The Hidden Benefits (and Pitfalls) of Remote Work

As lockdowns and restrictions continue, working from home now feels commonplace.

The period of rapid adjustment is over. The time for assessing what’s worked, and what hasn’t, is here.

Whether your team has thrived or barely survived, mastering remote work takes constant improvement. Finding growth in 2021 means adapting processes now to fuel success whether remote or not next year.

Like it or not, remote work is here to stay. Employees slightly favor working remotely, even after the pandemic ends. According to Gallup, 59% of U.S. employees doing their jobs from home during COVID-19 would prefer to continue working remotely. 41% would like to return to the office post-pandemic.

What have the majority gotten right that the rest can learn from? And what secret advantages of remote work have yet to be discovered?

Let’s take a deep dive into the most commonly overlooked benefits of working remote and the potential pitfalls.

Break Down Silos

In the office, teams may have sat together or been on different floors entirely. Maybe they even worked in separate locations. With physical barriers removed, company leadership should evaluate the effectiveness of existing silos for work.

Surviving economic disruption requires quick reaction times and cross-functional collaboration. When information is siloed, teams are slower to react and adapt to new information. Standing up cross-functional tiger teams, with well-defined strategic objectives breaks down silos to create focus on critical, company-wide objectives. Examples of these Tiger Team objectives we’ve seen recently include Applying for emergency assistance, Improving culture and engagement while remote, and Adopting health and safety protocols.

Your business has goals and targets. Odds are these aren’t the responsibility of just one team. Sales targets won’t be reached on the back of your salespeople, they require collaborative efforts across marketing, customer service, and product development. No matter the changes your business requires in the coming months, using remote work as an opportunity to break-down silos and foster cross-team collaboration creates a competitive advantage.

Flipside: Information Overload

The flipside of sharing information across your team and working cross-functionally is the potential for too much information in too many people’s hands. This leads to a lack of focus. Working to efficiently use communication channels like Slack and clearly defining project scope helps ensure the right people are on the right things. Working cross-functionally while remote can create quick results, but it requires a system of information sharing that creates focus for every employee.

Flexible Schedules

The clearest benefit of remote work is the flexibility in scheduling it provides. No longer must employees spend valuable waking hours commuting to and from work, bound by the limitations of rush hour traffic and strict schedules. Remote employees can make time for family and personal care while still getting their work done.

Additionally, employers now have access to global talent pools as the significance of timezones dissolves. Transitioning to remote work creates opportunities to expand to new markets with sales and customer support staffing in new areas of the globe.

Remote work has the ability to free us from schedules that cause friction with our other responsibilities. Employees with children or late-rising chronotypes may be more productive with flexible schedules. This can benefit engagement and retention. According to Crain’s Future of Work survey, 78% of HR professionals say flexible schedules and remote work are the most effective non-monetary ways to retain employees.

Flipside: No Boundaries

So far, the flexible scheduling of remote work has generated more overworking than anticipated. While many leaders feared teams would shirk responsibility with loosened working hours, the opposite has happened. According to Monster.com, 69% of workers are experiencing burn-out symptoms while working from home. As the boundary between home and office dissolved, so too did the boundary between work time and leisure time.

A burnt-out employee is an unproductive employee. Ensure you’re capturing the gains of flexible schedules while remote by structuring each employee’s work around goals that move your team forward.

More Time for Deep Work

The cost of in-office distractions is significant: American businesses lose $650 billion a year in workplace distractions. Whether it’s noise from neighboring desks or hours wasted in conference room meetings, physical offices were full of barriers to quiet, focused work. While working remotely can present a different set of distractions, they can also create the space and time for employees to complete deep-focus work.

As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, puts it, “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.” While remote, teams have the opportunity to reduce unnecessary meetings and carve out time for focused productivity.

Flipside: Isolation 

On the other side of remote working’s potential for deep work time is the isolation felt by employees unable to interact with coworkers. The water cooler socialization, team lunches, and informal office friendships are critical for employee happiness. Eliminating meetings in the name of productivity must be counterbalanced by investment in team building and engagement. Check out our remote team building activities for more ideas on reducing loneliness.

Better Productivity

Significant evidence exists that remote employees experience productivity benefits. According to research published in Harvard Business Review, remote workers are are an average of 35-40% more productive than their office counterparts and see 4.4% output increases. Remote workers additionally see 41% lower absenteeism.

Flipside: Overworking 

At the same time, the productivity of remote work can back-fire if productive time is unfocused. Working hard on tasks that don’t move your company forward may lead to burn out and waning motivation.

More Profitable

The cost savings of remote work are obvious. Businesses sink thousands per employee to maintain office space with unclear benefits. Organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per remote worker and see 21% higher profitability per employee. As many sectors in the global economy continue to reel, these reduced expenses have a welcome impact on the bottom line. Although it’s bad news for commercial real estate agents, the flexibility of remote work benefits profit per employee.

Flipside: Underinvesting in Employees

While taking advantage of remote work’s cost-saving potential is tempting during tough times, it shouldn’t mean eliminating investment in employee experience. The ability to be productive while remote still means leaders need to invest in each employee’s productivity. Providing reimbursements for fast internet and a comfortable working environment pays dividends over time while working from home.

Final Word: Focus on Outcomes, not Time

The most successful management frameworks, from OKRs and Measure What Matters to EOS and Scaling Up, focus your team on outcomes, not time spent at a desk or overall output. Remote work makes it easier to create a culture focused on strategic success and not simply clocking in and out of the office.

To capture the benefits of remote work employees must be measured by what they do, not where or how they do it. This presents an opportunity to redefine what gets managed in your organization.

If you’ve wanted to improve your company’s ability to execute on what matters, there’s never been a better time to create that change. With the right tools in place, continued remote work is an opportunity to build a culture focused on success.

To learn more about the tools that power remote teams, talk to an Align advisor today!

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