Employees from all over the world love working remotely. According to Buffer’s latest report, 99% (that’s not an exaggeration) of all remote workers would want to work remotely until the end of their lives. Even though it has some downsides, as far as employees are concerned, remote work is plain awesome.
But what about companies? Do you really benefit from having a remote workforce and to which extent? Are remote companies such as Toggl, Buffer, Hotjar and Hundred5 all wrong for hiring remotely?
Here are some of the main upsides and downsides to hiring remote employees, based on data from companies across industries and countries of the world.
There are quite a few benefits to working remotely, depending on your industry, the type of company you run, the number of your employees, your country of residence and many others. Here are some of the main upsides of running a remote team.
Bigger talent pool
The country of Estonia has about 1.3 million inhabitants. At the same time, it has one of the highest number of startups per capita in Europe, more than 400 to be precise. At some point in time, software companies in Estonia started realizing that they’re running out of technical talent and they’ll have to look outside the borders of their country to find new employees.
This is the exact story of how Toggl became remote and one of the main reasons why we built Hundred5 – to solve the challenge of hiring remote employees. Simply put, becoming remote means access to a bigger talent pool, whether it’s across the world, a single continent or one country.
Even if you have the best talent within your country, not all employees will be willing to relocate because of a job. In fact, by hiring from the vicinity of your office, you’re decreasing the size of your talent pool significantly.
Which would you rather have, the best developer in the world, or the best developer within driving distance from your office?
Time saved on commuting
I love driving. It’s one of my favorite things to do. However, driving to work in rush hour traffic for five days a week until I retire – not exactly my idea of fun. No matter the type of transportation, commuting to work is impractical, time-consuming, expensive and it hurts the environment.
Depending on where you live and how much you have to commute, you could end up spending a lot of time in transport to work. For example, the average commute for someone living in New York is 39.6 minutes. Doesn’t sound that bad until you realize that’s more than 342 hours every year, or about two weeks.
A remote worker can spend that time on their favorite hobby, sleep in or be with their family. In any case, it’s a whole lot better than sitting in your car/bus/train/boat or whatever you use to get to work.
Moreover, commuting to work also costs a nice chunk of money. Whether you get your own gas or pay for monthly bus/metro passes, it adds up thousands of dollars spent on transportation every year.
Better work/life balance
Once you’re free of the burden of not having to commute every day, you get quite a lot of extra time. Count in the time to prepare for work (get dressed in anything other than sweatpants or an old hoodie and perhaps prepare some food), and you get some more time back to yourself.
Once you start working remotely, you get to experience work/life balance to its fullest. In other words, you get a lot of the life part back from the time spent at work. Staying at home (or spending time in any location other than the office) gives you the freedom to prepare your kids for school, make some lunch, wait for the postman or whatever you need the time for.
Some remote companies have fixed time schedules – 9-5 or whatever their version of the traditional 8-hour workday is. Others (like Hundred5) believe in setting goals and doing as much work as necessary to get them done. This could take an hour or eight per day, as long as the job gets done. With companies like these, employees can work whenever they are the most productive and shape their work around their lives – not the other way around.
Less dead time
Whether you run a company or work for someone else, you probably know this feeling. You have a certain task to do, and then someone else picks it up. You wait for them to finish and literally have nothing else to work on. It’s now 1 PM and you have to wait 4 hours in the office, browsing your Facebook feed and trying not to order another inflatable sofa bed from Amazon.
Since they’re not confined by location or time, remote workers don’t have to stick around if their presence is not needed. Once the work is done, they can simply log off and pick up work when it’s their turn to work on a project.
There are two main reasons why managers and CEOs are against remote work. First, they don’t like the lack of control. Second, they think productivity will suffer. In their minds, employees will spend their day playing video games, knitting, breaking the Guinness world record in the highest number of beers consumed in one minute… Anything except working.
This fear is unfounded, as studies have shown that remote workers are not only as productive as their office counterparts, but in many cases even more productive. Although there can be quite a few distractors when working remotely (more on that later), for the most part, all of the elements that slow down your work in the office are gone.
In a survey of 2,000 participants, the researchers found the most common office obstacles to productivity. For example, the respondents listed loud colleagues (61%) and impromptu meetings (40%) as one of the biggest issues when working within the office. Moreover, 86% of them prefer working alone to reach their maximum productivity.
In studies all around the world, you will find remote work having a positive effect on productivity. The reason is simple – there are fewer distractions and it’s easier for employees to focus their attention on the job at hand. Managers who want this kind of productivity have no choice but to give up on control and let their staff work remotely.
Depending on your specific company, you could save up to $10,000 per year by having just one person work remotely. It’s no secret that many companies go the remote route primarily because of how much money they can save on overhead and other costs annually.
First of all, remote workers are more productive in general, which accounts for a large part of the savings. In one study, it was found that American Express employees who worked from home had 43% more business opportunities than their colleagues working from an office. Happier employees simply perform better.
The biggest savings come from real estate. With most of the workforce in their homes, companies no longer have to lease huge offices in upscale downtown areas of cities and towns. Couple this with the money spent on electricity and other utility bills and the annual savings per worker can be massive. In fact, it’s not unusual for remote companies to get rid of offices altogether and only have an address where they get their mail.
On the other hand, that does not mean that remote companies should pass down all the costs to their employees. As Buffer’s research has shown, the vast majority of remote companies do not reimburse their employees for costs such as internet bills and rent for coworking spaces.
Not all is fine and dandy with remote work. Even though you get better, more productive, focused employees, the situation is not ideal. Here are some of the cons to hiring a remote workforce.
Great communication is necessary
The majority of remote companies have to rely on digital communication to get things done. Whether using chat apps such as Slack or Chanty or video tools like Zoom, Skype or Appear.in, it’s necessary to keep in touch on the regular. This means that besides finding a great performer, your employees need to be great communicators. Sometimes you will find a person that can do one, but not the other.
Especially if you have a team that is split between the office and working remotely, those who are not in the office can often feel left out, shunned and think that their colleagues are intentionally talking behind their back.
Dependence on internet and technology
By far the biggest issue with remote work is that not all jobs can be done remotely. A good percentage of today’s jobs can be done from a laptop anywhere in the world, but there are still quite a few of them that require employees to be immediately present. Unfortunately, jobs in industries like hospitalities will probably never be done remotely.
As many a remote worker can tell you, there are days where you can get an entire days’ work done in 3 hours. Then there are days when you simply cannot do anything at all because of all the distractions around you.
Whether it’s construction workers outside your building, neighbors dropping by, your mother phoning to see if you’re eating well, a courier dropping off a package or something completely different, there are simply tons of distractions when working remotely. If it’s not others, it could be just you – who can sit down and stare at an Excel sheet when the new episode of Game of Thrones is just a click away?
One of the ways to go about this is to ask your employees to have a dedicated workspace. A room or a desk, as long as it’s quiet, comfortable and has great internet access.
Remote work is not a silver bullet that can make every company more successful and productive and their employees happier. However, it’s an excellent way to find better workers who are more productive and satisfied with their work and save quite a bit of money while doing so.
By following practices from large remote companies such as Buffer, Toggl, Trello and Zapier and slowly venturing into the world of remote work, companies from all types of industries can embrace remote work and reap some of its many benefits.