How does remote work impact business owners and HR professionals?
As business owners, we’re always concerned with attracting the best talent to our organizations, while ensuring employee retention and reducing absenteeism. But our technological landscape has radically changed from even just a few years ago. It affects just about every aspect of the way we work, not to mention the people we work with. This can present some new challenges that HR have to watch out for. We can’t just fall back on our old ways of managing things.
One rapidly emerging trend is remote work. New technologies, in particular mobile devices together with cloud platforms and services like Office 365, Azure and Slack make it possible for people can work from just about anywhere on any device, as long as they have an Internet connection. As a result, more and more companies are implementing remote work policies. According to statistics published by Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has increased by 140% since 2005, and 80 to 90% of the U.S. workforce state they would like to be able to work from at least part of the time (https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics). And according to a 2018 Upwork report, 63% of companies today permit remote work (https://www.upwork.com/press/2018/02/28/future-workforce-report-2018/).
And remote work growing in popularity in Canada, too. A 2018 Indeed survey showed that 62% of Canadian employers offered remote work options — and that 36% of employees would actually take a pay cut in exchange for being able to work remotely! (http://blog.indeed.ca/2018/11/14/remote-workers-survey/).
There are many benefits to remote work, both to employees and to the company in general. And there’s no shortage of statistics attesting to increased productivity levels among employees who have the flexibility to work from home.
When it comes to recruitment, organizations that allow flexible remote work are a major draw for younger workers. It’s also great for HR for a few important reasons. First off, the possibility of remote work instantly expands your talent pool outside of major urban centers. There’s no need to relocate and no need to commute. As well, recent university graduates often have limited resources (not to mention student debt), so saving money on gas or not even needing a car at all can make a big difference to them financially.
As for absenteeism, remote work can help prevent loss of productivity. An employee might be sick and not feel well enough to come into the office, but they’re perfectly capable of rolling out of bed and going into the next room to work from home. The employee can get some rest without falling behind on their work — and they don’t bring their germs into the office, so everyone else doesn’t get sick.
But is there a flip side to all of this? Is remote work really all it’s cracked up to be?
Even though the possibility of working from home can expand your talent pool, we have to think about what comes after a new hire. Remote work can have a negative effect on employee orientation, integration and development. It can even cause issues in terms of the organization’s cohesion, company culture and even employee retention.
New employees need a lot of guidance. That will never change. Not everything can be digitally transformed and migrated to the cloud. Even though work communication and collaboration tools like Slack and Teams have greatly expanded what you can actually do while working from home (like web meetings, screen sharing and file sharing), they can’t replace face-to-face mentoring. And new employees benefit greatly from meeting their colleagues. Even if it takes them some time to learn everyone’s names, it’s an important part of the experience.
Still, it’s about more than just knowing the individual people you work with. Just by physically being there, the new employee can get a feel for the group’s vibe. They can see the office’s interpersonal dynamics up close and in real time, for better or worse. It might not be easy at first, but it’s an essential part of everyone’s orientation and integration into the company.
Remote work can also lead to splits between employees who usually (or always) come into the office and those who usually (or always) work from home. The office gang is naturally going to be tighter and have more dynamic interactions. A new colleague told me that at his last job, there was actually a split into three groups after remote work was implemented: the ones who always came into the office, the ones who always worked from home and then the ones who might come in half the time. He never knew which of them he’d see from one day to the next. This lack of consistency can cause serious issues with a company’s organizational cohesion.
Remote work can even lead to issues with employee retention. If employees are cut off from the company culture, it’s much harder to develop a strong connection to the organization, its mission, its values and most importantly, its people. As a result, they might not make meaningful professional commitments to the company, they might not be as enthusiastic about their work — and they might start looking elsewhere.
Company culture develops and grows through human interaction, not text discussions with usernames in Slack, or web meetings with choppy video. (And there’s always someone who has a camera or microphone issue, or just can’t connect at all.) That doesn’t happen in real life. New technologies enable new ways of working, but they also create new issues like these. And throwing the occasional company party or having a big summer barbecue isn’t enough to make up for it.
It’s more than just giving employees the tools they need to work from home. It’s about giving them the opportunity to establish and maintain connections to the company. We have to rely on and trust our HR instincts and experience. Our organizations are counting on their HR team to be the bridge between technology and people. They have their part to play in digital transformation too. Are they up to the challenge?
So tell me: Does your organization allow remote work? How flexible is it? Have you seen gains in productivity, and how are your employees doing? Have you experienced any of the benefits or issues I talked about? And do you see any other other advantages or disadvantages besides these? Let me know in the comments.