presenteeismPresenteeism (n) The act of coming into work when sick. Also the tendency to stay in work longer than the time needed to accomplish the tasks required.

Many employers are paying people simply to turn up at the office, not for what they achieve. But more and more companies are now embracing remote working, which requires a different mindset: one that values results, and not presence.

Flexible working in figures

The image of teleworkers is often parents, fitting work in between childcare. But in fact, research suggests that most are older men, working remotely on top of a 40-hour week in the office. For these people, then, it’s largely about whether to put in the overtime in the office or at home.

Looking more generally, 74% of employees say that they believe that flexible working would be good for their companies, and 70% think it helps businesses to retain good employees. Half think that it helps companies to attract talent. However, thinking and doing are two different things. In companies that have made flexible working an option, only 36% are actually making use of it. The other 64% are not. Research shows that workers give a variety of reasons for not using flexible working options. Each reason is supported by about 20–25% of respondents, although it’s not clear whether that’s the same quarter each time. The reasons given are that they:

  • Want to keep home and work separate (28%);
  • Like the commuter routine (25%)
  • Believe that their co-workers see remote working as ‘coasting’, which presumably means that in one corner of their minds, so do they (19%);
  • Believe that office attendance aids career progression (20%);
  • Believe that their management has not ‘bought into’ the idea of flexible working, which again seems likely to mean that the respondent hasn’t either (22%);
  • Think that slow access via mobile devices is putting people off (23%).

Some commentators have suggested that widespread use of 4G may mark a watershed in flexible working, although the bullets above suggest that slow internet access is the least of the problems, and that maybe both workers and employers just aren’t quite ready to move to flexible working yet. Which is a shame, because remote working offers some real advantages to companies and individuals alike, although it also has many challenges.

What can remote working do for you?

Remote working has the potential to reduce company overheads, requirements for office space, transport costs, sickness absence and turnover. It’s known to improve productivity, despite concerns about remote working being ‘coasting’. When remote workers get together, whether in person or by video conference or call, their shared values are around work, not bonding from the coffee machine. So the conversations are more productive and more focused. Because it’s harder for remote teams to meet, they tend to only do so when really necessary, which also improves productivity. But more, research shows that working in open plan offices reduces productivity by 65%, so that working remotely could increase your productivity three-fold. And for introverts, this could be even more.

Making sure that remote workers remain engaged takes management time, but with this input, remote workers can often be more engaged and committed. And the increased focus on what needs to be communicated and when means that people take more trouble to ensure that they communicate well. The flip side of this, of course, is that where only a few employees work remotely, the culture may remain focused on face-to-face communication, but as more and more shift to flexible working, this will surely change too.

The final advantage is that, as surveys suggest, remote working policies help companies to retain staff. It’s not just for family reasons: many people prefer not to commute every day, and having the option to work from home or elsewhere means that they won’t leave.

Exceptions

Notwithstanding the advantages, Yahoo! announced the end of its remote working policy last year, explaining that although remote workers were very productive, they were not as innovative and collaborative as those in the same geographical location. CEO Marissa Meyer felt that the company needed more collaboration at that stage in its development.

But as technology improves, better collaboration becomes easier, and people don’t need to be in the same place to work together. The more employees who work remotely, the more they will feel the need to reach out and connect with each other. It’s a very human need, as David Weinburger of the Cluetrain Manifesto has pointed out.

 

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