It used to be that people punched in and worked away at their desks all day, but times have changed. Whether it’s to avoid the commute, leverage the quiet focus of working at home or simply to stay in pajamas all day, the benefits of remote work are plentiful — and recent research even shows that 70% of people work remotely at least once a week.
Many employers support and encourage remote work, as well. Flexible policies let employees choose where they will feel most productive and let companies hire the best talent for the job regardless of location. Cost savings are also a factor: Dell reports saving about $12 million per year in real estate costs by encouraging employees to work from home. The company would like to see 50% of its employees working at home at least a few days a week by 2020.
While remote work offers many benefits for employees and organizations alike, some companies prefer in-person employees. IBM, an early adopter of remote work, reversed its policy in 2017 by bringing thousands of workers back to the office, citing the need for teams to be in the same space to be successful. And Google discourages telecommuting on the basis that chance encounters between colleagues improve performance.
To learn more about the perceptions and experiences of remote work, we surveyed over 500 each of U.S. employees and employers across a variety of industries. We found that most employees and employers see the benefits of remote work, in terms of both productivity and employee happiness. But there are downsides as well, and most people still don’t work from home.
A majority of employees can’t work from home but would like to
According to our survey, most people aren’t currently remote workers: Only slightly more than one-third of employees surveyed (37%) work for a company that has a remote-work policy. But this may soon change since almost half (47%) say that whether a company allows remote work is an important factor in choosing a job.
A majority of respondents who work for companies without a remote-work policy feel frustrated, with 52% saying they wish they could work from home. And they are motivated to make this happen: Of those who wish their current companies allowed remote work, 37% have considered looking for a job that does, and 14% are actively looking. What’s more, 40% of employees would consider taking a pay cut for the option to work remotely.
Three-quarters of remote workers cite work-life balance as the top benefit
Among employees who are allowed to work from home, the overwhelming majority (75%) say that doing so has improved their work-life balance. More than half say it reduces stress (57%), absences (56%) and sick days (50%) and improves morale (54%).
Employees don’t want to lose this benefit, either — almost one-third of remote workers (30%) say they would consider looking for another job if their companies took away the existing remote-work policy.
However, according to employees, working from home isn’t all upsides. Almost four in 10 (37%) people at companies that allow remote work believe working from home can result in less visibility and access to leadership. And other research shows that remote workers are more likely to feel left out and that their colleagues don’t fight for their priorities.
Avoiding some of the downsides could be why, even when given the option to work remotely, many people (29%) still go into the office every day. But as soon as they try telecommuting, most people seem to really like it — 41% of people work from home at least once a week, and 20% work from home almost every day.
Contrary to popular belief that you can’t get things done at home, the majority of remote respondents (57%) report thinking they are more productive when they work from home. Another 38% think they are equally productive working from home as they are in the office, and only 4% think they are less productive at home.
This may be due to the fact that the workplace can be distracting — almost 70% of U.S. companies feature open floor plans, and a number of studies indicate that these types of environments distract workers and lead to less productivity.
Employers see worker productivity improve with telecommuting
Not only do workers feel more productive, but their employers also agree: 72% of companies with remote-work policies say they make workers more productive. Another 22% say remote workers are equally as productive, and only 3% say their workers are less productive at home.
A little more than half (55%) of the employers we surveyed offer a remote-work policy. Allowing remote work is most common in midsize companies (201 to 500 employees), two-thirds of which (67%) have remote-work policies. The smallest companies (five to 20 employees) are the least likely to offer remote work options (42%).
Employers that allow for telecommuting report numerous benefits. Over half (57%) say remote work has improved morale and reduced employee turnover (52%), and half say it has reduced absenteeism (50%) and saved on operational costs (50%).
Making remote work “work” for your company
Both employees and employers experience benefits from remote work — the most notable of which is increased productivity.
A recent study of workers at China’s largest travel agency supports this: Researchers compared a control group of employees at company headquarters with a test group of employees who volunteered to work at home full-time. The study found that employees working from home gained the equivalent of an entire day’s worth of productivity. However, half of the remote employees ended up changing their minds about working from home full-time — they felt too isolated.
- Make expectations clear.
- Get comfortable with communication technology.
- Provide as much face time or voice time as possible.
One in five employees we surveyed at companies that allow remote work telecommute every day or almost every day. Another step toward greater inclusion could be limiting the number of days employees can work from home.
Striking a balance
Remote-work policies are popular with many employees, who cite an improved work-life balance among its many benefits, and employers, who gain from reduced operational costs. But other companies think workers perform and collaborate better when they're in the office, and employees who work fully remotely tend to feel isolated.
It is up to each company to decide what works best for them — and, like with most things, balance may be crucial. For instance, limiting the number of days employees can work from home will help foster in-person teamwork, but providing the option of remote work can be a powerful differentiator for employers looking to be more competitive in the labor market and attract top talent from anywhere.