While telecommuting was growing in popularity well before the pandemic, in recent months the number of remote workers has surged to unprecedented levels.
Furthermore, a Gartner survey found 74% of CFOs plan on permanently shifting at least 5% of previously on-site employees to remote positions post-COVID 19, and several large companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, Square, Box and Slack have told employees that they’ll never need to return to the corporate office even after it’s safe to do so.
It is easy to understand why remote working is so popular among employees and employers alike. For example, various research studies and surveys have shown that:
- Employers save an average of $2,000 in real estate costs for each remote worker.
- Remote workers are on average more productive than on-site workers.
- Companies that offer remote working enjoy a 25% lower turnover rate vs. companies that do not offer remote working.
- Remote workers say that they are happy in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers.
- Compared to on-site workers, 82% of remote workers report lower stress, 80% higher morale, and 69% lower absenteeism.
In fact, employees like the idea of logging in from home vs. dealing with a tedious daily commute so much, that 34% would take a pay cut of up to 5% for the option to work remotely.
However, one potential trouble area for remote workers is maintaining a work-life balance. While this has always been a challenge, it is especially difficult these days due to school closures, lockdowns, and other pandemic-related factors that are wearing remote workers down, and leading to burnout, disengagement, presenteeism, absenteeism, and turnover.
To help their remote workers maintain work-life balance, employers are advised to implement the following best practices:
- When possible, avoid scheduling meetings outside of normal work hours, even if it is likely that remote workers will be available. After-hours meetings are fine on occasion and when the situation demands it, but avoid making this a typical option.
- Encourage remote workers to take breaks throughout the workday, which is something they may neglect to do in a home environment. Research has found that the most productive workers (regardless of where they work from) take a 15-20 minute break after every 50 minutes of work. Of course, it is vital for remote workers to actually disconnect from all kinds of work during breaks, and not just switch over to some other work-like task (e.g. preparing a grocery list, paying bills, etc.).
- Provide resources — and if possible financial support — to help remote workers create a productive and ergonomic home office environment. Considerations should include things like technology, seating, lighting, desk space, storage space, air quality, privacy, and soundproofing.
- Encourage remote workers to create and stick to an optimal routine as much as possible. To that end, in an article for FastCompany.com, Art Markman, PhD, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas, advises remote workers to “develop some consistency to your work routine at home. That doesn’t mean that your routine needs to be the same as it was when you were going into the office. If you have children at home, then you will have to work around their schedule. But, creating a schedule for you and for them will help everyone (even infants and toddlers) to be able to predict how the day is going to go.”
- Provide remote workers with access to wellness initiatives — ideally through an employee assistance program — and send out resources to help them enhance and maintain their psychological, emotional and physical health.
In many organizations, remote working has shifted from the exception to the norm. And while it is expected that many remote workers will gradually make their way back into the office, a significant number will continue to work from home — if not full-time, then at least part-time (i.e. “hybrid remote working”).
Organizations that proactively put policies, practices, and resources in place to help remote workers maintain work-life balance will not just do right by their most valuable asset — their people — but they will strengthen their competitive advantage, reduce turnover costs, and enhance overall productivity and performance. In the months and years ahead, this will surely make a significant difference between thriving and struggling.