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The surprising facts about working from home

Considering remote work for yourself or your team? Here are eight things business leaders can learn from research about working from home.

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Remote working, telecommuting, working from home. Whatever you call it, you can’t have failed to notice how many more workplaces are offering or even expecting employees to work from home at least some of the time. You may be looking for remote working as a benefit for your next role, or considering offering it to your employees.

Is home working just a trend, or is there evidence to support whether it works? I decided to find out what the research had to say. Here are eight crucial findings.

1.      Flexible working is fast-growing

The 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey of 15,000 professionals in 80 nations found 80 percent of businesses in Germany, 76 percent in Brazil and 58 percent in India had flexible working policies.

Policies also seem to be translating into practice. Over 50 percent of survey participants reported they were working more than half the time remotely.

What’s the opportunity?

Offering flexible working is now the norm. If your business isn’t there yet, you may have to have some tough conversations to get things moving. Today’s the day to start.

2.      Homeworking could give you an extra day per week

A Stanford study that monitored around 500 employees in China’s largest travel agency for two years found working from home increased productivity by over 20 percent. That’s equivalent to an extra working day each week.

The increase in productivity came from several ways employees changed how they were working. They took fewer breaks and less time off (such as sick days), but mostly, they just got through more work.

Professor of Economics, Nicholas Bloom, explained these findings in his TedX Stanford talk in 2017.

What’s the opportunity?

If you want to improve productivity, make sure home working is on the table. If you’re already doing it but it’s not delivering, your policy may need review, so the next point is salient.

3.      It’s not for everyone

The same Stanford study found that after the trial work-from-home period, around half the participants decided to be office-based in the future.

What’s the opportunity?

Everyone’s an individual, and your business homeworking policy should reflect this. Flexible or home working also means taking into account each employee’s role, needs and preferences. Reconsider an ‘all or nothing’ approach to home working.

4.      Remote workers struggle to ‘switch off’

British researchers Alan Felstead and Golo Henseke assessed the evidence around remote working’s impacts in 2017, using large-scale studies.

They concluded there was good evidence that remote working reduces the strain of time-pressured work and lets employees better work around personal circumstances (like needing to be at home with a sick child or to get the washing machine repaired.) Homeworkers showed more overall job satisfaction, more commitment to their employer and a greater willingness to go above-and-beyond their role requirements.

Researchers found one negative impact: Remote workers reported more difficulty ‘switching off’ and unwinding at the end of the day.

What’s the opportunity?

Switching off and unwinding makes us better at our work. We should see it as part of our job. More so if we work from home, because the research suggests it’s harder to do.

Review your organization’s health and well-being policy. If it doesn’t place value on employees taking breaks and switching off, it should.

No matter your seniority, you can cultivate a culture that values unwinding and doesn’t expect your employees to be ‘always on’ just because they’re at home, particularly if you’re working with team members across multiple time zones.

5.      The value of homeworking may depend on the type of work

A 2018 study of 273 self-selecting telecommuters and their supervisors found telecommuting improved performance for three types of employees: those with complex jobs, those who didn’t need others to do their job and those who had low levels of interaction when in the office. They didn’t find any types of jobs where homeworking decreased employees’ performance.

What’s the opportunity?

Knowing some roles tend to be better suited to remote working can help you organize your team better or diagnose the problem if home working isn’t delivering expected benefits. Role-related benefits to remote working will always depend on the qualities of the person in the role.

6.      Cybercriminals have noticed more people are working from home

Researchers noted the first wave of coronavirus-themed malicious activities, including spam, phishing and even malicious files.

Targets have included those educational institutions and governments agencies that have been in the news for conducting learning and business remotely; cyber criminals are banking on their lack of IT resources and vulnerabilities like legacy software.

What’s the opportunity?

Kaspersky’s white paper Remote working: How to make the laptop lifestyle flow sweetly (and securely) for your business is a good place to start for security measures that enable remote working.

In the event of a cybersecurity incident, prioritize good communication. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to coronavirus email scammers pretending to be them is an excellent example of a promptly issued statement in plain language that raises awareness of cybercrime.

7.      Young talent values the opportunity to work from home, but not for the reasons you might think

Younger employees (age 16 to 29) are most likely to want to work from home, according to Polycom’s 2017 study, with 24,000 respondents in 12 countries. Interestingly, young employees named increased productivity as their top reason for wanting to work from home.

What’s the opportunity?

If you’re having trouble attracting early talent like graduates and apprentices, it’s another reason to look at your flexible-working offer. But it might again point to the importance of having a health and wellbeing policy that supports true work-life balance, not just being at home. While claims of workshy youth seem to be eternal, the evidence suggests younger talent is more likely to be working longer hours and risking burnout.

8.      Offering remote working helps attract and retain more diverse talent

Being more supportive of remote and flexible working will help companies attract and retain more women, in part because women are far more likely than men to shoulder care responsibilities. As this Felstead and Henseke research shows, working from home helps employees adapt to personal circumstances.

But what about other groups under-represented in your workplace? Seekout describes remote working as “the single best secret of diversity recruitment.” They cite the desire to work remotely as at the top of the list for many job-seekers, attracting more applicants overall, and homeworking has apparent attractions for women and disabled people.

Where’s the opportunity?

You can only gain more top talent by making sure your job adverts highlight flexible working as a benefit. It’s in the top two employee benefits applicants care most about.

Attracting more applicants is, of course, just the first step in building a more diverse workforce. Minimizing unconscious bias helps make sure the best applicants get hired.

Every company’s needs are unique; many industries need the presence of people to make and deliver goods and services, serve customers or devise ideas together. But consider if your non-frontline staff could benefit from having the option to work at least some of the time remotely.

These findings can support you in finding the best way to harness the power of remote working and guide you around common pitfalls. The one that gives me the most pause for thought (pun intended) is the importance of switching off and taking a break. No matter who you are – from apprentice to chief executive – your most important work might not just happen in your home office. It might be when you’re doing nothing at all.

Cyber protection for home-based workers

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About authors

Suraya Casey is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based in New Zealand. Her interests include cybersecurity, technology, climate, transport, healthcare and accessibility.