our own mental and physical well-being needs to be a priority. And remote work could be a massive help!

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