Is remote work actually productive?
At times like these, working remotely is not an option but a new fact of life for many. But yet, while slurping the double amount of coffee per day while still in your pajamas, it would be nice to know how your new routine compares to the good old office life.
We took a look into the benefits and downsides of remote work to give you more insight into whether it’s actually productive.
And the best way to do it? – Looking at companies who have been remote for years already. Without any external motivator. Because they like it. And in most cases, also benefit from it.
Going to the office is so 2019…
In the age of apps that combine collective work, communication and video conferences, working in the same office has become less of a necessity for many companies.
Recent studies have expressed that people working from home are more efficient, less likely to leave their job and that working in an open office (the most common type of offices) actually hinders productivity. Paradoxically, there also seems to be less communication in open spaces, as people are working in conditions where they can’t concentrate, become withdrawn and cooperate less.
Other big factors are the nightmares related to commuting to the downtown offices in metropolises, the massive office rental prices and the problems that rigid 9 to 5 office work creates for people with families or basically any of life’s emergencies.
Add to this the fact that, according to the study by Buffer, 98% of workers would like to work remotely at least some of the time and 57% are doing it all the time already – and one could say that verdict against the good old office work was complete already before the crisis.
According to studies, remote workers are more productive – Image source
However, humans are by nature collective beings that have an evolutionary history of physically doing things together. Decades of office work is deeply rooted in our culture and collective psyche. So the question arises: how many of us are truly capable of going fully solo when it comes to the working environment?
We have looked at several examples of companies that rely on remote work, put together a list of pros and cons and named some of the practices used by companies who embrace remote work as part of their company’s DNA.
Some of the more out-of-the-box practices we discovered are:
- Basing the whole work operation and communication of a company on written text and creating real-time blogs running on the WordPress P2 theme
- Rewarding remote working team members with regular team-building events in exotic locations
- Team-building regularly playing the strategy game Civilization 5 on a company server
How to make a company thrive while working remotely?
Whatever the personal feelings of either the executives or workers are towards remote work, it is clear that not all industries can allow for remote work.
Thus, the tech sector has been, by and large, enjoying a luxury that people in several other sectors couldn’t afford, as a lot of the work does not require physical interaction between people.
Interestingly enough, up until the pandemic, among the companies hiring at MeetFrank, more than 51% allowed remote work their employees. Yet only 9.5% of the job offerings mentioned the remote work option in the offer description during the last three months.
This seems to indicate that managers are fine with occasional remote work but working fully remotely has not yet become a thing for these companies.
However these days, most companies are changing their attitude. The common line goes like this:
More companies are asking their employees to work remotely
These companies have remote work in their DNA
So how do companies make the lack of physical connection work for them?
Mostly, by using tech, of course.
There’s an ever-growing pool of apps for communication and group work – Slack, Airtable, Fleep, Asana, Basecamp, Office 365 for the work environment and Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts for video communication and holding meetings.
But trendy tech gimmicks can only get you so far, as many team managers have realised.
For example, the global remote company Automattic has its team members transcribing posts deemed too long for a Slack conversation into a custom made WordPress template for a better reading experience.
Also, all conversations, meetings and documents are always accessible to the entire company, for the sake of transparency. The company has made the text so fundamental in its operations that even work interviews are held via text chats, to evaluate the candidate’s textual expression abilities.
Shopify’s chic Toronto office. Image credit: Shopify
Online shopping retailer Shopify has remote workers all around the world, with teams scaled by making sure employers work hours within their own time zone, thus making sure the merchants will have support available 24/7, most likely in their native language.
In Klaus, Tallinn-based startup offering conversation review and QA platform for customer support teams, Slack play a central role in the management of a company as over 50% of the team works remotely.
The company’s founder Kair Käsper names Slack’s status reporting and setting concrete task timelines as vital for making remote work while citing Slack’s add-on called Geekbot as a good place to share non-work related stories (and bad jokes). The team also reserves an hour every week to have a call to discuss how the work arrangement is functioning.
Another noteworthy method of offering a sense of inclusion and equality for remote workers is the rule that whenever at least one of the people is attending a meeting via digital channels, everyone else will also do so.
Arkency, on the other hand, has structured their work processes so that being out of sync and working any time the employee wants, has become a value in itself. One of their more unusual team-building perks is the team server in the Civilization 5 strategy game.
Some companies rely on using perks such as travel and transport compensation for their employees. E-learning software development company Articulate offers telecommuting, equipment and technology stipend for setting up a home office, flexible, paid time off and annual retreats.
So, is remote work more productive?
As we can see there are plenty of methods used to make teamwork efficient and keep the workers motivated.
But how does remote work actually compare to office work? We’ve made a list of benefits of either one, so you decide for yourself.
Pros of working together
- Team cohesion building and motivation benefits
- Social interaction (can also be a disadvantage sometimes)
- Managers have less visibility about people’s productivity
- In-person meetings deem to be more productive than those over a call
- The overall productivity in the team might both increase or drop, and it’s difficult to predict which one will happen
- Some people like to have an office as a place to work from
Pros of remote work
- Useful for expanding businesses (lower costs, possible to hire local talent who don’t have to relocate)
- hire the best talent possible
- lower costs on office/infrastructure, no costs for relocation
- lower carbon footprint
- motivated, professional workers tend to be more productive when working alone (fewer distractions created by colleagues) (should there be a reference to study with this claim?)
- Less time spent on commuting
- workers less likely to leave the company
- workers less likely to fall sick
- workers less likely to transmit viral illnesses
- workers get to spend more time with their family and have more time to spend on non-work-related activities leading to less stress
- The workforce becomes more diverse
The most popular remote work benefits as voted by workers – Image source
Although the pros of remote work seem to outweigh office work considerably, it has to be pointed out that going fully remote might still not be an ideal solution that works for everyone, be it a company, the manager or the employer.
Workers have cited problems like unplugging after work, loneliness and collaborating/ communication as top three struggles when working remotely.
Biggest struggles of remote work as voted by workers – Image source
In addition, for many people, remote work, mixed with the use of digital technology, might create the effect “always on”, blurring work and life boundaries and leading to stress, depression and anxiety. A United Nations report from 2017 detected that 41% of remote workers reported high-stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
But having said that, overall, it is clear that remote work is becoming more popular among company managers, workers and researchers.
As Stanford University researcher Nicholas Bloom concluded in his much-referenced studies, remote work can lead up to a 50 decrease of worker attrition and a considerable rise in their performance. This came with a slight bit of warning though, as people working 100% remotely reported a growing feeling of isolation, so Bloom concluded that the ideal would be to balance working from home with occasional office time.
We found a massive, massive improvement in performance — a 13% improvement in performance from people working at home.”
– Nicholas Bloom, Stanford University
This is something that a lot of people are actually doing, as the Swiss office provider IWG found out, 70% of employees in the 96 companies around the globe they studied work remotely at least one day a week, while 53% work remotely for at least half of the week.
So, does remote work work?
As with most things in life, there is no one definitive answer. Every major change in the lives of people (and people as workers) will have different consequences, depending on the context, the person and the company he/she is working in.
But it is clear that remote work was getting more popular rapidly already before the global crisis and that people will most likely be working more remotely than in the office quite soon anyway.
This will add new challenges for employers when it comes to team-building and work structuring for companies, while also, new frameworks need to be developed to reduce the potential feeling of isolation that occurs in workers.
As we learned from the examples before, some tech companies can get really creative in that.
“The right kind of communication is key to overcoming the trials and tribulations of virtual working. Employers need to put the right structures in place, such as scheduled video calls and regular team-building meetups, to build rapport. Bosses need to lead by example and create a culture where those outside the office feel valued.”
Stephanie Russell, Anglia Ruskin University
Overall, the positive effects of remote work seem to be considerably outweighing the good old 9 to 5 / 5 days a week routine of office work and all the logistical, and in the present context, health-related troubles it entails.
As we learned, communication, collaboration and creativity are the keywords for making remote work really work, for companies and individuals working for them.