Let’s really embrace flexible and remote working in NZ

6 top reasons why it’s better for everyone and 7 valid concerns to be addressed:

I genuinely believe remote working as well as increased flexibility in the workplace is the way of the future. I was lucky enough to be given that opportunity at my previous employer and I believe it increased my work productivity as well as my loyalty as it clearly demonstrated their trust in me which increased my respect for them.

Now that I am working for myself I realise I can choose with even more freedom when and how I work and listen to what my body and mind is telling me I need. Here are some reasons why I think it’s a win for everyone, and with some statistics that that illustrate plenty of global companies agree:

  • It increases productivity

Businesses lose $600 billion a year in workplace distractions. This is something from experience I feel strongly about. You can have employees in the office for 8-10 hours a day and they can be extremely unproductive. Fellow colleagues are great at distracting each other – unnecessary meetings, regular coffee breaks, wandering over to the kitchen and engaging in conversation with someone on their break whilst you aren’t on yours. I have seen it happen so often, whereas when I am at home, I can smash out work, with zero distractions, take breaks when I actually know I am losing concentration and these breaks can be spent positively doing something in the house that I would otherwise have to do in a rush in my evening or weekend. Or I can go for a walk if I need fresh air. I don’t have to feel watched and judged for my movements because it’s all about output, which I think work success should be based on. If I don’t produce the work, they know I haven’t done enough, so proof is in the pudding and the truth is always outed if you are taking advantage.

Everyone works better at different times. Some people thrive getting up super early, like me, and being really productive in the mornings, then having a break and being productive again later on. Others benefit from a bit more sleep but then they work until later in the day. Some crazy people are better during the evening/night time. Having a one size fits all just doesn’t make sense when it doesn’t have to be like that.

Companies implementing remote working like JD Edwards, showed remote workers to be 20-25 percent more productive than their office colleagues. American Express employees who worked from home were 43 percent more productive than workers in the office. Apart from the ones I already mentioned, the act of showing trust can result in more loyalty and better work ethic. But also, it cuts out commuting time which in itself is a huge stressor and time drainer on individuals with lots of commitments and families to take care of. It allows everyone to work around their life situations. “A recent report into the UK’s tech industry by HSBC found that 89% of respondents cited flexible working as a motivation to up their productivity.”

Finally it can cut down on wasted meetings. When using web based tools to meet they tend to end up being better planned and more effective. On a slight side note, when using your messaging tools and emails it can help equalise personalities. No longer does the biggest voice in the room win out.

  • It has a positive environmental impact

By not commuting each day, we are able to make an impact on reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. You have multiple digital tools at your fingertips to enable effective videoconferencing and this can further reduce business travel which has a similar negative environmental impact. Furthermore, working from home people use less electricity, less supplies and less office equipment. This has the added benefit of reducing waste. “Sun Microsystems reported that its 24,000 U.S. employees participating in the Open Work Program avoided producing 32,000 metric tons of CO2 last year by driving less often to and from work.” We all know how bad traffic gets in Auckland in particular, by getting more drivers off the roads at those peak commuter hours we can reduce traffic issues. In the US “Traffic jams idle away almost three billion gallons of gas and accounts for 26 million extra tons of greenhouse gases”. Imagine similar statistics across the globe in other cities, including NZ and what a difference we can make.

  • It increases staff loyalty and reduces attrition

There are some statistics supporting how important the commute is as a factor for employees. Nearly half of employees feel their commute is worsening with 70% of them feel their employers should have responsibility in solving the issue. 92% of employees are worried about the rising costs of fuel and 80% of them specifically mention the cost of commuting to work. 73% of those feel their employers should take responsibility in helping them reduce their commuting costs – flexible work environment answers a lot of those issues. 2/3’s of employees would change their job to decrease the commute. Furthermore your employees feel more empowered as they have the ability to better control how they work. I know when my boss agreed to allowing me to work 2 days from home a week, I felt I was trusted more and this increased my feeling of loyalty and respect.

  • It helps attract the right talent

By not being limited to hiring people in the immediate vicinity it opens up your talent pool and allows you to hire the right people, not just what you have in front of you. Plus anyone that has had to recruit in NZ, especially the technology space, knows how hard it is to recruit and retain the Gen Y’s. But they are particularly attracted to flexible work arrangements (rating among benefits as an 8 on a 10 scale for impact on overall job satisfaction). It also increases the ability to employ disabled workers, and workers that would have otherwise felt they needed to stay at home, like parents and senior caregivers. It creates more diversity through offering greater cultural, socioeconomic, and geographic employment opportunity. Plus many retiring workers might have done things differently if they were given more flexibility options – 71% of retired workers who later went back to work, originally retired because they wanted increased flexibility than their job was able to give them.

I know from my own experience as a recruiter in the technology industry we are in a candidate short market. If we look at UX/UI talent for example, I have numerous positions on at one time and minimal candidates who are truly suitable across to each one. Given the lack of openness to remote workers currently, which is understandable when companies aren’t yet set up in a way to allow it to work, it means you often have to compromise on what you want/need in the team. If the talent pool was wider and geographically remote candidates were considered, we could get more mature talent in teams. I do understand that not every position is best suited to being this but I think mostly it comes down to training managers on how to correctly manage those kinds of teams, and creating structure and process around it so people aren’t fearful of it, rather than it not being a really viable option.

  • It’s cost effective for everyone

Not only are your employees spending less on their travel costs and food costs (I can only imagine you would eat out less than when you are in an office), it can be cost effective for the business too. You can reduce office space and reduce costs associated with individuals in the office – supplies, equipment, etc. IBM decreased their real estate costs by $50 million. Plus, if there is any kind of natural disaster that prevents people coming into work, it doesn’t affect your business as they are not having to come in anyway, so work can continue on. Furthermore, in studies it has been shown that 36% of employees would choose work from home/flexibility over a pay raise. Another survey of 1,500 technology professionals revealed that 37% would take a pay cut of 10% if they could work from home.

  • It creates balance

I believe strongly in creating balance in your life and this is something we often lack. By allowing flexibility and working from home, people are much better equipped to deal with the demands they have from home as well as work. If we think about all the outdoor space and activities we are able to do on our doorstep here in New Zealand, it can also allow more time to embrace these activities which develops healthier employees in mind and body which in turn can increase productivity and overall wellbeing.

GLOBAL ROLE MODELS

Finland is a great benchmark for changing the way they consider employment and working arrangements. They are “way ahead of the curve thanks to a new Working Hours Act. Due to come into force in 2020, it will give the majority of full-time employees the right to decide when and where they work for at least half of their working hours.” They see this adoption as a natural reflection of the changes in the modern world we live in.

“Under the new legislation, workers will still be expected to put in an average of 40 hours a week, but this could include a multitude of different arrangements from regularly choosing fixed days to be based “at your summer cottage or your favourite coffee shop”, to starting and finishing early in order to manage childcare or be able to exercise outdoors while it’s still light. Some younger workers, she argues, are likely to ask to work longer hours for a fixed period to “bank” time off for long-haul travel. Employees and their managers will be asked to discuss their expectations in advance and draw up a contract for any new arrangements”. This statement reflects again my points on believing everyone has different motivators, ways of working and lifestyles. Creating this flexibility allows everyone to work at their best, rather than as dictated to by a company.

Interestingly there is a link seen between Finland adopting this way of working and it’s culture of trust. They are seen as having more trust than most other countries in Europe. I think trust will be a big part of this working or not in our businesses here in NZ. My instinctive counteraction to this being a concern, is not only why are you employing people you can’t trust unless they have someone physically peering over their work but also, I can guarantee if you think someone is going to be lazy or slack at home, chances are likely they are already being slack and lazy in your office whether you have noticed it or not.

Let’s be real too….

Why it might not work for everyone and some solutions around this:

  • CONNECTEDNESS

It becomes a new responsibility of the managers to keep people feeling connected to the people and business as well as completing their necessary tasks. I can understand that people might feel like they will lose those connections and relationships they have built over time by not being so physically connected on a day to day basis. This is all possible but attention needs to be given to it rather than assume the worst. There are so many ways to connect still and adopting a flexible and remote working environment doesn’t mean having zero touch points with the team.

  • TRUST

Not all management trust their employees and I’m sure that for some it is rightfully so, but also for many it’s just a shift in mindset and them feeling out of control when they can’t physically see them. But to counteract this effective measurements need to be put in place to set goals and tasks. If employees don’t deliver on these and other measurements that they are set, then it will be clear to see and the right conversations can happen at that point. Finland government representatives also recognised potential issues with “an emergence of new groups of employees who are less protected or less aware of their rights,” he says. “Equally, managers in companies may not be fully knowledgeable about what is okay and what is not.” This is also going to be something that needs to be addressed. As I mentioned earlier though, if you are employing people you cannot trust then that might say more about your recruitment techniques than anything else. I can assure you people can be slack at home AND at the office. But there is no need to hinder those that can. If there are distinctive parameters around eligibility for remote working, then it can make things easier if people aren’t delivering.

  • NOT EVERYONE WANTS IT

I also understand for some, this is not an attractive option. It could be they feel that they need people around them, or to be in an office environment to feel motivated to work well. But remember from the social aspect, you can see use multiple different technologies and tools to stay connected. Plus there are shared work spaces popping up all over, and you can work from cafes if that suits you better. It’s definitely important to have a defined work space at home, so you switch into work mode and feel focused. It is also important that everyone knows how to use all the tools required to make this effective and ensure they are totally comfortable with them. There can also be some concerns that by not being seen, individuals will not be remembered and they worry it will effect their career opportunities. I think again this comes down to communication. As long as you stay connected, that will not be an issue. Telephone, instant messaging, emails and some face to face meetings can still be used to keep in regular contact with the team.

  • JEALOUSY IN THE TEAM

It can create feelings in the team if things aren’t communicated in the right way. If there are some working remotely, with others not being offered the same, it needs to be clearly and openly communicated as to why. It also needs to be seen as an earned rather than an automatic privilege and a process should be created to govern who does or does not qualify for it.

  • SECURITY

Some managers are concerned about data security. These definitely need to be looked at and any issues that arise, need to be solved. But when remote workers are given adequate training around how to go about setting themselves up and working from home, this does not need to be a concern. Statistics show those that work from the office and occasionally take work home are more of a security concern than remote workers.

  • CHANGES TO INFRASTRUCTURE

Companies might need to look at changing certain things to allow employees access to the systems and software from home – but this is a worthy investment if there is one, as once it’s achieved, productivity increases for so many people.

  • MEASURING WORK HOURS

It can be trickier to account for overtime and understanding employer responsibility over accidents occurred from workers whilst at home. These are things that need to be addressed and a process created around it, but there are solutions.

In conclusion, I think there are just too many benefits to this to be ignored. I can say from personal experience it works really well for me and I think teams can still stay cohesive and efficient, if not more so. I think it needs to be assessed by the business so that the right processes and structure is set up around it to enable it to work at its best and people need to understand that change can be tricky for some/many and it will take a bit of time to adjust to a different way of working for some of the team. Remember, by giving it a go at least you can start to see what works best for your team in particular and make adjustments as you go. Nothing has to be forever, but if you don’t try you never know.

References

https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits
https://www.bytestart.co.uk/reasons-consider-work-from-home-policy.html
https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190807-why-finland-leads-the-world-in-flexible-work