working remotely

Working remotely is a growing trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down. Forty-three percent of the US workforce worked remotely in 2016, and 34 percent of business leaders say half of their company’s full-time workforce will be working virtually by the year 2020. This trend can be attributed to the desire for more flexibility in when and where they work—research has found that virtual work is the most desired flexible work option people want in a job.

When organizations are willing to offer flexible arrangements, it can have a dramatic impact on their bottom line as well as employee morale. Here are a few reasons why employers should consider implementing or expanding virtual work options.

Virtual Teams Are More Productive

A typical workplace has a number of inherent distractions. While casual conversation is important for building trust among teams, those 5-10-minute conversations throughout the day can add up to a lot of wasted time and hinder productivity. Employees are also more likely to get pulled into impromptu meetings, brainstorming sessions and last-minute requests. Working remotely at least part of the time gives employees the freedom to set up their workspace in the way that allows them to maximize productivity.

For example, Stanford studied call center employees and found working remotely increased productivity by 16 percent. Best Buy also found its flexible work policy boosted productivity by 35 percent. And 77 percent of virtual employees themselves reported greater productivity working off-site.

Virtual Teams Are Happier

Research from TINY Pulse, an employee engagement company, found virtual employees were generally happier with their jobs and felt more valued compared to those who worked in a traditional office environment. When you consider the negative impacts of working onsite versus remotely, this makes sense. Working remotely eliminates the need to deal with traffic or lengthy commutes on a daily basis and also removes the regular distractions associated with workplace politics and gossip. And, of course, having happier employees leads to greater retention and general team morale.

Virtual Teams Lead to Lower Overhead Costs

Allowing employees to work remotely also impacts your bottom line due by drastically reducing overhead and operations expenses. With a traditional office, employers are responsible for providing physical office space, all the necessary items that fill the office space like desks and computers, as well as services like maintenance and utilities. With a virtual work set-up, these costs are essentially eliminated. And many of the world’s largest companies have already reaped the rewards of strong virtual work programs. IBM, for instance, has saved more than $50 million in real estate costs, and American Express estimates saving $10–15 million per year with virtual employees.

What’s the Catch?

While virtual teams are generally more productive and happier in their jobs, there is an important caveat we would be remiss if we didn’t mention. The success of virtual teams is directly correlated to strong virtual leadership. In order to build and manage successful virtual teams, leaders should consider the following:

  • Composition. Keep teams small so members can build strong working relationships and trust.
  • Communication. Facilitate consistent communication through virtual meetings and implement technology to help staff communicate and work together effectively.
  • Training. Provide ongoing training opportunities and deliver feedback consistently to help employees develop professionally.

To learn more about how to prepare your leaders for the unique challenges of working remotely, check out this guide, The Business Case for Virtual Leadership Training.