The pandemic took it to new levels, but many other factors have made alternative work environments a fixture that's here to stay.
So far, these work-from-home solutions appear to work the best.
Recent research from Kastle Systems showed that office occupancy rates have risen to 44% — their highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. This increase reveals a return to in-office working arrangements, but that doesn't mean work-from-home solutions have fallen by the wayside.
Asynchronous work, work-from-anywhere, and hybrid models are all being implemented to attract the best talent available, and workplace flexibility has become as basic an expectation for employees as 401(k) plans. That means work-from-home solutions will be an integral part of many companies' compensation plans, but there are still many factors for employers and employees to consider. Here's a look at the most common work-from-home solutions, and the pros and cons of each.
As employers pivot toward a remote work environment, they should remember just how many options they have. There are many different types of work-from-home solutions, and they don't all entail a strictly virtual commute. The terminology for each can vary, but some of the most common remote work models are:
While technically more of a workflow strategy than a remote work model, asynchronous work can facilitate remote or hybrid solutions. Instead of waiting for one team member to complete their share of a project before the rest of the team moves forward, asynchronous work requires each employee to do the work they can with what they have, document the rest, and pass it off to the next team member. This keeps every team member in motion, which makes remote collaboration more feasible.
Work-from-home solutions are often thought of in terms of a home office environment, but that excludes many potential workplace locations — and the concerns that come with them. The WFA model can improve one's work-life balance and widen the talent pool on a global scale, but security concerns like hacking or data theft arise when workers take their jobs on the go.
Companies that feel it's best to get most of their work done in-house may wish to offer some flexibility by allowing employees to work remotely one or two days a week. This typically falls on the same day of the week, but the majority of the workweek is spent on-site.
The difference between the two terms lies primarily in whether the company structures its workplace to be primarily conducive to remote work or it can simply be added as a supplement. Either way, employees often pick a set day of the week when they can work remotely — usually amounting to 10% to 25% of the week — as long as it doesn't conflict with required days of in-office work.
By giving them a choice between working on-site only, working remotely only, or something in between, the employer offers an environment that fits each worker's needs. In this model, the employee gets to choose.
All of these models have their benefits and drawbacks, and all of them can be executed successfully. The key is to establish a business infrastructure that's resilient enough to accommodate the diverse needs of a changing workforce while improving the company's profitability at the same time.
To find the work-from-home solution that fits their needs, employers and employees both have a variety of factors to consider as the economy continues to transform. As we'll see, employers will have to make sure that the remote model they adopt maintains the expected productivity levels, boosts the company culture, and attracts the best talent, whereas employees will need to find the model that gives them the optimum work-life balance while maximizing their standard of living.
For employers, work-from-home solutions must never compromise the bottom line. That means creating a work environment that fosters innovation, improves employee satisfaction, and reduces expenses in the process. That's a tall order, but even though there are bound to be some trade-offs along the way, employers can strike the right balance by taking these factors into account.
At the onset of the pandemic, remote work came with a learning curve. Balancing childcare, social-distancing restrictions, and workplace performance sometimes meant lower productivity, but many workers have since caught on.
An analysis from Texas A&M University's Ergonomics Center shows that remote employees are just as productive as their on-site colleagues, and that some accomplish even more. Further research from Harvard Professor Prithwiraj Choudhury shows that remote work can heighten productivity and even boost innovation as employees are given greater flexibility to process new ideas.
The takeaway: Adopting a remote work model doesn't hinder productivity — it may even advance it.
Employees will expect more accommodations than ever before, but that won't necessarily be enough to keep them at their jobs. The Harvard Business Review expects employee turnover to continue to rise even if companies do implement a remote work model.
Part of the reason is that remote work minimizes employee-to-employee interactions, which weakens colleague relationships — a key driver behind an employee's decision to remain at the same job for an extended period of time. The other reason is that, as more companies offer work-from-home solutions, employees will have less of a reason to consider commute times and, empowered by a larger radius, can find work more easily elsewhere.
While that may sound like a reason for employers not to go remote, they should consider that workplace flexibility has become a basic expectation, so if employers aren't prepared to offer remote solutions that meet employees where they are, those employees will find another job that will.
One of the key concerns about remote work is that employees' performance will be harder to measure. As a result, some employees are worried that their efforts will go unnoticed unless they spend some amount of time at the office. One study estimates that, while 32% prefer a hybrid model of some sort, 43% of employees believe they'll be overlooked for a promotion if they don't work in the office.
If employers hope to promote the right talent into the right positions, they'll need better visibility into the performance of each team member, remote or on-site. That means rethinking performance metrics and evaluation structures so that managers can clearly see just how much their remote employees are accomplishing.
For employees, work-from-home solutions have been immensely helpful at improving their work-life balance, reducing their cost of living, and opening up more opportunities for jobs. Depending on the organization, those benefits may come at the expense of other perks, but given that 22.9% of workers are willing to lose 10% of their pay just to work at home, the trade-off seems to be worth it. Here's what they gain in return.
While employees might be willing to work for lower pay if it meant that they could work from home, they don't necessarily have to. Some companies allow their employees to work remotely but will adjust their salary according to the cost of living in the area where they live.
Recognizing the equal productivity of their remote employees, other companies offer the same compensation regardless of where employees live — and the rising trend of remote work means they can always look for jobs elsewhere.
Even if they must agree to work at home for less, some employees may still find that savings on transportation offset some of the pay cut they incur. Recent global disruptions have sent fuel prices soaring, and some studies estimate the average commute time amounts to more than 50 minutes a day, or four full days a year. Taken together, many remote workers find that both the financial and time savings add up to be worthwhile.
Eliminating that 50-minute commute is just one way that remote work opens up employees' schedules so that they can focus on the things that matter to them. Whether it's childcare, eldercare, or just more time for themselves, remote employees find that work-from-home solutions enable them to meet the rest of life's demands, at a pace that works best for them.
As employers think through which remote work model is the best fit for their organization and their employees, they have a number of variables to consider. WFA and office-centric models lie at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but remote-first, remote-friendly, and remote-office hybrids offer space in between.
When they make their decision, companies should rest assured that productivity will likely not be hampered by remote work options, but they should view flexibility as a fundamental workplace benefit that won't in itself be enough to stop attrition. They should also implement new oversight mechanisms to evaluate each employee's performance, regardless of where they work.
As employees weigh their options, they should consider what they're willing to give up for a better work-life balance and how much of their salary they're willing to sacrifice
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