Pros and Cons of the Remote Workforce Model
Quarantine due to COVID-19 forced many businesses to adopt a remote workforce model. But if you think working remoting is just a passing trend, think again. Gartner forecasts 51% of Global Knowledge workers will work remotely by the end of 2021 and nearly a third (31%) of all workers globally will work remotely by the end of 2022.
As popular as working remotely has become, it has a few drawbacks. When evaluating the remote workforce model—as an employer or employee—it’s important to know the pros and cons of working remotely.
Remote Workforce Pros and Cons for Employers
A majority of employers now embrace a remote workforce model at some level. But what are the common pros and cons of a remote workforce?
|1. Lower cost of infrastructure|
Fewer employees at the office reduces the cost of rent, utilities, furniture and business supplies.
|1. More meetings and busy work
More meetings and time-consuming busy work leading to down time and decreased productivity.
|2. Increased productivity|
Remote employees spend less time each day commuting and are able more completely focus on their work.
|2. Loss of collaboration
Collaboration is decreased as employees are unable to talk to on another throughout the work day.
|3. Attract and retain top talent|
The ability to work remotely is a major deciding factor for top talent when considering a job offer.
|3. Decreased face-to-face interaction
Decreased face-to-face interaction can lead to decline in efficiency and feelings of solitude.
Remote Workforce Pros and Cons for Employees
There are many employee benefits from working remotely. But there are also drawbacks to consider.
|1. Better work-life balance|
More personal time leading to improved employee satisfaction, emotional health and productivity.
|1. Lack of access to information
Challenging for remote workers to locate all the information they need to excel at their jobs.
|2. More flexible schedule|
Working remotely greatly enhances employees' control over their schedule and improves job satisfaction.
|2. Feelings of isolation
Loss of regular interaction with other employees can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
|3. Improved job satisfaction|
Better work-life balance, schedule flexiblity and improved productivity lead to greater job satisfaction.
|3. Increased job stress
Lack of social interaction, likelihood of overworking and work from home distrations may lead to stress.
Remote Workforce Pros and Cons for Employers
Determining to what degree a remote workforce model should be embraced by your company requires an indepth understanding of the pros and cons for your business.
With fewer employees in the office, employers can substantially reduce their cost structure. The most obvious cost savings comes from the reduction of overhead expenses. A company with fewer in office employees requires less office space, less furniture and fewer supplies. Additional cost savings are found in reduced utilities. A Yarro studied found that a company that implements a remote work policy for half the work week can save up to $2,400 per employee in cost savings—or $3.6 million for a small business with 1,500 employees.
A remote workforce program implemented by Sun Microsystems in 2007 known as “Flex office” eliminated 7,700 seats, saving the company $255 million in real estate costs over 4 years. The same program continues to save the company nearly $70 million annually. If employees at Sun Microsystems need to work from a Sun Microsystem location, the company has over 115 flex offices where employees can go. The Sun Microsystems Flex remote program provides a hybrid model for businesses who want to implement a remote workforce policy while maintaining an in office workforce.
Cost savings are also seen in a decline of sick days. Surveys show that employees who work from home take fewer sicks days than employees who work from an office full time. An analysis published by Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) in 2019 found that U.S. employers spent $575 billion relating to employees’ “poor health” issues. Sick days leading to “lost productivity” totaled over 1.5 billion days annually in 2019, which cost employers nearly $3,900 per employee. Lowering employee sick days and reducing unscheduled absences adds money directly to a company’s bottom line.
Recommendations: Implement a hybrid office model that allows remote workers access to shared office or desk space while on site. This allows remote workers the abiliy to work in office to collaborate with colleagues, meet with clients, and hold meetings in person.
The remote workforce model has shown to improve overall employee productivity—especially in knowledge-based industries. Working remotely allows employees to start the work day earlier, feeling refreshed and positive. Where a traditional in office employee might leave home at 8AM to arrive at work and get started around 9-9:30AM, the remote worker can start working at 8AM sharp. A company that adopts a remote workforce model can start in office meetings via video conferencing at 8AM and be up and rolling an hour earlier than a company with an in office only work policy.
Working from an office often creates distractions that decrease productivity. Home offices are not nearly as distracting as work offices. Employees that work from home, face fewer distractions by colleagues, in office activities, and coffee breaks. Work from home employees are able to focus on their work, leading to increased productivity from the employee—and for the company. In a Yarro survey of remote workers, 72% of respondents said they feel there are fewer distractions when working remotely than when working from an office with other employees.
In the 5th Annual State of Remote Work report, produced by Owl Labs and remote work consulting group Global Workplace Analytics, of 2,050 full-time U.S. workers surveyed, over 90% reported they were as productive working from home during the pandemic as working from an office.
Recommendations: To ensure productivity provide remote workers adequate IT support, fast internet and VPN connection, easy access to job relevant information, proper software and equipment and an optimized communication infrastructure.
The ability to work remotely—at least some of the time—is a major deciding factor when considering a job offer for over 83% of workers worldwide. Most workers report that in the case of indecision between two comparable job offers, they would choose the offer that provides the most work flexibility.
The ability to work flexible hours is also a major factor impacting the willingness of employees to remain with their current employer. In a survey of more than 15,000 business people across the world, 76% reported they would be more willing to remain with their current employer if offered a more flexible work schedule. Conversely, employees are less willing to remain with employers with strick on-site work policies when presented with the opportunity to work for an employer that espouses a flexible remote workforce philosophy.
Over 70% of businesses from survey results confirm that flexibility in work environment plays a critical role in widening the talent pool and retaining top talent. More then 50% of employees identify choice of location, and flexibility in schedule, as more important that working for a prestigious company.
Recommendations: Even offering partial remote work options will improve a businesses ability to attract and retain talent.
A major challenge of managing a remote workforce is minimizing meetings and busy work that lead to down time, delays and decreased productivity.
Imagine you’re working for a company that has a fully remote workforce. You have a question you need to ask a colleague about the specs for a new building design, so you shoot him an email. He responds to your email the following morning. After reviewing the response you realize he didn’t fully understand your question, so you shoot him another email asking for clarfication on a couple points. He gets back to via email a few hours later providing additional explanation. His explanation while useful doesn’t address a few concerns you have so you give him a quick call that goes to voicemail. You shoot him another email asking a good time to give him a call to discuss. He responds the next morning asking you to schedule a 15-minute web conference to discuss in more detail. You check his schedule and see his first availability is Friday at 1PM. It’s Tuesday.
Does this scenario sound far fetched? Unfortunately, it’s only too real in a remote workforce environment with poor communication policies and processes. What would traditionally be a 5-minute in office conversation can very easily turn into several days of back-and-forth emails, web conferences and unecessary delays in a remote working environment.
Research shows that remote workers schedule and attend more meetings than their on-site counterparts. While only 3% of office workers have more than 10 meetings per week, over 14% of remote workers have more than 10 meetings a week. (Source: 2019 Owl Labs State of Remote Work Report.)
In industries where projects have multiple stakeholders and dependencies, a poorly structure remote workforce model can lead to inefficiencies and delays.
Recommendations: Implement strong communication infrastructure, processes and policies. Create multiple ways to communicate, such as video, instant messaging, and email. Embrace new communication technologies. Start each day with a team “huddle” using Webex, Zoom or Google Hangouts.
One of the biggest downsides of the remote work model is the loss of collaboration. When employees work remotely there are fewer opportunities to talk to one another throughout the day. While random or spontaneous conversation my seem unnecessary, it actually helps improve communication and team coordination which can lead to greater efficiency, productivity and transfer of information.
In a study produced by Microsoft on the effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers published in the Nature of Human Behavior, researchers found that of the 61,182 remote Microsoft remote workers examined most were less likely to maintain ties with colleagues outside of their specific business unit. This lead to a decline in cross-department communications—an important means of disseminating new information. The study also found that remote working made Microsoft’s collaboration network less dynamic.
While products like Zoom, Webex and [Microsoft] Teams make possible person-to-person transfer of ideas and critical information, they fail to help remote workers establish and maintain strong interpersonal relationships required to foster effective collaboration.
Researchers report that collaboration tools including video conferencing, email and chat do not fully replicate the benefits of in-person communication.
Recommendations: Implement a hybrid office model that allows remote workers access to collaborate with colleagues on-site. Organize information discussions both virtually and onsite where coworkers can connect and catch up. Invest in collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack.
Decreased face-to-face interaction not only leads to decreased collaboration, it also engenders feelings of solitude and loneliness that negatively impacts employees’ mental health and contributes to declines in efficiency.
According to a Harvard Business Review report, during the initial months following the Covid-19 pandemic—as the global workforce experienced a sudden shift to remote working—75% of individuals reported feeling much more isolated and 67% reported higher levels of stress. While Covid-19 itself was a major cause of stress, evidence also suggests that remote working also contributed to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Limited face-to-face interaction can also lead to reduced guidance and support provided by managers to employees. This in turn leads to frustration as employees struggle to meet the daily challenges of their job and feel like their needs are being met.
Recommendations: Managers should conduct weekly 1:1 meetings to review progress and connect with employees. Even in fully remote work environment, businesses should allow for on-site work opportunities and organize both virtual and in-person company events.
Remote Work Pros and Cons for Employees
The ability to work remotely—at least some of the time—is viewed as a huge perk to most workers. However, there are drawbacks which are sometimes overlooked.
In a survey, 33% of employees said the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance is the greatest benefit of working remotely. 49.7% of survey respondents reported working from home improved their work-life balance.
Remote workers reported the following as the most important improvements to work-life balance after transitioning to a remote workforce model.
- No need to commute tow work
- Spend more time with family
- Extra time in the day to take up a hobby
- Get enough rest to feel more focused
- Greater schedule flexibility
- Less job related stress
Remote workers also report that with better work-life balance they’re able to stay more focused while working and get more accomplished.
Recommendations: The key to improving and maintaining work-life balance when working remotely is to set work-life boundaries. Communicating these boundaries to family and colleagues will allow you to better focus on work while working and on your personal life once work is over.
The traditional employee is required to work 8-9 hours a day, Monday through Friday, week in, week out. They can’t take off during the middle of the day to run an errand or pick the kids up from school. All activities of a personal nature are taken care of off the clock after work, or by taking an official leave of absence.
Conversely, remote workers—especially those in a flexible work environment—are able to create their own schedule. They can work early in the morning, late at night, or whenever they feel most productive. If they need to take a break during the middle of the day to run an errand, they simply make up the difference by working later that evening.
The focus of the traditional employee is to work the alloted hours. The focus of the remote worker is getting work done, achieving goals, and meeting deadlines—not on punching in and out.
Next to better work-life balance, remote works report that having more freedom over their time, and flexibility in their schedule, is the biggest benefit of working remotely.
Recommendations: Create a work schedule with alloted work hours, tasks, and meetings—and stick to it. This will ensure that you’re focused on work while working and allow you to disconnect from work once the work day is over. Use a digital online calendar, such as Outlook, that allows friends, family and coworkers to see your availability.
Remote working leads to higher job satisfaction for millions of workers worldwide. They are happier, more engaged and report better overall job fulfillment.
According to a study published by Lenovo, based on a survey of more than 8,000 workers, over 70% of workers reported higher job satisfaction since they started working remotely. When asked if they expected to continue operating remotely full time, 83% of respondents said they expected to continue working remote at least half of the time, with over 56% saying they’d be happy to continue working remote full time.
In the 5th Annual State of Remote Work report produced by Owl Labs in collaboration with Global Workplace Analytics, 84% of 2,050 respondents that worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic reported that working remotely after the pandemic would make them happier. Many of the same respondents went on to say they’d even be willing to take a pay cut in order to continue working remotely.
Without a strong communication infrastructure, it’s challenging for remote workers to find and access the information the need to perform their job responsibilities in a timely manner. An employee working in office can simply walk to a colleague’s desk to ask for feedback or information on a current project. A remote worker doesn’t have that luxury.
A white paper published by International Data Corporation (IDC) suggests that knowledge workers spend about 30% (2.5 hours) of each workday searching for information. Executives at companies surveyed believe that lack of understanding of how to locate information and the time required to access information impede workers from finding the information they need to efficiently do their jobs. For knowledge workers working remotely, it can be even more challenging and time consuming to find needed information.
In today’s information economy, timely access to information is what separates winners from losers. The failure to make critical information accessible within a business may result for many reasons—technical, cultural and personal. Regardless of the cause, lack of access to information makes it challenging for remote workers to excel in their jobs.
Recommendations: Make sure information is centrally indexed. Create a strong communication infrastructure supported by web conferencing, email and chat to ensure timely communication between remote workers and managers. Hold virtual team meetings on daily basis.
We’ve all complained once or twice about being stuck in the “same old routine”, but the routine of going to the office each day provides structure and stability to people’s lives. Loss of that structure often leaves employees feeling disconnected—even lonely.
Working remotely by yourself with just a laptop to keep you company can be very isolating and lonely. A poll by Yarro found that nearly 25% of remote workers have struggled with feelings of loneliness due to remote work related isolation. Remote workers may also feel disconnected at times from their employers and by extension their work.
Extended periods of isolution without meaningful engagement with coworkers leads to frustration, burnouts and lower productivity. In severe cases, isolation due to working remotely may even lead to depression. When employees suffer, the companies they work for suffer.
Recommendations: Promote a culture of open, intentional and regular connection. Use workplace communication platforms to drive collaboration and engagement. Conduct regular virtual team meetings in smaller groups. Managers should hold weekly 1:1s with employees.
When it comes to stress, remote working is a two edged sword.
Remote workers have better work-life balance, experience greater freedom, and have more control over their schedule. They also report higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. Working remotely relieves a lot of stress for a majority of worker. But that’s not always the case.
Stress as a result of working from home is common for remote workers. The major cause of job related stress reported by remote workers include:
- Feelings of isolation
- Issues managing workload
- Lack of access to information
- Managing work-life balance
Most employers are concerned that working remotely will result in employees working fewer hours, but the opposite is often true. 37% of remote workers report working longer hours at home than they do in the office. Working longer hours and more sporadic schedules in order to complete job responsibilities can be a major stressor for remote workers.
Is working remotely the right decision for your business?
The short answer is “It depends.” There is no clear-cut right answer. The pros and cons of the working remotely vary by industry, location, market sector and business. Some businesses have transitioned entirely to a remote workforce model, while others have been slow adopters.
The remote workforce model tends to lend itself well to sectors that employ knowledge workers. It’s a little bit more challenging to make work for sectors that historically are more location-delimited such as manufacturing, warehousing and retailing. Notwithstanding, we are seeing more than 50% of all historically office-based businesses implement remote workforce systems to some degree or another.
One thing is clear, working remotely is here to stay. Regardless of industry or business, every employer must be prepared and ready to embrace a remote workforce model to some degree in order to remain competitive—or possibly even survive.
Does your business have a workforce model the will survive the next pandemic?