The proliferation of digital technology has made it possible to accomplish many jobs from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection. While remote work may evoke images of someone stuffing envelopes in their underwear, an increasing number of professionals are seeking opportunities to work from home at least part of the time and many companies are beginning to recognize the perks associated with pursing such flexible arrangements.
When done well, working remotely provides many benefits to both employees and employers. For starters, studies suggest that employees who work from home sleep more, eat healthier, get more exercise, and enjoy more time spent with significant others. They’re also less likely to take time off and save companies money by reducing office overhead.
In many cases, telecommuting can be a win-win for everyone involved. However, while working from anywhere your laptop takes you is often as awesome as it seems, there are also unique challenges that come with working away from your company’s main office – if they even have one.
Statistics: The State of Remote Work
- Global Workplace Analytics says the remote workforce has increased by 140% since 2005.
- According to Gallup’s 2012-2016 “State of the American Workplace” report, 43% of American employees worked remotely at least some of the time.
- Data released by a Swiss company suggested that 70% of workers telecommuted at least one day a week, while 53% worked remotely for at least half the week.
- In a 2017 Stack Overflow survey, 53.3% of developers said that being able to work remotely was a priority when looking for a job and 63.9% said they worked remotely at least one day a month. The highest job satisfaction was reported by developers who were entirely or almost entirely remote.
- A 2018 “Business Communications Technology” report released by BlueFace predicts that by 2025 remote working will rival fixed office locations.
- 74% of North American office workers who responded to a Softchoice survey said they would change jobs based on their employer’s work from home policy.
- In a FlexJobs survey involving 5,500 professionals, 66% said their productivity improved when not in an office and 76% said there are fewer distractions outside of offices. A separate report by Workforce Futures mentions that 83% of employees feel they don’t need an office to be productive.
- Research conducted by Stanford found that when call center employees worked from home, their performance increased by 13%. Of that, 9% was working more minutes (fewer breaks and taking less sick days), while 4% was from handling more calls per minute.
- Similarly, Cisco-sponsored study performed by the University of Melbourne and the NZ Work Research Institute that included 1,800 employees, 100 managers and 50 businesses found that partially working from home resulted in a 12% increase in productivity.
- Two out of three respondents in a survey performed by Polycom Inc. said they were more productive working remotely than when they worked at an on-site office. Three out of four respondents said working remotely helps them with work-life balance.
- Beyond simply feeling more productive, 30% of remote work respondents to a CoSo Cloud survey said they accomplish more in less time, 24% said they accomplished more in the same amount of time, 23% were willing to work longer hours and 52% were less likely to take time off.
- In a FlexJobs survey, 79% employees said they’d be more loyal to a business if it offered more flexibility and 32% said they’d left a job because of the lack of flexibility. Another study by Stanford University found that employee turnover was reduced by half when they were offered remote work options, and research by Gartner indicates that organizations who allow remote working will increase employee retention rates by 10%.
- Remote work options are especially appealing to mothers. One study from the University of Kent found that more than half of women wanted to quit or reduce their working hours after having a child, and this was only half as likely among work at home moms. Stats from NCWIT found that 56% of women in the tech industry leave their jobs mid-career and 51% said being a working mother made it hard for them to advance in their career.
- Similarly, in a poll of older Americans conducted by AARP, 74% of them wanted flexible schedules from their job and 34% wanted to work from home. Americans over the age of 64 are working more than any other time since the turn of the century according to Pew Research.
- Meanwhile, 85% Millennials who responded to a FlexJobs survey said they’d prefer to telecommute 100% of the time, 50% said they would be okay with telecommuting some of the time, and 84% wanted better work-life balance.
- According to the U.S. census bureau, the average worker spends nearly an hour traveling to and from their home and office every day– more than 300 hours in a year.
- Backing those numbers up, remote worker respondents to a CoSo Cloud survey said they saved as much as $5,240 per year by working from home.
- Companies save cash too. A Global Workplace Analytics report indicates that businesses can save as much as $11,000 per person, per year by allowing them to work from home.
- Back in 2009, Cisco’s Internet Business Services Group likewise reported an annual savings of $277 million in productivity because of remote employees. Remote Cisco workers who participated in the company’s survey reported improved timeliness and quality of work, as well as an improvement in their quality of life.
- In 2016, Dell announced plans to expand its telecommuting and remote work programs, citing savings of$12 million a year from reduced office space costs. It was also estimated that Dell employees who worked remotely 10 days a month saved about $350 a year in commuting costs.
- While some remote workers report feeling disconnected or left out of the loop, this is often attributed to poor remote managers and there are many studies where remote work respondents suggest that communication with team members is equal to or better than when they worked in an office. Mileage varies based on roles and organizations.
The Biggest Perks of Working Remotely
One of the main benefits to working from a home office is the lack of a commute. Beyond saving many hours a week (which can be put to more productive use, whether personally or professionally), eliminating the commute to work comes with big savings on fuel and vehicle maintenance. In some cases, it may even make sense to abandon your vehicle entirely.
With no commute, you can live anywhere you want. This may result in savings due to lower cost of living compared to being in some major metropolitan areas, but if nothing else it will lead to greater happiness as you get to live in your preferred location instead of somewhere you’d rather not be purely because that’s where work is at.
Remote workers also experience cash savings in other areas, such as having to purchase less office attire and paying less for dry cleaning, or eating more home-cooked meals instead of dining out – something that spares your waistline as much as your wallet. On the flip side, you may have to invest more in technology, though many people would make these purchases regardless (a good computer for instance) and many employers offer stipends for such expenses.
Working remotely often means you’ll be setting your own schedule instead of showing up at an office for a standard 9-5 stint. This autonomy allows you to work around other events in your life, such as seeing kids off to school, and makes it possible to take breaks when and where you want. It also lets you get work done during your most productive points, following the rhythm of your energy levels. Hitting a creative block? Maybe it’s time to take the dog for a walk or hit the gym for half an hour.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to work wherever, whenever. While many remote positions will still require you to overlap some hours with the rest of your company so everyone is available during similar hours on collaboration platforms, it can’t be overemphasized how beneficial it is to work when you’re most likely to produce the best results. Likewise with being able to change scenery as desired, which can bring a huge boost in productivity.
Maybe you’re a morning or an evening person. Maybe you do your best work with white noise and the background bustle of a public place, or maybe you prefer the dead silence and familiarity of a home office. All of these scenarios are possible in the same work day.
Although telecommuting presents plenty of opportunities for distractions, remote workers commonly say that they feel more focused at home. Offices are noisy and there are a lot of people to pull you away from what you’re trying to do. While this is sometimes collaborative and beneficial to the job, it can also break your attention from the task at hand.
As mentioned, employers also enjoy many benefits when hiring remote workers. Less overhead for office space and equipment make for the most obvious perks, but some companies caution that saving a few bucks shouldn’t be the primary reason you decide to hire remotely because this still comes with some hidden costs such as the fact that it may take longer to train someone from afar compared to in person.
At the same time, employers who hire remotely have access to a larger talent pool and often gain workers who are a better fit for their job despite being halfway across the country (or world!), versus seeking candidates who are in the area or those who are willing to relocate. Many statistics also indicate that remote workers are happier and tend to show higher retention rates than their office-bound counterparts.
The Biggest Cons of Working Remotely
Virtual jobs aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. People who have never experienced remote work might not anticipate some of the drawbacks that come with such an arrangement, which may be particularly challenging for employees who thrive on extroversion, those who lack enough self-discipline to get the things done with no immediate supervision, or those who are simply used to being in a traditional office and don’t cope well with change.
Being physically separated from the rest of your team can result in feeling isolated and out of the loop with everyone and everything happening at your company. Digital communication platforms don’t always capture the essence of working alongside someone or having face-to-face interactions. Some people report feeling a loss of camaraderie when working remotely. For however distracting office environments can be, it’s hard to replace those “water cooler moments” with an instant messenger.
According to a “State of Remote Work 2018 Report” by Buffer, which includes data from thousands of remote workers, one in five participants said that loneliness was their biggest struggle with working remotely. Likewise, loneliness is an increasing issue among young adults, who experience less face-to-face interactions amid the rapid adoption of smartphones and social media, and this population is among the most likely to take on a remote job.
While the opportunity exists to spend more time with friends and family when working remotely, it can also be difficult to have them take your job seriously and they may be comfortable with interrupting you. However distracting an office might be if you’re trying to focus on writing a detailed report, having kids barge into your home office or friends texting you to head out for the afternoon might be even worse. And since they know you’re home and that you take breaks at unusual hours, it can be challenging to set boundaries. This says nothing of the distraction that the Internet can be if you let it – so don’t.
And for as great as it may be to take breaks whenever you want or to work when you’re at peak energy levels, it can be easy to put in too many hours when working from home. It’s easy to hop on “for a minute” at night or over the weekend, and before you know it you’ve put an extra four hours in that likely would have never happened with conventional office job that you leave behind at the end of the day.
You may simply enjoy your job so much that the desire exists to go at it again for another session, but part of this compulsion may also be derived from feeling like your lack of presence or visibility at an office must be countered by ensuring that you have something to show for yourself. You don’t want employers to think that you aren’t putting in the amount of effort expected.
Compounding this issue, most remote positions don’t offer overtime compensation so you must be mindful of striking a balance here – not only so that you aren’t taken advantage of, but to make sure that you don’t burn out. According to figures from a Cardiff University study, 44% of remote workers struggle to unwind after work compared to 38% of staff who work in fixed locations, while a report by CIPD found that 32% of people working remotely felt that they couldn’t switch off in their personal time.
Along with being lonelier and finding it difficult to balance work and home life, remote workers sometimes report that they rarely leave the house beyond checking their mailbox. Despite the additional flexibility that comes with telecommuting and the clarity that comes with changing scenery, it can be easy to fall into a routine where you bounce between your home office, kitchen, living room and bedroom, never stepping foot outside.
These sorts of challenges aren’t exclusive to workers, but organizations as a whole. It can be more difficult to establish a company culture when your team is distributed around the globe, and while unified communications platforms help fill the gaps, FaceTime isn’t exactly a true replacement for being face-to-face with someone. There’s something to be said for the synergy and cohesion that can be derived from a standard office.
This lack of visibility can also make it difficult to identify opportunities for career advancements and on the job learning compared to a situation where everyone is sharing a physical office. While it’s easy to find statistics that support both ideas – that remote work increases and decreases collaboration between colleagues – working remotely does lend itself to more of a heads-down situation where tasks can be accomplished individually with greater focus instead of together.
Tips for Being Successful at Remote Work
Although presence on collaboration platforms may matter during some company hours and you may feel pressured to let others know you’re around, completing tasks consistently and meeting deadlines will generally matter more than your body being in an office chair for a certain number of hours each day.
While it’s not always the best replacement for interacting with co-workers in person, communication tools such as Slack and Google Hangouts are essential for facilitating collaboration between co-workers, whether asking a question, holding a conference call, sharing files or exchanging quick banter.
Make sure you actually use these tools. Despite being so “connected” it be easy for everyone to become disjointed and siloed off into their own project with minimal communication between anyone except occasional messages between project leaders and project doers.
If you miss working alongside others at an office, there are an increasing number of “co-work” spaces emerging where remote workers meet up to share a more conventional office environment, despite not working at the same company. Alternatively, if your company is large enough, you may be able to meet up other people from your organization who are local to you but who also work from home. Or, if your company has an office, you can drop by one or more days a week to break things up.
Whatever you do, leave the house! And more than just to check your mail. If possible, establish a social network in your area – with other remote workers or otherwise. Join a gym, a sporting league, a book club etc.
Working remotely is flexible and that’s great, but you should also strive to maintain some kind of routine. Develop a schedule – even if it’s a loose one that isn’t written down – to ensure you have hours dedicated to getting things done. Again, part of this will happen naturally as you work during waves of high energy and clarity. Remote workers often describe their routine as working in “sprints.”
Also, determine a time or event that signals the end of your work day. For some people this means leaving their home office and designated work machines behind for the day.
Minimize distractions. Friend and family may be your biggest obstacle here, but share your schedule with them somehow. This may be as simple as posting a calendar on your office door, or letting them know that when the door is closed you don’t want to be bothered.
While it can be great to accomplish a quick chore, be mindful to not get overly sidetracked with home duties during work hours. Likewise, things like Netflix and social media can present a huge challenge to accomplishing your daily duties if you lack the discipline to ignore them and remain motivated to stay on task.
Take breaks! That may be a short breather every hour or two, or a longer break if necessary and time can afford it. While it may seem unproductive to take a quick nap or walk, these types of activities often lead to feeling refreshed and can bring a worthwhile boost to productivity and clarity when returning to your task. Depending on what statistics you consult, the timing cadence for work-break periods varies, but it’s commonly suggested that taking a 15-20 minute break every 90-120 minutes is a healthy practice that helps ensure maximum output.
Some people say they work fine in comfortable clothes like sweatpants and a t-shirt, but it’s generally recommended by experienced remote workers to at least change out of whatever you wore to bed, and some people suggest getting dressed similarly to as if you were actually going into an office can help shift your mindset into work mode.
Similarly, you should have a dedicated work space or maybe even several of them. This can be an entire room converted into a home office, or a desk in the corner of a quiet room, but having a familiar work environment where you can focus on the day’s tasks is crucial to getting things done. Depending on your job and comfort with busy environments, this might be the “perfect” table at a local coffee shop.
Employers may want to consider hosting annual or bi-annual events where remote teams gather in-person to help facilitate bonding that will bolster employee relationships when they return to their remote positions. Flying everyone to the same location for a weekend might be expensive but this should be partially offset by reduced expenses of the employees working remotely (again, less office overhead). It’s also hard to put a price on creating a more cohesive team.
Other challenges with working remotely include more complicated taxes (filing with multiple states, recording expenses for deductions etc.) and the reality you are somewhat beholden to technology, which may not go over well with less tech-savvy employees and can sometimes be difficult to ensure stable Internet connections in rural areas for instance.
Common Misconceptions About Remote Work
Perhaps the most common misconception about remote workers is that they won’t get anything done because they’ll spend their day browsing social media without someone looking over their shoulder to keep them on task. This may be an issue in isolated instances but the statistics largely counter the idea that remote employees are less productive. On the contrary, they tend to accomplish more in less time than in-office staff.
Here are some other misconceptions we’ve come across:
- Remote work is only for data entry or X type of job – Granted, certain roles are better suited toward working from home. It’s unlikely that you’ll find many construction workers taking telecommuting positions anytime soon (though with advancements in robotics and low latency wireless Internet, who knows). That said, remote work is far from being limited to entry-level, part-time or menial jobs.
- Telecommuters make less money! – Even if that were true – which it’s not according to statistics we’ve seen – people who work from home tend to spend less money. Along with big savings on transportation and other costs, the stats we’ve come across indicate that remote workers tend to have higher levels of education and often earn higher salaries.
- I won’t need child care since I’ll be home anyway – While there is some truth to this, it’s suggested that mothers with full time remote jobs should still anticipate some costs associated with child care. Depending on the level of focus required for your position, it may prove extremely difficult to juggle work and home duties if your children require a majority of your attention during the day.
- Working from home won’t look good on my resume – Considering the trend for companies to hire remote workers, any stigma that might have been previously attached with working remotely is quickly fading away. If anything, the opposite is true: it shows you’re self-driven, capable of performing at a job with minimal supervision and knowledgeable enough to excel on your own.
- Hiring remote workers will tarnish my brand’s image – If your competitors don’t have remote workers, it may be concerning that your business will look less professional with people working at home. However, know that you’re in good company: most major tech brands have opened their doors to remote workers, not to mention companies such as American Express and Discover.
Where to Find Remote Work, or How to Ask
Whether you realize it or not, you may already do some work remotely, even if it’s not in an official capacity. For instance, if you answer emails or calls from a smartphone when away from the office – that’s remote work. Depending on your role, you may be able to do most if not all of your duties from home.
Statistics suggest that around half of the U.S. workforce has a job that is compatible with teleworking at least some of the time, while around one quarter of the workforce already telecommutes at some points. If you’re interested in exploring such an opportunity, there are an increasing number of positions that are compatible with remote work in some capacity, and a rising number of companies exploring this trend.
Think you can do your current job from home? Or at least partially so? Communicate this to your employer with some figures about remote work and why you think it would benefit your position.
Asking your current employer about remote work could be as simple as explaining that you’d be able to tackle duties during your most productive hours or increase your concentration on focus-oriented projects. Many employers are likely to give this a shot for at least one day a week, with a chance of expanding that schedule if the trial period proves to be successful.
If you’re seeking a new job that offers remote opportunities, there are many resources available to find telecommuting jobs. For instance, all of these sites are dedicated to hosting remote-only jobs: FlexJobs, Remote.co, We Work Remotely, Working Nomads, Jobspresso, RemoteOK, Remotive, Pangian Virtual Vocations, Skip the Drive and Hubstaff Talent.
It’s also easy to find remote work on larger job boards such as Indeed, Glassdoor or ZipRecruiter by using certain keywords and filters when searching. Here are some keywords and exact phrases to search for: remote, telecommute/telecommuting/telework, mobile, virtual, “work from home,” “from anywhere,” “located anywhere,” “home office,” “nomad,” “home-based,” “freelance” (often remote-capable).
You may also want to set your location field as blank or country-wide (United States for instance) instead of a city, and sometimes using the word “remote” or a phrase like “home-based” also helps.
Industries including IT (especially software development), engineering, healthcare, customer service, digital marketing, project management, account management, sales, social media, consulting, content creation and other creative roles are often open to remote positions.
The Bottom Line: Remote Work is Here to Stay
Is this just a fad? Unlikely. While some of the challenges that remote workers face may result in some companies leaning more toward a partially remote arrangement to enjoy the benefits of both worlds, telecommuting is only becoming more common as technology enables greater communication and capabilities between workers who are distributed around the globe.
Although working remotely presents some unique challenges that people are less likely to face when going to a traditional office, 90% of remote workers plan on continuing to telecommute for the rest of their careers, and 94% encourage other people to try working remotely. Meanwhile, it’s said that 80% to 90% of the U.S. workforce would like to telework at least part of the time, and a Reuters poll dating back to 2012 indicated that around one in five workers around the world already worked from home on a part-time basis.
Along with increasing interest from workers, companies are beginning to embrace the benefits that come from allowing employees to have more flexible schedules. “It’s clear to me that remote employees stay longer, work harder, and offer better ROI over co-located employees. The freedom to work from when and where you want is one of the most desired benefits employees have – it helps us keep our attrition rates low,” says Hubstaff CEO Dave Nevogt. Companies including Fed-Ex, Cisco, Aetna, IBM and Intel are among the countless major corporations adopting telework.
While jobs may never be 100% remote across the board, technologies such as unified communications, low latency wireless Internet, robotics, virtual reality and holograms are likely to continue enabling the trend toward off-site work, including industries that might not seem so compatible with remote work at first glance. Wirelessly controlled robots that are piloted through underground mines from hundreds of miles away aren’t too far-flung, for instance.
When approached with an understanding of the challenges that come with pursuing remote work and knowing how the model fits your business, telecommuting can boost morale and productivity, slash expenses and open access to talent that your company might not otherwise find locally.