We’ve written several times about home workers and the telework phenomenon since we started publishing last year, and it’s hard not to. Since 2005 the number of employees that work from home multiple days per week has grown by over 80% representing over 3.3 million U.S. employees, or 2.6% of the total workforce. If you look at part-time home workers, that number jumps to 20% - especially on Fridays, it seems :o) Business of all sizes are increasing their work-from-home workforce and for good reasons, one of which is that employees love it.
During the recent Telework Week sponsored by the U.S. Government, average participants saved an average of 4.5 hours per week in commuting time by teleworking 2 days per week. If that was extended for a full year, those workers would save $4,500 in commuting costs and reclaim nearly ten full days of their lives back from sitting in traffic. “It’s very appealing not only because of the work / life balance it provides, but because all that saved time can lead to an increase in productivity,” says Bill Rice, Executive Sales Leader at Jabra. Rice work works with medium and large businesses to outfit their work-from-home staff with the right audio endpoint technology and has had scores of conversations with business leaders about their migration towards teleworking. “The telework trend is here to stay and it is only accelerating,” says Rice, “There are just too many benefits to businesses and their employees.”
Reasons Businesses are Increasing Their Work-From-Home Workforce
Some of the business benefits that are cited by companies for the growth in their Telework workforce include:
Productivity - According to a recent Harvard Business Review Article, some businesses are seeing more than a 13% productivity increase and lower turnover among home workers. Employees self report being much more productive due to lower numbers of interruptions and non-productive meetings.
War for Talent - Global Workforce Analytics says that 95% of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention. Providing work-from-home flexibility is high on the list of items key employees are looking for. As Rice explained, “Employees are asking themselves if they would rather be stuck in traffic or catching their kids’ soccer playoff game. The company that offers them that opportunity while trusting them to get the job done can differentiate themselves during the hiring process and when it comes to retention.”
Lower Real Estate Costs - More workers telecommuting at least part-time means smaller offices and significant savings. Coinciding with the move to open office spaces, the increase in teleworking is triggering a projected reduction in square footage per employee by 33% between 2010 and 2017.
Improved Tools Allow for Better Management - “Five years ago there were a lot of managers that were hesitant about encouraging employees to work from home due to concerns about their ability to monitor their productivity,” says Rice. With the rise of Unified Communications, mobility, web and video conferencing and cloud-based business apps, those concerns have quickly subsided.
Hiring and Cultural Issues to Consider
There is more to expanding your work-from-home team than just deciding it’s a good idea. According to Rice, there are a number of HR and workflow related issues to consider.
The Right Roles - Some roles are tailor made for teleworking, like marketing, sales, contact center agents or administrative workers. Others, like accounting or engineering need to be considered on a case by case basis. Managers need to put together plans that make sense for their department and their organization, (although recent college grads should probably not be high on the “work from home” list).
The Right Hires - Businesses need to spend the time during the interview process to determine if someone will be a good telework hire. “Home workers need to be self motivated and comfortable with themselves,” says Rice. “If they have prior experience working from home that is a plus, because it takes time to adapt to the lack of face-to-face and social interactions.” Also, always be sure any potential teleworker has a dedicated space for their home office. Being able to “go to work” can make a big difference, even if the commute is only one flight of stairs.
Cultural Cohesiveness - Having a work culture and workflow that incorporates home and remote workers makes a big difference. This is where UC has really come into its own. A business that embraces collaborating with teammates via video or web conference as a first choice quickly makes up for the diminishing number of water cooler discussions. According to Rice, “In some ways, it tightens relationships with the right people. Presence Management and instant messaging means rapid access to your colleagues and team members and means easier collaboration.”
Providing Teleworkers With The Right Technology
Home workers have somewhat unique needs when it comes to technology. Businesses need to make sure they are outfitted with tools that maximize connectedness and productivity. Some tools that are “must-haves” include:
Unified Communications and Collaboration: Whether this is Skype for Business, Cisco Jabber or a UCaaS platform like 8x8 or WestIP - or for smaller businesses, just plain old Skype - work from home employees need to be connected and ready to collaborate. Presence management and IM are crucial for instant access to colleagues and customers, as are the voice and video conferencing capabilities that allow for internal and external meetings. Extending these capabilities onto mobile devices via apps allows teleworkers to bring that cohesive connectivity on the road.
Audio Endpoints: When it comes to productivity increases few things equal hands free audio. Being able to type and collaborate while using a high-quality headset or a desktop speakerphone is a revelation to most home workers who have never used one before. According to Rice “Having a device that can easily go back and forth between calls on your phone, your mobile or your computer can make all the difference for a marketer or a salesperson, while a corded headset is great for a home contact center agent.”
Other Vital Tech for Home Workers: Start with a very solid, reliable broadband connection, layer in a VPN if necessary. Have cloud based storage and email available. Suggest mobile apps that are company approved like Box or OneBox for storage. And if it’s me, I provide every teleworker with a second monitor if they don’t already have one. As a long time teleworker myself, my second monitor and my headset provide huge productivity increases...I couldn’t live without them.
How is your business approaching the growth in remote workers? Do you have a process for hiring new work-from-home employees? What about deciding which existing employees are given the opportunity to work from home at least part time? What tools are you outfitting them with? Let us know in the comments section below.