Distributed Work, remote working, teleworking, telecommuting and hoteling are all different names for the same concept—that is, working at a location other than your company’s offices. But who really benefits?
Telecommuting could mean working at home, a public space like a café or at a shared workspace—or at the beach, assuming there is a Wifi signal. In fact, it could be anywhere, though there are some security caveats to consider.
So what’s behind this growing trend of shifting work away from an office and allowing employees to work alone, unsupervised and at their own pace and choice of location? And who benefits?
Money? Employee retention? Stress relief? Overhead reduction?
The answer is all the above.
Kate Lister is a renowned expert on the subject of telecommuting and tracks the statistics at her site globalworkplaceanalytics.com. “While there is no Census Bureau or government produced data that provides additional granularity on the frequency of telework, Global Workplace Analytics’ research finds that: “Some 50 percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks, at some frequency, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the U.S. workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.”
She says two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
So what does this mean? Obviously, employees seem to like the idea. In fact a study by TechnologyAdvice found the number one perk listed by employees as being a factor in their decision to work for or remain at an employer was a flexible work schedule or the ability to work remotely which was chosen by 31.8 percent of those surveyed, topping things like free gym memberships, free food or catered lunches, a casual dress code or mentoring or developmental programs.
There’s another factor that is appealing to employees in choosing to work at a company that embraces Telecommuting as a strategy and that’s trust. The days when managers thought they had to literally stand over employees at their desks to ensure they were working or note when they arrived at work and when they left, have long passed.
Managers today are expected to collaborate with their reports, organizing them as a team, working to ensure they have resources, training and clear pathways to attain the goals assigned to them. This means employees are evaluated on whether they meet the deadlines assigned to them with quality work. If they don’t, there are two possible problems: The employee is not competent or, more likely, their managers assigned them a task beyond their competency and failed to support them in achieving their goal.
Employees want to be trusted enough to achieve the goals set for them without being micro-managed; they may choose to work on their assignments at a different pace or at hours that are best suited to their own working style, and part of that may be working away from the distractions and noise inherent in a large, busy office.
There are other factors too, from the employee’s point of view, as Kim Smith, Director of Client Success at Refined Data points out.
“You just never know when a great idea will come to mind that will move a project, or product, to the next level. Having the flexibility to work remotely when that inspiration strikes I am inclined to jump right in and start work instead of waiting for “office hours,” she said.
Employees tend to like Distributed Work because it gives them back time after a busy day.
“They love it because flexible hours means not having to commute and it gives them back an hour or two hours of their day for themselves either to pursue their own interests or spend time with family,” notes Caroline Reilly, Refined Data’s Client Relations Manager. “It really is a quality of life boost.”
On the other side of the ledger, there’s also a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.
“For one, it means less office space and that’s a huge saving off the top,” says Refined Data President Hugh Molyneaux .
“Add up the square footage, the cost of power and other overhead and it really does start to impact the bottom line.”
Consider the experience of Commercial Real Estate firm CBRE which operates globally and in 2011 realized 40 percent of its office leases worldwide would expire within five years.
They took a step back and thought outside the box, seeing it as a once in a decade opportunity to redefine not just their workspaces but their work culture.
The upshot was a new program, Work360, which sought to maximize space, ditching the old world protocol of assigning desks to each employee and instead shifting to a hoteling concept where those working in the office that day simply find an unoccupied desk and sit down and plug in.
Breaking away from the cube-farm concept, CBRE designed open spaces mixed with open and closed meeting areas.
“CBRE has achieved savings of $13 million in operational rent costs by occupying smaller footprints, and the free-address models means it has 28 percent more capacity to increase its employee roster.
In addition to the monetary upside, the workplace evolution has helped CBRE reduce its footprint by up to 25 percent, contributing to a reduction in waste, energy and carbon emissions. That includes a 35 percent savings in water consumption per office, a 27 percent reduction in electricity consumption and 67 percent increase in waste diversion. Thirty of the offices are now LEED certified, and 11 more are on the way to receiving the certification.
Employees are happy, too. CBRE reports a 90 percent employee satisfaction rate and says 93 percent of employees would not want to return to a traditional office environment.”
Teleworking almost sounds too good to be true. It isn’t. It’s true.
Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom and his colleagues put together a study back in 2012-2013 which remains the benchmark today.
He talks about it at Harvard Business Review and describes how “he and graduate student James Liang, who is also a co-founder of the Chinese travel website Ctrip, gave the staff at Ctrip’s call center the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months. Half the volunteers were allowed to telecommute; the rest remained in the office as a control group.”
Survey responses and performance data collected at the conclusion of the study revealed that, in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.”
The results were startling even for Bloom:
“The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away. Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5 percent more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction. It estimated that it saved $1,900 per employee for the nine months.”
In fact, every study finds productivity and satisfaction rise when a Distributed Work strategy is deployed and it always impacts the bottom line positively.
“At Refined Data we’ve been working virtually for years,” said Kim Smith. “It means we can hire and retain the best people for the job, regardless of where they live. They don’t have to come here to work, they can work with us from wherever they are. And that, I think is a huge advantage for any company, especially those trying to recruit in a crowded market or those who are in more remote locations.”
Refined Data expanded into the Distributed Workspace after realizing they’d been early adopters of a trend.
“We realized we had the tools in house. It’s what we started out doing, engineering platforms for virtual classrooms using technologies like Adobe Connect and Vantage Point. Clients came to us asking about other applications and we started building them out. Today we have a suite of platforms and we can customize them to almost any need, among them linking collaborative teams who work in disparate locations.”