The number of employees working at least part time from home has been rising over the past few years According to Global Workplace Analytics: “69% of employers offer remote work on an ad hoc basis to at least some employees, 42% offer it part time, 27% offer it full time.”

Once the coronavirus pandemic struck, those numbers swelled as companies around the globe scrambled to comply with government mandates that disallowed businesses to bring in anyone to a workplace that was not deemed essential.

“The world’s biggest work from home experiment” is how Heinan Landa, CEO and Founder of Optimal Networks, describes the current situation.

A New Normal

For example, James Stickland, CEO of UK-based Veridium, reports that his company had to adapt from 10K working from home to 200K.

Likewise, Roy Dekel, CEO of SetSchedule, located in California, reports that all his teams are now working remotely. He admits that they had some trepidation about making the switch, though they are pleased at how it has worked out:

Managers have been pleasantly surprised, by the overall results, and while we still have some hiccups with continuing education and overall quality assurance which we are actively working through, we have found that the structure created for a remote role like, reporting, and daily team meetings, have actually improved consistency, accountability, and productivity. While we are still young in this type of operation, we are hoping that the business model will continue to be fruitful in the future after the pandemic has concluded.

Stickland echoed that sentiment. He believes that this accelerated remote work will set a precedent: “If we return to normal, whatever normal is these days,” he observed in March, “say in three months,” not all remote workers will return to the office.

Mark Gilroy, CEO of Fornetix agrees. “The next phase” of remote work will come “at a much more accelerated rate,” he declared.

Benefits of Remote Work

That’s because the businesses will recognize the benefits of working from home that are not just perks for individuals who want to cut out the commute but introduce cost efficiency for businesses and a better environment for the planet, he said.

That’s the essence of the argument made in the Harvard Business School’s report, How Companies Benefit When Employees Work Remotely.

Dekel reported that his company employees are happy to skip the commute and traffic jams. The company also gets to cut out expenses, such as “operations and ancillary office essentials like rent, parking, printing, break room snacks.”

Perhaps, the greatest benefit for the companies that extend their hiring to remote workers is being able to capitalize on a larger talent pool.

“Without the limitation of an office, you have more candidates to consider,” Dekel observed.

That can result in better results for the company. Remote work itself also has been delivering greater productivity, according to the statistics that NordVPNvteams recently sent out via email.

It found, “based on the VPN service load, the working day is now up to three hours longer.” Likely that’s because employees are using the time they would have spent commuting for work, according to Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN Teams.

Too Much Productivity?

While the gain of up to 15 more hours a week per employee at the same pay scale, doubtless, has an appeal for employers, they should be wary of burnout. That’s why Gilroy makes a point of telling his remote workers to “please make sure you disconnect from the office at a proper time.”

He explained: “I see people sending me emails at 11:45 p.m. and working 12-14 hours (per) day.” While he appreciates the drive and passion behind it, he warns that it is important to be mindful of what he calls: “office hygiene.”

“It’s like exercising too much,” Gilroys said. “At some point you will get an injury.”

In the case of putting in extra hours, that means burnout. While he understands that some weekend work may be necessary at times, he warns that it should be limited to just a couple of hours.

As someone who works from home, I know I’ve been guilty of this myself, and I do try to take the weekend off just like people with office jobs tend to do. The real challenge for me is not initiating those late night emails but refraining from responding to them.

Addressing the Challenges of Remote Work

Despite the benefits, transitioning away from the office-centered model to one in which remote work can flourish does bring its own set of challenges. One of the primary concerns is that of cybersecurity, as we saw in Cybersecurity Concerns Rise for Remote Work.

But there are other challenges, as well.

“Working from home and managing virtual teams in general is a skill,” Landa said. "It doesn’t lend itself to the controlling style in which the manager shows that he has he is watching people to be sure they’re doing their work. Such an approach is bound to erode morale, creativity, and productivity."

Instead, Landa recommends a shift to "an outcome driven approach.” Instead of micromanaging individual tasks, the focus is on the goals and KPIs. Some of that is related to culture, which managers consider a major challenge for remote work.

Dekel identified “maintaining company culture and morale” as his company’s “biggest challenge for setting up and managing remote employees.” He explained that as much of the business centers on sales activities, the company has cultivated “a culture that often thrives and feeds off of group energy.”

That becomes challenging under the circumstances: “Working remotely you can often feel alone, so it is always important to maintain as much connection and support as possible,” Dekel said.

Landa also pointed out the importance of “maintaining a company culture in a way that mirrors what you had in your office.” That, he said, can be a “whole conversation” in its own right.

At his own office, Landa said they “have a really fun, positive culture” and how to think about “how do you take that digital?” They’ve come up with a few things like introducing a virtual happy hour in which everyone shares a drink together at the same time and live webcasts “with music and hijinks.”

Be Sure Your Employees Have What They Need

While culture may be among the intangibles involved at work, employers also have to see to it that their employees are properly equipped with whatever they need to do their jobs properly.

Landa said his company’s helpdesk always works remotely, and so they have to regard “each of their home office as an actual office.”

That means providing them not just with the requisite “two monitors, laptop, and phones,” but even an “ ergonomic chair if needed.”

In addition to equipment, though, they need full access to information they need and a way to get paid when the payroll department is also working from home and can’t come into a company office in order to cut checks and mail them out.

One thing that some companies have had to do was scramble to transition from 20th century payroll processes to digital ones in order to be sure that employees and contractors are paid on time. Some have failed to do their own due diligence on that, which can cost both the employer and the employee.

For example, I had one client who had always mailed checks ask for my bank information to shift to ACH. However, what they ended up putting through was not an ACH payment, which is free for both parties, but a wire transfer.

Consequently, the fee for that service came out of the payment, which in that particular case amounted to 15% of the amount.

This could easily have been avoided if the person in charge had bothered to educate herself about digital payment options. They even told me they were willing to use Zelle, which doesn’t assess any fees.

Landa warned that without setting the payment processes up in advance, people can fall prey to scam that he saw with emails claiming to be from a vendor that is asking for wire payments into accounts in place of checks.

“Companies not questioning this,” he said, “but they need to question any financial change.” He warned that any such email should be verified by calling the client or vendor.

Final Thoughts

Whether a company was already on the path for allowing remote work or simply was forced to adapt to the requirements in place under the pandemic, an approach that makes it work well for both employee and employers can benefit everyone, not just for the short-term but for long-term efficiencies, as well.