Done right, remote-work policies benefit workers, companies

Home is a place where workers can truly concentrate, while the office is where they collaborate. (Getty/StockRocket/iStock)(Getty / StockRocket / iStock)

The number of remote workers is rising and will likely continue to climb as employees and employers alike see benefits, reports show.

Companies that implement remote-working policies are seeing less turnover, greater productivity and cost savings, according to a Chicago Tribune article. For example, after the nonprofit National Equity Fund adopted a work-from-home policy—at the same time its office lease was up—it was able to save $2.5 million on a 10-year lease by moving to a space that was 25% smaller, the article states. What’s more, turnover was at an all-time low of less than 5%, and productivity was up 50%.

Nationally, about 3.7 million employees—2.8% of the workforce—work from home a majority of the time, the article states. The number of workers who telecommute at least one day per month has gone from 9% in 1995 to 37% in 2015, a 300% jump, according to an Entrepreneur article. And 80% to 90% of American workers want to work remotely at least part-time, says a study.

There’s a limit to how much employees’ engagement increases when they work from home, the article adds, proving there’s still something to be said for in-person meetups. The sweet spot is working off-site three to four days out of five, a Gallup report found.

“The office is becoming a place for collaboration, while home is a place for concentration,” said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, in the article.

Managers can make or break remote programs, Kate North, managing director of workplace innovation and strategy at the Chicago office of Colliers, a commercial real estate firm, said in the article. Getting it right means setting clear expectations, evaluating performance based on results and setting communication protocols, the article states.

Brittany Bogaerts, a labor and employment associate in the Chicago office of Nixon Peabody, recommends that companies invest in time-tracking tools to avoid overtime claims, set written rules on safe workspaces to avoid workers' compensation claims for injuries suffered at home and establish standards for deciding who gets to work from home to avoid discrimination claims.

The Entrepreneur article offers four other tips for creating standards for “remote rock stars”:

  • Ensure collaboration on standards between employees and managers to achieve maximum effectiveness.

  • Keep standards simple, breaking “down goals to their most basic components to make them easy for virtual teammates to follow.”

  • Take one standard at a time and “test the waters bit by bit in order to sufficiently explore each aspect of your new virtual model.”

  • Create standards based on actions that happen repeatedly. “For example, if thank-you emails often distract you, set a standard that you don’t send them.”

Despite the benefits, remote-work policies aren’t for every company. In fact, some heavy hitters have scaled back on theirs. For instance, IBM announced in May that some remote staff in North America would have to work out of regional offices, and Honeywell, Bank of America, Best Buy and Yahoo have made similar moves recently, according to the Tribune. IBM’s reason for the move is its goal to create small, agile teams that work quickly and closely in the same room, a reflection of what it says are the demands of an evolving industry, the article adds.