What is Remote Work?
Remote work, often referred to as work-from-home (WFH), is a type of flexible work arrangement in which employees can perform their job duties from a location or workspace outside of their organization’s main office.
Instead of commuting to a physical office, remote workers can complete their tasks from home, co-working spaces, coffee shops, or any other location with an internet connection and necessary tools.
What’s the Rationale Behind WFH?
Remote work is extremely popular because it enables employees to work from home and enjoy a greater work-life balance. A key reason for this is that there’s no need to commute to work, which means that employees have more time to spend with their families and friends and the activities that they enjoy.
One study shows that remote workers save an average of 72 minutes per day in commuting time by working from home. This adds up to 360 minutes (6 hours) per week.
Giving employees back this extra time can improve their wellness significantly, with fully remote employees reporting happiness levels 20% higher than those who worked in the office all the time and 77% of employees reporting they believe remote and hybrid working has improved their overall well-being.
While remote work has been practiced for years, the adoption of work-from-home arrangements increased rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it provided organizations with a solution to enable employees to stay productive amid ongoing lockdown restrictions.
As of September 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 27% of the U.S. workforce is working remotely, at least on a part-time basis.
Remote Work vs. Hybrid Work
Generally, the term remote work is used to refer to flexible working arrangements where employees are working from home all the time. The term hybrid work is used to describe working arrangements where an employee works in the office some days and others at home.
Hybrid work is generally used by organizations that want to provide employees with flexible working opportunities while ensuring there’s still a high amount of face-time and in-office collaboration.
It’s worth noting that hybrid work opportunities are often a better fit for extroverted employees who prefer face-to-face communication and socializing to work alone at home and may actually find the latter too isolating.
While the difference between the two may seem minor, there is evidence that suggests that hybrid work environments might actually be more productive, although only marginally more so than remote working ones.
Of course, remote and hybrid work can be applied together in an organization by giving employees the choice of whether they want to work fully remotely or want to come into the office to socialize with their colleagues.
Are Employees Working From Home More Productive?
One of the biggest ongoing debates is whether employees who work from home are more productive.
While many business leaders such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Andy Jassy, alongside companies like Google, Apple, Dell, Walmart, BlackRock, and Goldman Sachs, have implemented policies restricting remote work due to efficiency concerns, ample research suggests that employees working from home are, in fact, more productive.
A study from the Becker-Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago found that remote work saved roughly two hours per week per worker in 2021 and 2022, with workers allocating 40 percent of time savings to work and 11 percent to caregiving activities.
Likewise, research from Ergotron finds that 40% of office workers report working longer hours in remote/hybrid environments.
That being said, there is some evidence that suggests that full-time remote working environments are less productive, with WFH Research finding that fully remote work is associated with 10% lower productivity than fully in-person work, although the same study found hybrid working had no impact on productivity.
In any case, these studies indicate that there is a disconnect between leadership and employees over whether remote working improves productivity.
Benefits of Remote Work
Some of the core benefits of working from home include:
- Flexible working schedule: Employees can often choose when they work.
- Better work-life balance: Workers have more time to spend with their family and friends.
- Flexible working locations: Each employee can choose where they work.
- Money saving: Less money is spent on travel and commuting costs.
- Less distractions: Employees can focus on their work without the distraction of office background noise.
- Improved employee wellness: Employees enjoy a more fulfilling working environment.
- Greater workforce retention: Improved employee satisfaction increases long-term retention.
Disadvantages of Remote Work
Some notable disadvantages of working from home include:
- Lack of face-to-face interaction: Some colleagues may miss being able to communicate with others in person.
- Increased risk of burnout from ‘always on’ working: Lack of a clear boundary between work and home environments may increase the risk of burnout.
- Less communication between teams: Teams can’t communicate with each other the same way as they would in person.
- Health effects from moving less: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to conditions such as heart disease.
- Increased cybersecurity risk: Organizations need to educate employees on best security practices to prevent data from being put at risk.
While there’s lots of controversy around remote work between management and employees, this conflict can be mitigated by offering employees options on a case-by-case basis.
Forced return to office mandates run the risk of alienating employees, and organizations that seek to attract the best talent, and retain them long term, will likely need to offer some form of flexible working arrangement to do so.