Working remotely: how to make it work for you
Remote working is here to stay, but what are its benefits and drawbacks? And how can organizations and employees make a success of it? Here’s everything you need to know.
For many employees, the pandemic was their first experience of remote working, but it’s a trend that’s persisted. In 2022, around 27% of the US workforce were working remotely at least part of the time, but research suggests that it’s now closer to 50%.
Some companies have encouraged employees to return to the office, while others have doubled down on remote working. Either way, employers and employees should be aware of the benefits and downsides of remote working, and how to make it a success.
What is remote working?
Remote working is about working anywhere outside the workplace – whether that’s home, a coffee shop, a co-working space, a library, a park, a beach or even another country.
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How to work remotely
The way you work remotely depends on who you are and what you do. For frontline workers such as salespeople, remote working means mobile working. They log in when they're out in the field, whether that's a train, a café or a hotel room.
For some people, remote working is all they do – as of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home.
The rise in remote jobs comes with an upsurge of fully remote companies. These companies don’t have premises, and colleagues use technology to keep in touch with each other. Around 16% of US companies are fully remote.
But remote workers don’t necessarily abandon the office altogether. What’s more common is coming in for meetings or get-togethers, or for a few days a week or month. What’s right will depend on each individual, as well as the company’s policy on remote and hybrid working.
Remote working is also associated with working alone, but again, that’s not necessarily the case. You might share your home office with a partner or roommate. Or you might work alongside other people in a coworking space. How to work remotely is very much down to the individual and the organization they work for – and it’s evolving all the time.
The benefits of remote working
“Remote work not only improves outcomes and employee branding but is a policy that the most talented employees desire,” say business consultants Gallup.
And they're right. Here are just some of the benefits of remote working for workers and for employers.
Benefits of remote working (for employees)
Better work-life balance
Without commuting eating into the day, remote workers can free up hours to spend with family, friends, hobbies – or just watching TV. That free time is yours.
Remote working doesn’t just offer more choice over where you work – there’s also more choice over how you work. You don’t have to listen to background chatter, freeze in arctic air conditioning or drink lukewarm coffee from the office machine. You’re in charge of your own working environment.
Without having to deal with commuting, office politics and lack of flexibility, life can be a lot easier. In fact, 86% of professionals think a remote job would reduce stress, and 77% of people say having the option to work from home after COVID-19 would make them happier.
More choice of jobs
Working remotely can open up a whole world of job possibilities, as you don’t have to live near your office. You could even find opportunities overseas or, if company policy allows it, take your laptop and set up in another country.
Strictly speaking, remote working and flexible working aren’t the same thing, but remote working tends to offer more choice about when you carry out your work. So if you need to take a break to see your child’s school play or get your car fixed, it can be a lot easier.
Benefits of remote working (for employers)
What’s good for workers is often good for the businesses that employ them. Here are eight ways working remotely can benefit your organization.
Remote working can boost employee productivity across varied job roles due to less distractions. A study by Stanford University found that remote workers were 9% more productive than those working in a physical office.
Today, people want remote working to be an available option for them. 98% of workers want to work remotely at least some of the time, and it’s a benefit that they seek when searching for new jobs.
Making remote work a benefit at your organization means you’ll be able to attract and retain talent, and it also means you’ll be able to open up your talent pool to a wider range of candidates. If you're hiring remote employees who don't have to come in every day – or don't have to come in at all – you can hire from almost anywhere. People can be working from around the corner or even from overseas. Geography is no barrier to tapping into talent and creating a truly diverse workforce.
Enable a better work-life balance
Remote working is inextricably linked to flexible working. Even if people don't have more choice over the hours they work, the lack of commute gives them back extra hours. This flexibility is particularly attractive to Gen Z and Millennials.
A Deloitte survey found that millennials and Gen Zs are reprioritizing the importance of work, with a much stronger focus on achieving better work/life balance. And that means it needs to be a priority with companies that want to attract them.
Protect the environment
Transport is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. And business travel, whether it’s commuting or flying to a conference, contributes to those emissions.
By cutting out commuting and encouraging video conferencing, remote working can be an effective way of reducing a company’s carbon footprint. The US Patent and Trademark Office’s policy of allowing patent examiners to work from anywhere, for example, has cut emissions by an estimated 44,000 tons.
Boost employee engagement
People who work remotely have higher levels of engagement than those who don’t. They’re happier too: full-time remote workers say they’re happy in their job 22% more than those who never work remotely. Not surprisingly, this makes them more loyal. Those who work remotely say they’re likely to stay in their current job for the next five years – 13% more than on-site workers. Given the costs of recruitment, it’s an option that companies can’t afford to ignore.
Reduce real estate costs
Offices are a huge expense for companies. With a larger proportion of teams working remotely, it's possible to reduce these costs considerably. For example, allowing patent examiners for the United States Patent Office to work from anywhere cut office costs by $38.2 million.
What are the downsides of remote working?
As much as people want to work remotely, and despite the advantages for employees and companies, there can be some drawbacks. Understanding the true nature of the challenges can help you take steps to overcome them.
It can be difficult to connect when you’re not in the same room as your colleagues and you can’t meet face to face. Geographical separation also means that remote workers can quickly feel out of the loop with what's going on in their organization.
Breaking down these barriers is where communication tools come in. Effective video calling and conferencing, instant messaging and group chat give people a choice of communication avenues – not all of them formal and pre-arranged. Adding VR to the mix can make communication feel as organic as it would be if everyone were just a desk away.
Loneliness and isolation
Not having face-to-face interaction with colleagues can cause people to feel isolated, which, in turn, can affect engagement and productivity.
To be successful, working remotely can’t mean feeling disconnected from the organization and your colleagues. Daily check-ins, virtual meetings and instant messaging can help replace water cooler conversation. Collaboration tools can be used to create social spaces where people can come together.
Distractions and lack of boundaries
Many people work from home because they want more time to spend on their hobbies or with their family. But the lack of a concrete boundary between work and home can lead to distractions such as interruptions by the kids or doing domestic chores during work time.
But distractions can happen on-site too, of course. One study shows disturbances at home impact productivity between 15% and 27% of the time, while distractions in the office impact productivity between 20% and 35% of the time. While it’s not possible to exclude interruptions and disturbances completely, getting your home office space set up properly can help.
Get more advice on balancing working from home with your personal life.
Knowing when to stop
As a remote worker, it can be difficult to know when to unplug and stop working, making work feel never-ending. During the pandemic, British workers worked longer hours at home than they would have post-pandemic.
‘Always on’ working can harm mental health and productivity, so managers need to be clear about the number of hours an employee is expected to work, and employees need to be strict with themselves about sticking to it.
Lack of opportunities to socialize
Even the most enthusiastic supporters of remote working would agree that it can mean missing out on the fun element of work. So grab opportunities for face-to-face socializing when they arise. And when they don’t, a bit of imagination and good communication tools can fill the gap. Virtual coffee breaks, drinks, quizzes, chats, and sharing jokes and memes can all be a part of working remotely.
Seven tips to succeed with remote working
Working remotely for the first time is a big adjustment. Experienced remote workers know how important it is to have the right place to work – and the right mindset. Here are seven tips to help you make remote working a success.
1. Find the right space
Whether it’s a room in your home, a shared workspace, or a favorite coffee shop, the environment matters when working remotely. Make sure temperature and noise levels are comfortable for you, you have plenty of space for your equipment, and it’s somewhere you’re not likely to be disturbed. Look for areas that offer natural light to help you feel energized.
Discover some top tips for setting up your home office.
2. Set a timetable
Working remotely often means more flexibility – so you might have more choice about when you do your tasks. But while this can be a very good thing, you might find that not having such strict deadlines means work bleeds into other areas of your life, which can be stressful. So it’s important to set yourself a schedule and stick to it as much as you can.
3. Get dressed
No, seriously. It may be tempting to work in your pajamas, but it won’t make you feel professional. And it’s not a good look on a video call. Clothes influence our mood and emotions, so wear something that makes you feel motivated, professional and confident. Getting dressed for work will also help you mark the distinction between work and home life, helping you switch off when the working day is over.
4. Plan breaks
With no prompts to take lunch and coffee breaks, remote workers can find whole days passing in front of a screen. Taking a break is energizing, especially if you can get outside, so set yourself a schedule and make sure every day features at least a walk around the block. If it’s not possible to go out, get some activity going indoors.
Walk up and downstairs, exercise to a fitness video, or just do a few stretches to invigorate yourself and get rid of tension.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Working remotely requires more communication – not less. Use instant messaging and group chat to stay in the loop with colleagues and projects, video call into meetings, and above all, check in with colleagues and managers.
Even if you’re shy, make an effort to contribute to chat. Many people will be feeling the same way, but getting involved in a remote version of the water cooler conversation can stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation.
6. Adjust your communication style
Body language and audio cues can be lacking when you’re not speaking face to face. Because of this, communication needs to be more explicit when working remotely. Check your messages for clarity and conciseness to make sure colleagues understand what you mean.
7. Ask for support
People working alone can find themselves soldiering on with tasks, even if they need help. It’s okay to reach out when support is needed – and it’s the right thing to do. For managers, providing regular check-ins with proactive offers of help is vital.
Is remote work the future?
Millions of people have now had a taste of life without the daily commute, or flying thousands of miles to attend face-to-face meetings. And it’s unlikely that things will go back to ‘normal’.
During and after the pandemic, many companies announced their commitment to remote working, and organizations including Dropbox and Quora went remote first.
“I think this is a big catalyst to shift towards more remote working and managing relationships remotely,” says Sam Walters, Director - Professional Services at global professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters.
"Work-life balance and flexible working was a concept that was brought to the fore as more millennials entered the workforce. With the widespread mandatory implementation of remote working, we can now expect policies that promote more flexibility and balance to be the preference of almost all people in the workforce."
And, with the population of mobile workers forecast to be 93.5 million by 2024, it’s clear that employees don’t have to work from an office. They can work from wherever, as long as they’re equipped with the right mobile tech.
So it’s clear that working remotely – wherever you do it – is here to stay, whether in the form of fully remote jobs or hybrid working. It’s what many people want to do, and the technology is there to help us do it well.
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