Remote access technologies exist that perform various tasks for businesses both large and small. They enable branch offices to utilise systems at the head office; mobile staff can access and upload information from remote locations such as a hotel room or the client’s office; they can also allow staff to work remotely from home and access documents, emails and applications on the company’s server.
Green Strategies and Employee Benefits of Remote Working
In the same way remote access technologies can provide software service support without the need for a technician to drive to the client’s location, so your staff can remain at their domestic or other work station.
A staff member who leaves the car parked in the carport is doing a favour to the planet by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and airborne particulate pollution. One less vehicle on the freeway to the city is one step towards reducing congestion. Multiplied hundreds of times by other business employees staying off the road helps reduce the stress of driving suffered by other commuters. Travel time and fuel costs are saved; the vehicle will incur less wear and tear; parts will require replacement less often and visits to the service station will be less frequent.
There is a general consensus in the business world and among researchers that those who undertake remote working enjoy benefits to their well-being not shared by their office-bound colleagues. These include:
- A less hectic start to the working day. The commute to work, by either private or public transport, costs the employee both time, money and a degree of aggravation that only increases as the freeways and the trains or buses become more congested over time. To be spared that commute allows the remote worker to enjoy enhanced freedom from stress, which can only prepare him better for the day’s labours ahead. He or she will also enjoy more time with spouse and children or, if single, he or she will enjoy more flexibility in arranging time with friends.
- Working hours for the remote employee can become more flexible, so he or she is not subject to clock-constrained periods of attendance in the office. So long as the necessary work is completed in a timely fashion, it matters little to the company when that work was carried out. Meanwhile, the employee may deal with unexpected events on the domestic front. If he needs to sit at the computer into the night or early morning in order to make up time, there is no difficulty in doing so. As a consequence the employee manages to juggle office and domestic matters in a co-ordinated way that minimises stress and utilises available time more efficiently.
- Staff who are more stress-free and relaxed tend to be more motivated in their work. Not only is this a benefit to the employer, but, as I imagine all of us recognise, if we look forward to doing a good a job to the best of our ability we complete the task with a sense of satisfaction. This can only add to one’s sense of well-being.
Benefits of Remote Working for The Employer
Typically, commuters in developed countries spend over an hour per working day travelling to and from their workplace. According to studies in 2011 by the OECD and United States Census Bureau (as reported in The Economist magazine) your staff-member who walks from his or her kitchen to the study to turn on the computer will have already spent an extra 6.25% working time than his commuting colleagues when they sit down at their desks. (This assumes the remote employee continues working until the office staff leave after an 8-hour working day). In fact, remote staff stationed at home are less likely to be clock-watchers, and more concerned with finishing the task in hand.
In 2013 Stanford University conducted a study of Shanghai call-centre staff working from home. (Does Working From Home Work? Evidence From A Chinese Experiment ). The study found that staff productivity increased beyond the mere extra hours worked. According to the study paper,
The performance of the home workers went up dramatically, increasing by 13% over the nine months of the experiment. This improvement came mainly from a 9% increase in the number of minutes they worked during their shifts (i.e., the time they were logged in to take calls). This was due to a reduction in breaks and sick-days taken by the home workers. The remaining 4% improvement came from home workers increasing the number of calls per minute worked. In interviews the workers attributed this gain to the quieter working conditions at home.
Reduced Employee Attrition
One of the reasons the Chinese company was interested in the study was because the turnover rate among call-centre staff had consistently remained around 50% per year, which was typical of the call centre industry in China. Training a new worker cost about six weeks’ salary, and there were additional costs of advertising, and vetting and interviewing new employees. Shortly after the commencement of the study, the attrition rate among remote workers fell below that of office-bound staff, and the difference was statistically significant. By the end of the experiment, the total attrition rate among the remote workers (17%) was less than half of that among the other staff (35%).
On the other side of the same coin there is a related benefit to the employer: the market for potential employees grows considerably if the job will be carried out remotely; distance from home to place of work is no longer a consideration for the prospective employee. This not only gives the employer a greater selection of candidates but provides the opportunity to single out more who are highly qualified. With a larger pool of job-seekers to choose from, the number of elite candidates is likely to increase proportionately.
Reduced Fixed Overheads
Staff who work from home do not occupy office space, thus enabling the company, upon lease renewal, to either rent a smaller area of space or (if permitted) to sublet the freed-up office area. Savings in rental and building management charges can be significant for companies in prime locations.
There will commensurate savings in the cost of office furniture and equipment, utilities, stationery, building taxes and even cleaning expenses. Of course, the additional costs incurred by the employee working from home will need to be reimbursed by the company. These would include:
- obtaining authority for the home to be used in part for business purposes, and any associated increase in domestic taxes;
- a proportion of any rent paid by the employee, or equivalent rental value;
- any increased home and contents insurance premiums on account of the business use;
- increased utility and heating costs;
- a charge for use of the employee’s equipment and furniture.
Some Disadvantages of Remote Working
While I have emphasised the benefits of remote working, there are nevertheless some potential disadvantages for both the employer and employee:
- productivity will not necessarily improve if the employee is found to be inadequately self-disciplined when unsupervised. This problem, however, can be quickly identified by the use of tracking and recording software that monitors when the employee is active on the computer, and stores data that will translate into productivity figures.
- an employee who, having been accustomed to the company of office colleagues, may find the solitary life of a remote worker to be a lonely existence. Some staff need the proximity of others to motivate them in their work. Where creativity is an important element in the operations of a department, staff may well function at a higher level of motivation and imagination if they are in the company of others whom they can bounce ideas off. An otherwise imaginative employee could find his or her inventiveness drying up if left without the stimulus that the company and co-operation of like-minded colleagues offers. Here, technology will not be of much help. Instead, the departmental head must closely and personally monitor any such member of staff to ensure lethargy or discontedness doesn’t creep in.
- security of company information and statistics may be at risk. Again, technology can come to the rescue - for instance, confidential documents can be encrypted so that only staff with the necessary key can decode the contents.
Remote working can be a revitalising innovation for a small business. For some companies it rapidly has a positive effect on output, and offers tangible cost savings so that revenue figures increase and invigorate the balance sheet bottom line. For others, the promise of improved staff morale and an upward drive in the company’s performance may not materialise, not in the short term at least.
It would be wise for the decision-makers to take a cautionary approach. Most important of all, the company should take active steps to ensure that the views of all those who will be involved in the change of working arrangements are listened to. It will involve a confidence-building exercise on the part of management.
However, no matter how limited or otherwise the scheme is initially, it is fair to say
remote working will increasingly grow as a game-changing and flexible way of running a small business.
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