Allowing your employees to become remote workers has advantages and disadvantages that should be worked out in advance.
I love technology and embrace the changes it brings to the workplace. One way we see a big shift is the rising popularity of remote working. Our firm, SpringLaw, is totally remote so perhaps I have a slight bias, but remote working has several advantages.
Remote working can also present some challenges. Employers interested in shifting towards remote working need to be prepared with policies and systems to ensure that everything runs just as smoothly as though you and your team were all sitting within the same 1000 square foot office.
Opening your office to remote working can widen the talent pool. Employees can live anywhere and still work for you. The wildly talented marketer who just can’t bring himself to leave Yellowknife might be exactly the right fit for your Toronto business. Offering remote work increases accessibility to jobs for workers and to talent for employers.
While some employers might be nervous that their remote employees will just be watching TV in their PJs all day, there is evidence to suggest that remote workers are more productive and engaged than office workers. Remote workers actually live at work. The time they don’t spend commuting and chatting at the office water cooler can be put towards productive pursuits. One study conducted by Stanford researchers found remote workers were 13% more productive than onsite workers. These workers put in more time per shift and also took fewer sick leaves and breaks. Another study found that remote workers were actually more invested in their work than their in-office counterparts. Similarly, a 2017 study by Gallop found that remote workers were more likely to feel engaged than office workers (41% vs. 30%).
Many of the issues with remote work tend to be around creating a sense of community, sharing common knowledge and supporting career progression. Workers in the Gallop study note that they missed conversations, office celebrations and also that it was more difficult to stay in the loop. I can attest to the fact that there is decidedly less birthday cake in my remote working life than there was in my big office days. Remote workers often experience weaker relationships with their managers and co-workers than office workers. Remote work can also present challenges with respect to collaboration and teamwork — one reason why Yahoo and IBM have decided to bring remote workers back into the office.
Employers interested in introducing remote workers should be prepared with good employment contracts and with remote working policies. When you do not physically see your employee every day, it is especially important to make expectations clear. Employment contracts should clearly set out when employees are expected to work, what technology and insurance requirements are needed for their remote office space, how they are expected to keep in touch, how frequently they are expected to communicate, and also include the right to bring a remote worker back into the office, should the need arise. If employers have an operation that is partly remote and partly in an office, a policy should clearly address how requests from office employees to work remotely will be dealt with.
On a practical level, incorporating video conferencing, phone calls and some sort of in-person meeting once a month or quarter are all good practices to make sure the human beings in your office do still talk to other human beings. As text and messaging become a default quick way to communicate, we need to bake in deliberate voice and personal contact, remotely or occasionally in person.
Finally, some workflow and infrastructure will need to adjust if working remotely. The more paperless and automated, the easier it is to make the transition.
On January 1, 2019, the Scheduling provisions of Bill 148 will come into effect in Ontario. One of these allows employees to request a schedule or location change once they’ve been employed for three months, without fear of being penalized. Whether this will encompass requests to work from home remains to be seen, but remote working is certainly not going away.