When Yahoo! effectively eliminated the ability of its employees to work remotely back in 2013, some announced that this bellwether, big company move to bring its flock under one roof marked the decline of the telecommunting fad. Yet in many industries today, and especially in the tech industry, virtual employment is seeing a steady uptick.
According to Forbes Magazine in early 2014, as many as 30% of all employees currently telecommute at least one day per week. The New York Times backed this up in an article published in March 2014, adding that from 2005 to 2012 the number of telecommuters rose 79%.
The same article in the New York Times describes an experiment performed by Stanford University and one of the largest travel agencies in China, Ctrip. Their experiment included about 250 employees who volunteered. Half were selected to work from home and the rest remained working from the office. Here's what they found…
At the end of the experiment, employers found that the home-based employees worked more than office workers — 9.5 percent longer — and were 13 percent more productive. They also were judged to be happier, as quitting rates were cut in half.
With the increasing availability and decreasing cost of tools used to communicate and collaborate, having all employees in the same location is not always necessary or even feasible. With distributed companies becoming more and more mainstream, telecommuting continues its growth as part of the norm, not the exception.
Here at Edge, a virtual office space is already part of our day-to-day landscape. Nationwide, meanwhile, telecommuting and greater flexibility in the work day is fast becoming one of the most attractive perks a business can offer current and prospective employees.
However, demystifying and integrating a contemporary business model, who some still herald as wave of the future can be daunting. I mean, we're not living in the world of the Jetsons yet, right?
The following tips show the ways in which a virtual model can thrive and some of the common pitfalls that can undermine the process. And, since I've got you thinking about the Jetsons now, all you have to remember is their dog: ASTRO.
The ASTRO Method
A: Accept that employees don’t have to be watched to be productive. This is big. It goes against the grain and the traditional office model. In a virtual office, measures of productivity are based on the quality and value of work produced, not on how it is produced. It is important to note that not watching does not equal not communicating. Never assume that telecommuters know what is going on. Daily communication is crucial to making everyone feel connected. A feeling of isolation is an ongoing threat to the success of a telecommuting workforce.
S: Celebrate the SAVINGS! (Okay, I know that is technically a C, but it sounds like an S and is followed by SAVINGS, so we'll count it). When workers telecommute, the “storefront” office space can be smaller, which can mean big savings for a business. Additionally, there are savings in utilities, janitorial costs, furniture, a water cooler, birthday cakes and more. Maybe that savings could be turned in to additional staff instead, increasing productivity.
T: Technology is key. Use all of the tools in your productivity toolbox. The reliability of the internet makes document exchange and conferencing simple. Desktop to mobile apps such as Skype can keep associates connected from a home office, an in-person meeting with a client, or on the road. Admit it – you already read all of your email from your phone. Accessibility is no longer a top concern in a telecommuting environment.
R: Recruiting the right people is paramount. Not everyone is efficient from a home office, and some people are better communicators face-to-face. Sample some written communication, talk to a potential recruit at length on the phone or over Skype, ask about challenges to productivity in their personal office environment, and be upfront about expectations.
O: Organization is elemental. For the virtual model to succeed there has to be structure at the core level. Make sure employees have a focus, understand the company-wide goals and have access to the policies that will impact them. Have guidelines established, or you risk a short-lived foray into the telecommuting model and problems with employee retention. Keep expectations clear and keep management available.
“Put people in the environment they are most productive with the tools they need and they will work wonders”. – David Walsh, Mozilla
Having a distributed workforce, whether located in close proximity or spread across a large region, can offer significant benefits to both employer and employee. Lower operating costs can give the business quicker expansion possibilities.
The offer of telecommuting leads to a more extensive hiring pool, which can result in attracting top talent in the industry. Employees who have the flexibility and comfort of working from a home office are often more satisfied with their job, as we saw in the Stanford/Ctrip experiment, which leads to lower turnover and less expense for training. Fear of a telecommuting model is no longer an excuse to explore its possibilities.
So, next time you have your team meeting at your own Spacely Sprockets, weigh the pros and cons of telecommuting and see what your employees think. Offering a virtual workspace could just be the motivator your workforce has been waiting for.
Edge Multimedia is a full service digital marketing agency with virtual offices in Portland, Oregon & Vancouver, Washington. We like to think that we are at least 13% happier. We extend the marketing capabilities of our clients in the Portland Metro Area and throughout the United States. How can we help you?
Graphics & Photo by Zack Stack