Remote work: The impact on productivity and balance

October 3, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to adopt remote work out of necessity. As the health crisis wound down, employers and employees re-evaluated remote and hybrid work arrangements.

Evaluating the pros and cons of remote work in a granular way can help businesses make informed decisions about embracing remote/hybrid work.

Remote work offers opportunities and flexibility. But it also poses challenges. Companies and employees alike are navigating uncharted territory. In this post, we will cover the advantages and disadvantages of remote work. 

Next week, we’ll examine the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid work. Then, you can make more informed decisions about remote work in your company.

Defining Hybrid and Remote Work

VM Ware defines remote work: “... remote workers typically work from an off-site location most or all of the time. Hybrid work or “telecommuting “… typically means that the person also regularly works on-site in a traditional office.”

In short, remote work is a permanent arrangement, whereas hybrid work comprises working both in the office and remotely.

Pros of Remote Work

  1. Increased flexibility and work-life balance. Without having to commute to an office

remote workers save precious time of about 50 hours per year spent commuting. Workers can put this time savings to good use on personal interests. Workers can exercise, engage in hobbies, or spend more time with family.

The flexibility of remote work allows employees to adapt their work schedule daily more easily around other life commitments like medical appointments, caregiving responsibilities, or children's school events. This improved work-life balance boosts morale and job satisfaction.

2. Cost savings. Organizations can achieve significant cost savings by downsizing and subletting office space with a primarily remote workforce. A 2020 Global Workplace Analytics study estimated businesses save on average $11,000 per year for every employee working remotely half-time. Employees also save money on commuting costs like gas or public transportation, work attire, lunches, and other working-in-office expenses. These cost savings positively affect the bottom line for employers and employees.

3. Access to wider talent pools. Remote work arrangements expand an organization's recruiting reach across geographic regions instead of being limited to candidates within commuting distance. This allows companies to attract and keep top talent from a global pool.

Greater access to qualified employees gives organizations an edge in competitive labor markets. For example, tech companies can recruit specialized programmers or developers from anywhere.

4. Increased productivity. Many studies show remote employees log more daily hours. They also take fewer and shorter breaks than their in-office counterparts. That data shows that 77% of remote workers are more productive at home.

A University of Chicago study showed that about 35% of time saved from commuting went towards increased time spent on the job. A Harvard study shows that hours worked remotely resulted in 48.5 minutes per day.

Also, a quiet, distraction-free home office environment allows staff to focus deeply on tasks without disruptions from coworker conversations, phone calls, etc.

Greater flexibility is another reason productivity has increased. Allowing employees to control their schedules also leads to greater productivity by allowing people to work during peak energy times. Increased productivity makes up for the need for in-person supervision.

5. Environmental benefits. With fewer employees commuting, remote work significantly reduces the carbon footprint through reduced gas emissions. A 2020 study by Global Workplace Analytics estimated that if all eligible employees worked from home half the time, carbon emissions would decline by over 90 million tons per year. That’s equivalent to removing about fifteen million cars from the road. Less driving also means less congestion and emissions during high-traffic periods. The environmental benefits are compelling.

Cons of Remote Work

1. Lack of face-to-face interaction. Although video calls help remote teams stay connected, they often need more organic interactions and personal rapport. Video calls make it difficult to read non-verbal cues. Things like facial expressions, gestures, and posture are difficult to gauge on video platforms. The isolation of remote work can negatively affect company culture. That’s especially true for new hires with little exposure to veteran team members and management.

2. Communication challenges. Nuanced forms of communication like sarcasm, humor, and tone get lost across digital platforms like Slack or email. Miscommunications or delays can occur when questions and feedback must happen virtually. In the office, you can quickly tap on the shoulder or stop by someone's desk. Technology can create communication barriers across different time zones when real-time collaboration is limited.

3. Increased distractions at home. While some relish the quiet home workspace, others struggle to stay on task amidst the distractions of kids, pets, and other household activities. With blurred lines between work and personal life, setting boundaries and disconnecting from the job may be difficult. This flexibility of remote work often leads to longer working hours.

4. Collaboration and innovation challenges. Employees who work solo for long stretches miss out on "creative sparks" that occur with impromptu brainstorms, whiteboard sessions, or informal hallway chatter. The isolation of remote work can stifle the collaboration and spontaneous exchanges that lead to innovation. Recreating the energy and randomness of in-person exchanges online requires concerted effort.

5. Oversight and performance issues. Managers cannot peek over the shoulders of remote staff or walk the floors to provide real-time feedback and support. Lack of visibility into remote employee activities makes it difficult to evaluate productivity and performance. Some staff may take advantage of the flexibility by not working agreed-upon hours or letting attention drift. Lack of supervision requires high levels of self-motivation and discipline.

6. Role ambiguity and “Zoom Fatigue”. With fewer in-person meetings, remote staff may

      feel disconnected from strategy decisions and organizational goals. Back-to-back video calls leave employees drained and craving facetime with coworkers. Staring at the computer all day can cause high levels of fatigue compared to office-based peers.

7. Cybersecurity risks. Remote networks and devices expose organizations to potential data breaches or cyberattacks. Internal security—negligent or otherwise—risks are internal, comprising 22% of all breaches. That should incentivize employers to take cyber threats seriously. Employees may also compromise security protocols by using unprotected public Wi-Fi or sharing sensitive documents across insecure platforms outside the office firewall. Remote work demands extra vigilance to keep company and customer data protected.

8. Inadequate growth opportunities. Younger remote workers miss out on the performance-oriented training and networking afforded to in-office workers. Lack of face time with leadership can also limit mentorship critical to career advancement. The remote setting makes it harder for promising young professionals to access growth opportunities like joining high-profile projects.

Maximizing Productivity and Work-Life Balance

While the shift to remote work poses challenges, simple strategies enable organizations to maximize productivity and work-life balance for telecommuters.

  1. Policies and expectations. Set clear remote work policies regarding working hours and availability to prevent fatigue. For example, establish core collaboration hours while allowing flexibility before and after.
  2. Remote-specific training. Train managers to lead remote teams effectively. Conduct frequent check-ins, set measurable goals, and provide constant feedback.
  3. Remote technologies. Invest in collaboration technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to foster connectivity and innovation between remote staff.
  4. Schedule personal gatherings. Allow for occasional in-person time for critical brainstorming sessions, team meetings, and steam building between remote staff.
  5. Mimic typical office breaks. Encourage remote employees to step away from their desks, change locations, and take regular breaks to refresh their mental focus.
  6. Track productivity professionally. Track productivity with project management tools versus invasive tracking of hours worked or keystrokes. Take a results-oriented approach. Evaluate employees’ performance based on results (output) instead of time spent (input).
  7. Cybersecurity concerns. Develop cybersecurity and information-sharing protocols designed for remote work. Enhance thorough security with VPN and endpoint security.
  8. Schedule informal office activities virtually. Create virtual water cooler gatherings via video conference to spark informal chats and collaboration. Host remote lunch dates or virtual coffee breaks.
  9.  Standardize communications and workflows. Use appropriate project management software. Keep remote workers on task through notifications, reminders, and shared workflows. Set priorities with explicit deadlines.

The remote work revolution is here to stay. Paying close attention to the advantages and disadvantages can help employers and employees thrive in the virtual workplace.

Although remote work comes with some underlying challenges, simple strategies focused on communication, collaboration, and connection can go a long way to support satisfaction, innovation, and productivity.

With some adjustments, companies can leverage remote arrangements to enhance work-life balance and attract top-tier talent without sacrificing productivity or company culture.

What’s Next?

At American Global Logistics, we embrace trends to benefit our customers. That includes adapting to the new culture of work sped up by the pandemic.

Our newly gained capabilities make us a more flexible and resilient logistics service provider. As a result, we offer maximum flexibility, responsiveness, and resilience to serve you better.

Our capabilities make us an ideal logistics partner to support your mission. You can join them when you partner with AGL.

 Contact us to leverage our first-class service.

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