Is Remote and Flexible Working the Smarter Choice for Companies?

Working from home was once considered a rare perk, and probably meant dialling into a crackly conference call while still wearing pyjamas. Today, companies are increasingly allowing (and trusting) members of staff to carry out their duties from anywhere in the world. 

A new generation of business has emerged, with many companies now operating on a remote-first basis, rejecting the traditional concept of an office altogether. 

The End of the Traditional Workplace?

More than half of UK workers could be out of the office and working remotely by 2020, according to business leaders and academics at London Business School’s Leadership Summit. The institution’s Director of Learning Solutions, Adam Kingl, said: “Leaders are learning how to enable their teams to flourish, and there is a recognition that the notion of a traditional 9-5, Monday-Friday, commute-to-the-office job is quickly eroding.”

The trend for remote working is already on an upward trajectory. Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show there were 4.2million home workers in early 2015 – the biggest number since records on the topic began in 1998. Currently, the majority of staff work flexible hours at least some of the time in 37 per cent of UK businesses surveyed by software company Condeco. In the US, that figure is 52 per cent.

Technology is a huge factor. A decade ago, remote working would have been tricky if not impossible. Go back further and employees had to phone into the office for updates, or carry a pager in case of urgent requests from their employer. Now, with Wi-Fi widely available and an app for pretty much everything, we are almost always connected.

From team messaging with Slack to easy video link-ups, most traditional office-based tasks can be easily completed on the move. Furthermore, time-tracking software and online communication tools makes it easier than ever to monitor productivity and stay on top of projects – without needing to be in an office.

Taking the Home Office to the Next Level

For companies that see remote working as a positive practice – rather than an afterthought or an occasional bonus – equipping staff with the necessary technology and furniture for a home office is often part of the package. Some also cover membership of hubs such as WeWork, giving the option of a working environment.

To the potential employee, these benefits are attractive and feel generous. In reality, operating with a remote-first approach – where there is no head office, or just a small space with core staff – means fewer overheads. Dave Nevogt, co-founder of time-tracking software Hubstaff, highlights cost-efficiency as one of the biggest benefits of operating a business with only remote staff.

What Are the Benefits of a Remote Workforce?

Not everyone is convinced. Many employers prefer being able to “keep an eye on” their staff, while some employees work better in an office environment. Yet a survey by FlexJobs suggests that, in many instances, employees with flexible or remote working arrangements are actually more productive. They’re also more likely to stay in their jobs – 82 per cent of respondents said they would be more loyal to employers if they were offered flexible work options.

In a survey by ConnectSolutions, 30 per cent of respondents said they accomplish more in fewer hours when away from the office, with a further 24 per cent saying they achieved more when working their usual hours remotely. Overall, 77 per cent claimed they were more productive away from workplace distractions. In the same survey, 82 per cent of flexible or remote workers reported lower stress levels.

Attracting and retaining the best talent is big plus. Millennials are driving the work trends of the future, according to a study by PwC – which revealed a decent work-life balance is their number one priority. Introducing flexible working and removing the need to commute is appealing to many workers, especially as the underlying implication is that they will be trusted to efficiently complete their work without a boss breathing down their neck.

Peter Otto, product strategy and design director at Condeco, told FM World: “Flexibility and remote working are increasingly important to today’s workers. The companies that are prepared for those workers will be able to attract the most talented candidates, both from the UK and internationally.”

Allowing fully-remote or flexible working also dramatically widens the pool of talent, simply by removing geographical boundaries. This could have wider societal benefits of increasing diversity in the workplace and providing career opportunities outside of big centres such as London. Amir Salihefendic, founder of Doist, believes remote working can break down barriers and make decent jobs available to people “regardless of where they live”.

From a business point of view, that could mean a wider range of voices and cultural perspectives, and potentially happier, more productive employees who are satisfied with where they live – and work.

Matt Farrelly
Matt is our Head of Zipcar for Business and spends a lot of his time thinking about how we can deliver a better future, of more sustainable business transport in our cities. The rest of the time he's likely to be found either with his head in a book, playing tennis or continuing his attempt to break the world record for weekend Netflix binges.

Date published: 17 May 2018

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