By Lucy Elkin, Director of myworkhive.com, a social enterprise specialising in remote work. myworkhive runs a job-board for remote roles, and is developing flexible, virtual internships for Mums returning to work and people with disabilities.
Eight years ago, I stopped commuting. Moving to a rural part of Suffolk with my young family, I faced a dilemma; most jobs in my sector (I managed overseas charity projects) were concentrated in London, leaving me the choice of commuting for two-to-three hours each day, or finding a way to work from home. It was not a hard decision, as luckily I was able to work freelance from home for a previous employer. Home-based or ‘remote’ working became the norm for me. Yet I kept meeting talented people — often Mums, and people with health or mobility challenges — who had taken jobs well below their skill level or dropped out of the workforce altogether, because there were no good job options close by. So I founded myworkhive to help more people connect with the many employers who are embracing smarter, more flexible ways of working.
I see remote working as one part of this flexi-work ecosystem. However, unlike other more familiar forms of flexible working, such as part-time jobs and compressed hours, working remotely can require a shift in mindset for employers. Part of that is realising that it’s not just a nice perk to offer staff — it can also offer significant business benefits. Here are seven ways that remote working can benefit both your organisation and your team:
1. Cut costs for you, and your staff. Introducing home-working obviously reduces the amount of office space you need, shrinking overheads and allowing teams to grow without expanding your office. Remote working can bring some new costs of its own, such as investment in home-office equipment, or extra IT spending to protect your data when staff are working outside of the office — but such costs are likely to be less per head than a city-centre office.
Cutting out the commute also helps your employees financially. Commuting can be a significant cost, particularly for those in lower-paid, part-time jobs. Once you add in the wrap-around child-care needed while travelling to and from work, some jobs can become simply uneconomical. Remote-working can bring significant savings.
2. Find (and keep) talented people.
It can sometimes be a struggle to attract good candidates, particularly if your organisation is based in a rural area, or you need to attract people with in-demand skills. Hiring remotely lets you reach a much wider pool of job seekers. Some companies, such as US firms Buffer and 10up, set up fully remote teams, right from the start, to help them find the best people they could — wherever they were living. Both companies now have global teams working across multiple countries and time-zones.
You don’t have to set up this kind of fully remote team to benefit. Working remotely even part of the time is seen as a key perk, so offering it can help you to attract candidates — and improve employee retention. The trend for flexible working seems here to stay. According to a report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 92% of millennials say that flexibility (which includes more choice over work location) is a key priority when job hunting.
3. Improve productivity.
Employers sometimes fear that productivity will dip if staff are allowed to work from home. In fact, research suggests that home-based staff are at least as productive as their in-office counterparts. There are lots of reasons for this, including less distraction away from busy offices, as well as people simply feeling more motivated and engaged when they know they are trusted by their employer to deliver good work.
Remote working doesn’t work for every role, or every person. And teams do need to be thoughtfully managed to perform well, with a focus on results, rather than ‘face time’ in the office. It’s worth thinking through how your remote team will communicate and manage workflows, to ensure everyone stays on the same page. There are practical issues to consider too; advisory service ACAS recommend having a home-working policy in place, covering issues such as health and safety, and expectations about work hours and availability. Managers who haven’t overseen remote colleagues before might also need some extra support and training. Get these steps right, and your remote team can be productive and effective.
4. Build a more diverse and inclusive team.
There’s growing evidence that diverse teams are good for the business bottom line, bringing innovative ideas and creative solutions to the table. Offering flexible working, including remote working, can help you attract people who might simply not be able to work for you without it. According to research by Timewise and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5m well-qualified part-time workers in the UK have taken jobs below their skills level. That includes parents, carers, and people with disabilities and health challenges. In a survey by Digital Mums, 64% of mothers reported taking work below their skill level because it offered flexibility. That’s a lot of untapped talent.
Being able to work flexibly — including remotely — can help skilled people keep their careers on track. In a 2017 survey by Working Mums, 72% of Mums stated that home-based working was a key sign of a family-friendly company; this was seen as a more significant benefit than enhanced maternity pay.
5. Improve staff wellbeing, job satisfaction and work-life balance.
One in seven commuters now spend at least two hours each day travelling to work. Data shows that commuting causes stress, has negative impacts on mental health and reduces job satisfaction. One recent five-year survey by the University of the West of England found that an extra 20 minutes commuting time reduced job satisfaction by the same amount as a 20% pay cut. Introducing remote working can lead to happier, healthier employees, who enjoy their jbos more. It means parents can do the school run and still be at their (home office) desks by 9am, and those with long commutes could save hours every week for family and leisure activities.
6. Improve resilience and reduce down-time.
Bad weather, strikes and road accidents can all delay journeys to work, particularly during the winter. Remote teams take such events in their stride. Home-based employees can take care of simple tasks such as deliveries, routine medical appointments, or attending the school play, without needing to book lots of holiday time.
7. Save the planet.
Lastly, remote working takes cars off the roads, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and reducing traffic congestion. In the UK, around 25% of all car journeys (by distance) are due to commuting, generating around one quarter of emissions from passenger transport. An October 2017 report in The Lancet showed the worrying extent of disease and early deaths caused by traffic pollution. Cities report serious health impacts on children living near busy roads. Remote working is a simple but effective step you and your team can take to improve your local community and reduce your carbon footprint.
As more employers embrace the business benefits of remote working, it can become another way to Commute Smart.