Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103% since 2005. Today 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time (“Latest”). Is this growth a result of increasing remote technology, a desire among employees for more flexibility of time, or an effort by companies to reduce overhead and increase productivity? The answer is, “Yes.” Using digital communication technology which continues to change and improve makes it possible for employees to enjoy more freedom, and for companies to save money while fostering a more positive work environment. This strategy of empowerment is far more important than measuring punches on a time card.
Digital communication technology has been rapidly growing over the last two decades. In 2015, 85% of United States Households had broadband (high-speed) internet access, with only 5% still using dial-up. Ten years earlier, in 2005, the broadband number was only 40%. (Vanston). This means the vast majority of the work force was ready to work from home last year – at least from a technological standpoint. The rapid growth shows an increase in the number of people who can work from home, so it follows that we’ve seen 103% work-from-home growth since 2005 (“Latest”).
Of course, access is only part of the overall picture, and the home is not the only place where a remote employee can work. This is where devices come into play. Working from home doable with a desktop or laptop computer, whether provided by an employee’s company or owned by the employee. But what about the road warriors, the employees who call the plane, airport lounge, hotel, coffee shop their office? In this case portability is key, and the numbers reflect it. The Los Angeles Times reported more tablets to be sold than personal computers in the United States in 2015 (Rodriguez). According to ComScore, the number of people who only use mobile devices to access the internet surpassed the number of PC-only users last year (Leila). The world is mobile, and so is the employee.
Okay, so it’s possible, even easy. Is it beneficial? “Working from home – for the right people – can increase productivity and decrease stress,” says Sarah White of monster.com (White). As someone who has worked from my home, car, hotel, taxi, and the occasional frozen yogurt shop, I can personally attest to the productivity increase. Being able to do my job on my time – meeting deadlines, of course – without the usual workplace distractions allowed me to complete tasks in a fraction of the time it took me when I worked in an office setting.
That said, working remotely is not for everyone. It requires self-discipline, dedication, and a strong work ethic. It is easy to slack off when no one is looking over your shoulder. Remote work is part of an overall strategy of trusting and empowering employees, and yielding superior results.
Speaking as an experienced manager who has worked for some of the largest media companies in the country – and some of the smallest – I believe every employee is different, but each should be given some form of freedom and flexibility. From the New York Times Company to Nexstar Media Group to small media companies, it is in freedom and flexibility that I have seen increased productivity in myself and my teams. When an employee feels trusted, they perform. With trust comes freedom; with freedom comes dedication; with dedication comes hard work.
As an example of trust and freedom, when I was vice president of a small media company in Pennsylvania, I required my team to be in the office for our weekly team meeting. I expected them to check in with me, and keep me up-to-date on what I needed to know. Other than that, I gave them the trust and freedom they needed to do their jobs. Hours per week varied, as did work locations. Employees with school-aged children could stay home on a snow day and still get the job done. Productivity steadily increased during my entire tenure.
So there are many benefits for employers as well. Monster reminds us, “Companies that encourage and support a work from home protocol actually save money in the long run” (White). As a case study, Inc.com reports on a call center that expected to save $1900 per employee on space and furniture, while expecting a marginal drop in productivity. In fact, remote workers made over 13% more calls than their office-bound colleagues, with a 50% reduction in turnover among them (Desmarais). This nine-month study is one of many that have proven remote employees to be more productive, and quit their jobs less.
Microsoft listed its survey results for the top 10 benefits of working from home – form the employee’s point of view:
- Work/home balance
- Save gas
- Avoid traffic
- More productive
- Fewer distractions
- Eliminate long commute
- Quieter atmosphere
- Less stressful environment
- More time with family
- Environmentally friendly (qtd. in Kruse).
All things considered, it isn’t about how many hours one works, or where one reports for work. Of course some professions will always require on-site work: Construction, automotive repair, etc. However, when we focus on empowering and trusting our employees, we keep the right people, they produce more, we save money and can compensate better. Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse tells all his new employees, “You can do your job wherever and whenever you want. You can even sit in a beach chair with a cocktail in hand for all I care, as long as you get our desired results” (Kruse). That is an extreme way of explaining my management style, and my own workplace. I have seen the results first hand, over and over again.
- Desmarais, Christina. “More Evidence It’s a Mistake to Make Employees Work in the Office.” Productivity. Inc.com. N.D. Web.
- Kruse, Kevin. “Top 10 Benefits of Working from Home.” Leadership. Forbes. 18 Dec 2012. Web.
- “Latest Telecommuting Statistics.” GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Global Workplace Analytics. January 2016. Web.
- Lella, Adam. “Number of Mobile-Only Internet Users Now Exceeds Desktop-Only in the U.S.” Insights. ComScore. 28 April 2015. Web.
- Rodriguez, Salvador. “More Tablets to Be Sold Than PCs in 2015.” latimes.com. The Los Angeles Times. 7 July 2014. Web.
- Vanston, PhD, Lawrence K. “Residential Broadband Forecasts.” White Papers, Articles & Complimentary Reports. Technology Futures, Inc. N.D. Web.
- White, Sarah. “Working from Home Can Benefit Employers as Much as Employees.” Technology. Monster.com. 3 November 2014. Web.