Are you ready for the emerging “work from anywhere” workforce model? While not all employees are able to function in that mode, many can, and will continue doing so as the COVID-19 pandemic gradually fades into a distant memory. Will yours? Should they?
Some potentially compelling reasons might prompt you to permit, and even encourage, suitable employees to work from anywhere. But you’ll need to customize a balanced approach that works for you and your employees.
Meanwhile, powerful tech resources hitting the market to accommodate communication and security requirements inherent in this evolving world of work. Those include cloud-based HR systems adapted to support the work from anywhere (WFA) model, as well as a host of others geared more to the communication, collaboration, and productivity needs of employees working remotely.
According to research by Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), 82% of employees who worked remotely due to the pandemic reported that they want to continue working remotely at least once a week, and only 3% have no desire to work remotely. And GWA’s “Telework Saving Calculator” projects around $11,000 in annual savings per employee who works remotely an average of two or three days a week. Note: the annual salary assumed in the calculation is $75,000, so the savings estimate might not fit your employee demographics.
Work from anywhere potential benefits
Here are the five factors that generate that estimate, as laid out in recent GWA report:
- Increased productivity: For “knowledge workers,” employee productivity is a function of time, energy and health. The WFA model can optimize those variables by limiting workplace distractions, physical discomfort (e.g. a too-cold or too hot office), time-eating commutes, worries about un-attended family members, “overly restrictive” work rules, and other concerns.
- Reduced office costs: Office space requirements (and thus rent) can be reduced by swapping fixed individual workplaces for “a choice of reservable or drop-in areas that are purpose built to facilitate collaboration, teamwork, socializing, restoration and concentration.”
- Reduced absenteeism: When operating remotely, employees may be able to work when they weren’t feeling well enough or too contagious to come to work, are exposed to fewer sick co-workers (and thus healthier), are able to handle appointments without taking a full day off work, and so on.
- Business continuity: Key employees are better equipped to keep operations moving forward in a disaster when their jobs can be performed outside the office.
- Reduced turnover: Turnover can drop when employees derive greater job satisfaction from having more freedom to choose where to work. Also, the WFA model “expands the talent pool beyond geographic boundaries” and “can help slow the brain drain by allowing seniors to work more flexibly,” the report suggests.
The sum of the estimated employer savings in each category is around $12,000, while added new costs, primarily IT and furniture needed to equip remote offices, are estimated at around $1,000 on an amortized basis, netting out to $11,000 in per-employee in annual savings. Even if it works out to only half that amount for you, the results could be well worth making that workforce policy shift.
For its cost estimates, the GFA assumes the employer will cover the cost of a 15-inch laptop with a webcam, separate monitor, docking station and keyboard. The majority of surveyed employers that have embraced the WFA model absorb those costs for employees expected to work remotely at least three days a week.
Additional benefits of the work from anywhere model from the employee perspective vary, but can include savings on commuting expenses, having more time not spent commuting, and overall greater wellbeing.
Work from anywhere tradeoffs
Some research into the WFA trend relies heavily on reports from employers with a high proportion of employees who can be productive while working remotely. “The Trade-Offs of Remote Work,” a recent report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as its title suggests, points out some possible negatives. Those can include eroded boundaries between work and life, diminished social ties and informal communication among workers, and a perceived loss of job security.
Additional potential downsides cited in the report include:
- Lack or loss of organizational culture,
- Complications in managing a remote workforce,
- Difficulty in adapting WFA policies to varied business and worker needs,
- Increased exposure to security risks, and
- Harm to non-remote workforce.
However, the study acknowledges that challenges associated with WFA arrangements were generally reported prior to many employers’ full embrace of the latest secure tech-based solutions that enable “teams to set meetings, share screens, and make virtual engagement more interactive than previous virtual tools permitted.”
In addition, the report notes that when knowledge workers first were forced out of their offices by the pandemic, many experienced productivity-robbing stress due to social isolation mandates and fear of contracting the disease. In the post-pandemic period, those non-work-related factors will no longer impact attitudes and performance.
Your company’s WFA strategy might not be one that works at other companies. As the AEI study concludes, “the organizations that best leverage these [WFA] models are those that experiment with what works and move towards programs that balance organizational and employee needs.”
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