Working Remotely 9 to 5: Promises and Pitfalls

What matters most to you in your job? Is it the satisfaction of work well-done? Recognition? Salary and title? Collaborating in teams? The ability to work from home to achieve more work/life balance?

If you answered, “work from home,” you are not alone. Recent statistics summarized by the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that between 30 percent and 45 percent of the labor force work remotely. In addition, 80percent to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce would like to work remotely at least part-time.

Are there benefits to employees who work remotely? Does remote work benefit employers? To answer these questions, the Chinese travel website, Ctrip, offered employees in the call center the opportunity to work remotely for nine months or to work on-site at the company. Survey results indicate that remote workers, in comparison to employees who came into the office, were happier, less likely to quit their job, had higher job satisfaction, and were more productive (i.e., completed more calls: 13.5 percent more calls, to be exact). Remote workers indicated they had more control over when and where they could conduct their work. The issue of control over one’s workday has been shown to avoid job stress and burnout. Furthermore, Ctrip reported it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months.

Other studies also identify benefits of remote work to employees and employers alike, similar to the Ctrip research, including:  productivity increases, more time with family, and the ability to work in less stressful environments, which helps to increase productivity. Absenteeism decreases and retention increases.

Are the benefits to employees identified in this research important to increasing productivity? In 2009, IBM said yes. That year, 40 percent of 386 IBM employees in 173 countries worked remotely. IBM sold office buildings and regained approximately $2 billion. In 2017 however, IBM called all remote workers back to their offices. Why the change? IBM believes the most important predictor of increased productivity is “togetherness,” where employees can build trust through decoding and encoding coworkers’ verbal and nonverbal communication. Critics of this strategy indicate working collaboratively doesn’t necessarily promote high performing teams, nor does face time. IBM will have to build a new culture; employees won’t assimilate back to their previous jobs automatically.

Still, many companies are offering employees remote work. Before you decide to accept a remote job, you will need to ensure your organization provides you with a remote work policy, as there are legal implications for working remotely. A remote work policy must be tailored to the employee’s specific job description; it is an agreement to be signed by the employee and her/his supervisor identifying work expected to be accomplished, how to document work completed, rules on working overtime, use of company equipment, and attendance at training programs. Additional components of the policy include: on-the-job injuries, inventory and office property agreement, damage, and theft.

Do you think you are a good candidate for working remotely? Research suggests the following skills are necessary for success in a remote job: critical thinking, being computer savvy, being well-organized, self-motivation, ability to avoid distractions, comfortable with working without colleagues, and having excellent written and verbal communication skills. Being in touch with what you want from work will also allow you to better judge if working remotely is the right career path for you.