The Rise of the Remote Worker

29 July 2015

Working From Home is Here to Stay

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Working from home has been on a steady increase over the past few years, with numbers from the United States Census Bureau suggesting the figures of those working from home increased to 4.3% in the last US Census. If you look deeper into the numbers, there is also an interesting increase in at-home working from industries like construction (361,000), manufacturing (390,000) and utilities (173,000) with a significant amount of these workers likely working off-site on drafting, engineering and management positions. Let’s bear in mind, these are from 2010 numbers and with recent technological advances these figures could be even higher in the next Bureau survey.

A more recent report by Stanford University however, looks at the practical side of working from home (with thanks to a real life experiment) and throws out the question, can it improve worker productivity and how does it affect the your worker’s life balance?

The Stats

There was a 4.2 million increase in home-based workers in the US between 1997 and 2010, according to the Bureau with advances in communications and information technologies being cited as the main reason for the increase.

13.4 million people worked at least one day from home, according to the numbers.

New 2014 numbers released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says nearly one in four workers conducted some, or all, of their work from home. The number represents an increase from 19% in 2003, pointing to a significant shift in that direction.

It’s very easy to get lost in a bunch of figures, but broadly they do show a shift towards a workforce that is a lot more flexible and open to change. A majority of this is down to technological changes, with Skype and Google Hangouts making it easier for your employees to communicate and keep in touch with HQ. Not all employers favor this new shift though. Recently, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer found herself in hot water after she pulled the plug on employees working from home. That decision may turn out to be a bad one for Yahoo if you believe a new 2015 study from Stanford University that is.

Impact on Worker Productivity

According to the study, which looked at 249 at-home workers in a Chinese travel firm Ctrip, the productivity of employees went up by 13% over the nine months of the experiment. According to the study, this improvement came “mainly from a 9% increase in the number of minutes they worked during their shifts” with the remaining 4% coming from “home workers increasing the number of calls per minute worked.” According to the study, the office and home workers used all the same equipment and faced the same “work order flow from a common central server, carried out the same tasks, and were compensated under the same pay system, which included an element of individual performance pay,” with the only difference being the location of work. The study’s home workers also reported a higher level of worker satisfaction with the firm raising productivity levels between 20% or 30% over the course of the experiment and saving $2,000 a year per employee. The firm has now allowed its employees to pick the working from home option, which has increased employee performance from 13% during the survey to 22% after the survey.

Impact on Work Life Balance

However, two thirds of the 249 workers decided to work from the office “citing concerns over the loneliness of home working”. This is something that could become a potential problem for your employees, if you decide to allow them to work from home. That’s why some contractors and independent workers are choosing co-sharing workspaces in order to reduce isolation, according to a recent piece by Forbes “The big draw of co-working is the prospect of community,” says the piece. Despite the obvious concerns about workers slacking off, your employees, once sufficiently resourced should be able to do their job just as well if not better than under your watchful gaze. In fact the greatest problem appears to be that at-home workers struggle most with switching off. This why it’s important for your employees to set schedules, create physical boundaries and unplug when their day ends, according to a blog post from Sqwiggle.

All that being said, if you believe all the numbers there has been a shift towards home-based workers, with many industries including construction and manufacturing being heavily influenced by this new approach. What does it say to you as an employer? That a shift towards working from home has begun and it may be here to stay.

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Sonya Sikra

Sonya is the Brand Strategy Manager at GoContractor. She specializes in communicating how implementing tech in construction can drive productivity and profit.

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