Remote Working As The New Norm: Advantages and Disadvantages

Remote Working As The New Norm: Advantages and Disadvantages

“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in the kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin America

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we, as a society, have been forced into virtual reality. To avoid the virus’s spread, we have shifted to contactless services, mostly online learning, telemedicine, and remote working. Are we tiring of all of this virtuality?

As COVID caused work disruption, many organizations that had already embraced remote working quickly adapted their employees to a full-time virtual schedule. Remote working expanded dramatically as working from home became a necessity for many reasons. In their latest conference calls with investors, company management addressed how they could quickly hook up their employees to their networks, enabling new remote working arrangements.

With the virus still a menace,  employees are not rushing back to their offices. Reflective of the work at the home trend, public transit systems across the country have lost significant ridership.

For organizations with new remote working arrangements, there was more of a learning curve. Companies shifted their employees to work from home with virtual tools for the first time. While CEOs speak with pride at how well they handled the technological aspects, the human element matters much. Remote work is not for everyone as recent surveys imply.

As a professor, I have been working from home since March 2020 and will continue to do for the Fall semester. Students adjusted at varying paces, adapting to the technology but still wanting face-to-face contact, whether in the classroom or during office hours.

Remote Working Is A Growing Trend Likely To Last

Unlike the massive move to online learning for schools, colleges, and universities in March 2020, remote working was already growing. Millennials had sought flexible time as a desirable perk. Recent college grads and even Boomers have sought this desirable perk. Working from home is far more geared for those in specific careers requiring higher education, city dwellers, and in higher-income brackets. For example, people working in accounting, finance, and software engineering were more likely to work from home than meatpackers. The latter had to make tough decisions between facing the health crisis or stop production altogether.

Remote working doesn’t work for everyone, even for employees in suitable jobs where working from home is more common. According to the US Census, about 5.3% typically work from home. In the Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019  survey, 38% never worked remotely pre-pandemic, while 62% have worked remotely at any frequency.

We first addressed how the coronavirus would be a tipping point for remote working here and have updated our thoughts.

Remote Work: Advantages And Disadvantages

 

Advantages

 

Flexibility

Alternative work arrangements are valued as long as employees have reliable internet connections. As reported in this survey, the ability to have a more flexible schedule is the most significant benefit, according to 32% of people who regularly work remotely. For working parents, the desire for work at home tends to be higher than for people without children. Working at home tends to be less stressful. Avoiding lengthy commutes reduces angst while saving time and money. As a result of the virus outbreak and social distancing, many workers could transition reasonably easily to working from home.

It is difficult for young people seeking desirable jobs in San Francisco and New York City to find affordable apartments or homes. Working from home at least part of the time could be their solution. Eliminating some commuting time would be a game-changer, especially if they are thinking about starting a family. Autonomy for employees working at home leads to improved job satisfaction.

Better Work/Life Balance

For many, remote working provides a better work/life balance. By avoiding a potentially long and irritating commute to work, you can start your day earlier. You can work at your own pace provided it coincides with the job’s priorities. It may be more comfortable to take care of doctor appointments, picking up kids from school, or taking care of chores at different times of the day, and working when you are most productive and at your best is a great option. 

In recent years, remote working jobs have provided work/life balance benefits as a top perk. Employers and employees are seeing positive remote work productivity, eliminating one of the issues employers feared increasing remote work job opportunities.  

Increased Productivity

Many employees report increased productivity working from home. Those traits transfer to wherever as long as you have self-discipline and are organized. Distractions at the office occur beyond the water cooler. Gossip, office politics, meetings, and calls often threw me off my game when I worked on Wall Street. I was far more productive late at night or over the weekend when I tuned everything out, but the work needed to get done.

To be productive at home may require some self-discipline. Prioritize your “must-do” work first. Then manage your time to maximize your achievements fully. I can thank my mom, who always pestered me by asking, “So what did you accomplish today?” at a very early age. One danger of working at home is that many people say they work longer hours. While it is easy to justify longer work time without the commuting time, give yourself that needed a break. Take a walk, exercise, or text a friend.

Savings For The Employees

People working from home realize additional savings. According to Global Workplace Analytics, working at home half the time results in savings of $2,500-$4,000 per year. The reduced costs stem from less travel, parking,  and food. These savings are net of expenditures for the home, such as additional energy and food costs. These may vary depending on how far your commute is and if there are bridge & toll payments. You may even save money on your office wardrobes by staying in casual clothes or PJs. Remember to put these savings into your emergency funds account and invest in accessible liquid securities. We discuss why you need an emergency fund and where to invest your account here.

We should save time, that precious resource. If you work remotely half the time, Analytics estimates you save the equivalent of 11 workdays based on lower commuting time. Who wouldn’t want to get those days back? There is a close relationship between time, money, and productivity.

Company Cost Savings

A typical employer could save an average of $11,000 annually per half-time telecommuting per employee based on estimates from Global Workplace Analytics. Increased productivity, lower real estate taxes, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness contribute to those forecasts. During COVID, there may be far more savings than the $11,000 estimate based on drastically reduced travel and entertainment expenditures.

Employers are encouraged to use this Free Telework Savings Calculator, which has received accolades from Congress. The comprehensive calculator allows employers to quantify benefits based on US census data from states, cities, or even counties and congressional districts with 59 variables.

For example, to calculate real estate savings, employers can change assumptions based on average office size, $/square foot, person/desk ratio, and other related variables and locations. Employers will be able to save office rent in high-cost cities like New York where most midtown commercial buildings have been empty most of 2020.

Increased Independence

According to the SHRM 2019 Employee Benefits survey, 69% of employers offer remote work on an ad hoc basis to at least some employees. However, full-time employees are more than four times likely to get those options. Post- COVID, many employers will have had more experience and confidence to offer remote working options. Giving employees greater autonomy from working at home leads to better job satisfaction and reduced turnover, a significant benefit for employers.

 Flexible Work Options Attract And Retain Talented Employees

There was increased demand for a flexible work option that including working-at-home, especially from young people before the coronavirus. It is likely to be an important company benefit for many candidates. Many companies have allowed their employees to work from home during the virus that may not have encouraged the arrangement before. As a desirable perk for young employees, flexible work offerings help to attract and retain talented employees.

As a result, management may be having positive experiences with remote working options. They have been able to test the resilience and productivity of their employees. With positive results, they may be more willing to encourage telecommuting. It is foreseeable that those employees who worked from home will not readily go back to working in an office environment only. Employers need to anticipate more demand for working from home options.

Employers Have More Confidence

Many companies may have resisted allowing their employees to work at home to fear lost productivity or lack of essential technology. Findings from a May 2020 study reported that remote work had only a small negative impact on productivity (of 1%). However, those employees working from home with children reported a slightly larger decrease (2%) in productivity.  In some cases, it seems that businesses may have realized some productivity benefits.

Those companies that had already deployed powerful technology for their workers may have been more prepared for the challenges. Technology for employees requires support with web-based teleconferencing and video conference platforms. Other companies may have been more flatfooted. They could not move to a “Plan B.” These companies will need to develop better disaster planning strategies develop. There is, however, a more significant infrastructure issue. There is a lack of broadband Internet availability in rural and poor areas, which may hamper some employees from working from home.

Remote Work As A Desirable Skill

As a remote worker, you are likely to develop new and different skills. Learning how to work independently and collaboratively sounds a bit oxymoronic, but it is not. While you may be working alone when home, there are times when you will be working as part of a team. There will be greater emphasis on communication skills, whether in written, video, or phone calls. Increasingly, there are many software and apps such as Slack, which you can use to share documents and to communicate. Working from home requires more focus to separate yourself from distractions at home and to stay productive. These are attractive traits to have in your work background.

A Societal Benefit

For companies in congested traffic areas such as Los Angeles, offering alternative working options for employees would be seen as an eco-friendly move. All organizations need to play their part in battling climate change by reducing their carbon footprint. Besides day-to-day commuting, there may be reduced business travel to meetings and conferences, affecting our energy consumption. This energy change has resulted in a better environment from reduced commercial and educational sources since COVID began.

Disadvantages

However, not all employees want to work from home. It became necessary for workers to remotely due to COVID. Firms were not fully prepared for this change. Other organizations have been allowing remote working for years. In a Robert Hall survey, 47% of employees surveyed said that the company provides that option. Of that 47%, 76% do take advantage of the perk either working at home or elsewhere. However, 24% of employees did not opt to work outside of the office.

Reasons:

  • They did not have adequate technology available at home (39%).
  • Workers are not as productive working from home (38%).
  • Fear of missing out on opportunities or assignments if they were not in the office (29%).
  • Employees felt lonely and missed interaction in the office (22%).

We will address each of these and other disadvantages.

Remote Work Doesn’t Work For New Hires Without Some Training

Starting your first job out of college, starting a career, or an internship is often a challenge. Thrown into a new environment with new people, management, and new systems, it takes time to learn who are your colleagues, boss, and priorities. You feel like a fish out of water. However, working remotely for a new employee for the first time may be too overwhelming even for the most confident person.

As an example, Google has said they intend to keep employees working from home until mid-2021. At a minimum, these organizations need to make exceptions for new hires to acclimate them to the home office for some time. Management needs to be sensitive to increased communication, clarity about the priorities, and sharing their expectations to new employees.

Lack Of Adequate Technology At Home

The lack of access to broadband Internet in rural and poor communities is not a new problem. About 5.6% of our population in rural markets lack access, according to the FCC. Some say it is higher than that. The lack of high-speed connections, that is, the digital divide, became far more visible during the pandemic. Some work-at-home employees may rely on satellite connections or travel to the next town to a library to get links to participate in video conference calls.  Some families may not afford subscription services, internet capacity, or equipment to work from home. They may have been using mobile devices that are not suitable for work.

Feeling Isolated

Employees, not just new hires, have expressed feelings of isolation when working at home. There are fewer chances for employees to be engaged or socialize with others when working from home. The camaraderie at the office is often a big motivator but more awkward when everyone is at different locations. Having zoom calls can be stilted or challenging when some people have dogs or kids in the background. I am guilty of having that background noise when speaking to my boss.

I have reached out to several business owners who began remote working as a result of the pandemic. We spoke about how they deal with some of the challenges raised by employees staying connected to their organizations. They shared that they have increased one-to-one communications to keep in touch. At least at first, some managers reset productivity expectations for the businesses that rely on face-to-face interactions. Some explored virtual get-togethers with staff and clients using coffee klatches, fitness instructors, virtual dance and pizza parties, and cocktails on Friday afternoons. Stitch and bitch sessions are also growing in popularity as employees may be growing tired of the virtual office.

Difficult To Unplug From Work

While a work-life balance is usually an advantage of working from home, some find it difficult to separate your career and personal life. You may be working longer hours because you are not commuting and have free time. What sometimes helps is to write out my to-do list for the next morning as a final task in the evening.

There are plenty of distractions around my house that remind me that I am working from home. I block it out during the day, but I usually get a tap from the dog or one of my kids telling me it is time to stop. It is a good idea to have boundaries between my physical desk and home life, but my husband commandeered the house’s best space.

Final Thoughts

The rapid move to remote working for many organizations happened quickly due to the pandemic. Working from home was already a growing trend and, for many, a desirable perk. There are many advantages of working remotely, but it is not for everyone. We addressed some of the key disadvantages or situations where remote working may be problematic. To some degree, management may improve the remote work experience simply by being more sensitive to employee needs. The lack of broadband technology in rural areas requires government intervention to improve connectivity and our aging electronic grid which we address here.

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