Technology has changed pretty much every facet of how companies do business. One of the biggest impacts is its ability to make our workforce more mobile, and more flexible than ever before. Whereas five years ago, the idea of telecommuting was still very much on the fringe, today this practice is standard, and in many businesses, a growing trend.
Being able to throw in a load of laundry, run an errand mid-day or meet the kids when they arrive home from school – what’s not to love about telecommuting? According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Telecommuting rose nearly 80% between 2005 and 2012. During that time frame, telecommuting has experienced its fair share of highs and lows. Its popularity quickly grew in the early 1990’s once computers became ubiquitous. While the Bureau of Labor and Statistic does not classify telecommuting professionals (making it a challenge to gather concrete historical data), it does track which occupational groups utilize remote workers the most; these include professional specialists, executives, administrative staffers, and managers.
Today, more than 3 million Americans work remotely at least half of the time. But a trend wouldn’t be just that if it didn’t come with a little volatility. Flash forward to 2013, when CEO Marissa Mayer set the new standard for remote work policy at Yahoo. In an effort to bolster collaboration, Mayer asked remote workers to trade in their PJ’s for business wear and get back to the office. The waterfall effect quickly followed. In 2014, the popular entertainment, social networking service and news website, Reddit, instructed remote workers to relocate to San Francisco or get fired.
The changing workforce is not just a result of more companies allowing their employees to work remotely, but a reaction to the increased number of freelance workers. According to a 2014 survey by the Freelancers Union and freelance job marketplace Elance-oDesk, more than 53 million Americans (or 34% of the U.S. workforce) already do freelance work, even if it isn’t their sole source of income. The typical telecommuter is 49-years-old and makes close to $60,000 a year working for a company that has more than 100 employees. Last year, Forrester Research forecast that by 2016, 43% of the U.S. workforce will work remotely. Not bad for a day's work.
Outweighing the Risk Versus the Reward
Because remote and freelance work is still relatively new, companies are finding it challenging to develop or, in some instances, even discuss remote work policies. To determine whether this paradigm shift in your workforce will be met with open arms, it is important to weigh out the risk versus the reward before any sort of implementation takes place.
- A lack of face-to-face communication
- A lack of understanding about how the work gets done
- Technology problems associated with ensuring users have the necessary access to information
- One study by an economics professor at Stanford found that remote workers in one company worked 9.5% longer and were 13% more productive than those who went into the office every day. The remote workers were also twice as likely to stay at the job (i.e., not quit) than their office-going counterparts.
- A recent Wall Street Journal report found that when employees were allowed to work from home at least three times a month, revenue over a full year was 10% higher than in companies that didn’t allow their employees this flexibility.
- Remote workers also save companies considerable overhead in terms of working spaces and facilities. If the company in the Stanford study had gone fully remote, it is estimated that they would have saved $2,000 per employee per year, just in office space costs.
- Hiring freelance workers saves companies additional funds in the form of benefits and payroll taxes.
As companies continue to tighten their budgets, and as more people choose the “digital nomad” lifestyle, the trend toward more remote and freelance work will undoubtedly increase. And with it, how leadership hires and builds relationships with their employees.
Author Bio: Guest author Sameer Bhatia is founder & CEO of ProProfs, a leading provider of online learning tools for building, testing, and applying knowledge. ProProfs Knowledge Base Software is used to create highly-searchable online FAQ’s to improve customer service and reduce tickets. It helps centralize access to organizational files, documents and how-to articles ensuring they can be accessed across multiple devices and platforms. Bhatia has a Master's degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California (USC) and is an ed-tech industry veteran. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.