Why CEOs need to trust employees to be effective remote workers

Posted on: 5th October 2020

Reading time:  6 mins

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Research shows that the greatest productivity gains occur when staff members have a choice of where and how to work. Trusting them might be the best decision you make for your business.

Be honest – how do you really feel about your employees continuing to work remotely following COVID-19? If you answered ‘absolutely fine’, well done – join us again in a couple of paragraphs. If you answered anything other than in the affirmative – well, you’re not alone.

Multiple pieces of research from Harvard Business Review show that managers often worry about remote employees working less, or mixing personal responsibilities with work. There are also concerns that allowing employees to work from anywhere could decrease communication and collaboration among co-workers and might constrain the informal learning that typically happens in the office.

However, what if we told you that you were wrong? That not only does productivity improve when staff have a choice of where and how to work (also known as ‘workplace mobility’), but that it can have a tangible effect on your bottom line? That, in fact, trusting your employees to be effective remote workers is good for everyone.

Between 2014 and 2016, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom conducted what would become an iconic piece of research to find out if the performance of employees improved if their company let them stay at home. His research was based on a randomised control trial on 1,000 employees of Ctrip, a Chinese travel company.

The results were staggering. The nearly two-year study showed an astounding productivity boost among the remote workers, equivalent to a full day's work.

How was this possible? Approximately one-third of the productivity increase was attributed to employees having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls. The other two-thirds were attributed to the fact that the people at home worked more hours – they started earlier, took shorter breaks, and worked until the end of the day. They had no commute. They didn’t run errands at lunch. Sick days for employees working from home plummeted.

Since Bloom’s study, plenty of further research has supported the claim that knowledge workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, perform better, and view their company as more innovative than competitors that didn’t offer such choices.

While it’s tempting to check-in on remote employees more frequently than those in the office, the best results come when these employees are granted true autonomy and flexibility, rather than being micromanaged.

So, are you convinced yet? If you’re wondering how to harness these productivity gains for your own organisation, read on for some recommendations.

Allow flexible timings When your employees are working remotely, is there really a need to insist upon a traditional nine-to-five workday? Flexible work schedules are an alternative that allow employees to vary their start and finish times to fit around their other commitments, such as school drop-offs. You may decide it instead makes more sense to offer your team the opportunity to work a prescribed number of hours per pay period and be present during a daily ‘core time’.

Equip your team with the right tech Technology has greatly increased the ability of workers to get things done outside of traditional workspaces. The key is to determine which activities are best suited for flexible work and providing employees with the right tools, including laptops, VPN connections and enhanced antivirus software.

Pre-COVID, at the Los Angeles office of commercial real estate services firm CBRE, there were no assigned offices or workspaces. Instead, employees could choose from 15 different types of workspace depending on their activity. To encourage this mobility and flexibility, CBRE provided employees with work-from-anywhere mobile technology and created a paperless office environment by digitising almost all paper files.

“The firm literally and figuratively brought the walls down to encourage collaboration across divisions, increase productivity, and enable their employees to work in a whole new way,” explains Diane Hoskins a co-CEO at design and architectural firm Gensler.

Support local clusters Instead of making your employees come to you, why not find ways of taking the company to them? In a 2019 study looking at remote teams, researchers highlighted the instance of ‘geographic clusters’ of employees who were all working remotely from similar locations. The research recommended that employees ‘leverage’ these clusters by providing funding for periodic informal meetups, describing it as “a small investment for a potentially significant amount of employee learning”.

It also proposed managers rotate team off-site meetings among locations with significant clusters of remote employees, so that these staff members could “connect with in-office employees as hosts, introducing them to their corner of the world”.

We can support your employees in working closer to home. Our memberships open up thousands of doors in every town, city and transport hub in the world. Click here for more information.

Topics in this article

  • Productivity


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