During the pandemic, my company hired quite a few employees in non-office locations, in both the United States and Europe. By the time people were starting to have discussions about office reopenings, our 170-strong global workforce had changed drastically, with only about one-third of our U.S. employees living within commuting distance of our Boston headquarters.
4 Benefits of a Fully Remote Staff
- Higher productivity
- Greater employee engagement
- Access to a wider candidate pool
- Improved financial performance
Early on in the pandemic, we decided we would not mandate a return to the office post-COVID, giving our employees a little more freedom over their lives. So when the lease for our Boston headquarters was up earlier this year, we saw it as a catalyst to embrace a new way of working, one defined by management and systems and how we work together, not by a physical space. It works for us, and here’s why.
Better Access to Talent
When candidate pools are restricted by geography, there’s always going to be a question of whether we’re getting the best person or just the best with proximity to an office. That extends to diversity and other equitable hiring processes.
Eighty-one percent of Black workers want a flexible working schedule with the ability to work from home. Black workers also reported a 64 percent increase in their ability to manage stress upon transitioning to remote work, according to Future Forum research. That research also indicates that 50 percent of working mothers want to work remotely most or all of the time. Because firms with diverse executive teams are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability, it becomes clear adopting a flexible work arrangement is not just practical but essential for sustained success.
Retaining talent is equally if not more critical than talent acquisition. When Amazon backtracked on its work-from-home policy, more than 5,000 workers signed a petition calling for the back-to-the-office mandate to be scrapped and staged walkouts. Apple employees were equally unhappy and shared an open letter calling for more flexibility. Some high-profile employees handed in their notice. With 40 percent of employees saying workplace flexibility is a top motivator in whether they stay in a role, it’s clear remote working plays a pivotal role in both attracting and retaining talent.
Enhanced Productivity, Elevated Performance
A lack of productivity is often cited as the No. 1 reason for return-to-office mandates. Yet research found employees in high-trust organizations reported 50 percent higher productivity than counterparts in low-trust ones, irrespective of office/remote/hybrid work. In other words, the culture of work determines output, not simply where it takes place.
Remote workers are also less likely to deal with external pressures or distractions. Not everyone works best in a busy office environment. For example, neurodivergent people use an estimated 70 percent of their brains to mask their condition in the office. Working remotely enables them to be fully present to perform their job to the best of their abilities.
However, having remote employees means businesses need to put a level of faith and trust in their staff to perform their roles to the best of their ability, as well as the appropriate management tools and structures to provide the scaffolding of success. If you can’t cultivate the trust required to be able to work remotely, you’ve got bigger problems, of which remote work is a symptom, not the illness.
Admittedly, measuring productivity for knowledge workers is a new territory. Economist Nicholas Bloom, author and computer scientist Cal Newport and author Dror Poleg all have done brilliant work in this space, and we’re learning a lot about how to measure the impact of these massive, intersectional shifts that go well beyond the office and get at the heart of what it means to do productive work.
Increased Employee Engagement
Inflexible workplaces often talk about the office culture as if it can only exist within a building. But culture is about a feeling of belonging, of being valued and trusted. Great culture can exist in a remote work environment, but it requires businesses to put systems in place. If anything, having a remote workforce has meant we put more energy into how we can increase employee engagement.
For example, giving up our Boston office freed additional budget to put towards regional, face-to-face events throughout the year, which we’ve found really powerful for engagement. Taking inspiration from The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, these sessions are designed for various purposes, from fun and bonding to education and training. Bringing everyone together in this way does more for engagement than daily office work because it’s seen as a break away from the norm.
Naturally, humans become accustomed to routine, and being able to switch up the schedule with purpose-led events is much more beneficial to the overall culture of the company. One such example was our recent People Manager Summit, where more than 40 managers from across the company came together for three days of learning, connection, team building, and inspiration.
Remote work also means less time commuting, creating time that can be used for other activities, such as reading a book, taking a spin class or volunteering. This creates a better work/life balance and ultimately happier and productive people.
Global Workplace Analytics found that companies saved up to $11,000 for every employee working two or three days remotely per week. This includes savings on real estate and operating costs but also reduced turnover and absenteeism. These savings can be reinvested on education and training initiatives, such as our aforementioned People Manager Summit, or used for salaries to attract more experienced candidates.
Employees also benefit financially. The same study estimated remote employees save between $2,000 and $7,000 in commuting and work-related costs, which effectively boosts remuneration.
Ultimately, our decision to embrace a remote and flexible work arrangement stems from a commitment to talent access, diversity and employee well-being.
Equally, for technology companies, it means employees can move out of busy city centers to gain more space. This in turn makes them happier and can drive productivity.
While the pandemic was the catalyst for the chance to rethink our way of working, it spearheaded a significant transformation. We’ve developed new initiatives and ideas we might not have considered if confined to the traditional office set up.
Ultimately, our decision to embrace a remote and flexible work arrangement stems from a commitment to talent access, diversity and employee well-being. While remote work isn’t possible for every business, our experience highlights the positive effect on productivity, employee engagement and the bottom line for the company and for our workforce.