Remote Work is on the Wishlist This Year

iStock_000007740531XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

What are women wishing for this year? According to a new survey from Microsoft Office 365 and 85 Broads, the answer is a more flexible work arrangement. According to a survey of members of the women’s networking group 85 Broads, a full 90% of respondents would prefer a regular remote working schedule, and 81% of women said they’d be more satisfied with their jobs as a result of remote working. Given the opportunity, they would work from home 3.1 days per week.

That’s more than half the week away from the office! The main reasons women desired a more flexible work arrangement included work/life issues, better productivity, and a shorter commute. In fact, it is notable that so many individuals felt being at work prevented them from getting work done. What is it about the workplace that is so draining?

The Productivity Arrangement

Sixty-two percent of respondents said their personal productivity improves “very much” or “somewhat” while working remotely – and they’re not the only ones. According to a new Princeton study out of China, the airfare and ticketing department at a travel company saw the productivity of home-workers improve significantly compared to office workers. A study of 250 individuals said home-workers answered 15% more calls, took fewer breaks and sick days, and were late less frequently.

And, according to Slate, the home-workers were happier. The article says:

“The home-work group reported less “work exhaustion,” a more positive attitude towards their jobs, and were nearly 50 percent less likely to say they were planning to quit at the end of the eight months. (In fact the quit rate among home-office workers during the experiment was about one-half of what it was for those making the commute.)”

Similarly, avoiding a long commute was one of the top five reasons given to work remotely in the 85 Broads survey. The top reason that women gave for desiring a flexible work arrangement, however, was facilitating a “better balance of work and home priorities” (23%).

Working from home might enable women to stay home in the morning until the kids go to school, schedule appointments without having to take a sick day, or deal with other demands that are location-specific. Interestingly, only 34% of the women in the survey said they had a child in their household. The desire for remote work isn’t limited to working mothers. Rather, it’s a productivity booster for individuals who don’t want to deal with needless workplace stress and long commutes.

Adapting to Remote Work

According to Maggie Chan Jones, Director of Cloud Services at Microsoft, a key component to driving better results from remote work is implementing the appropriate technology. She said, “For information workers, much of their work could be conducted from home or a satellite office. One study estimated that in 2000 more than half of all jobs were amenable to telecommuting, at least on a part-time basis, and undoubtedly that fraction has increased since then as a result of the spread of high-speed Internet and mobile technology. As expected, the desire (and need) to work remotely has to do with having to balance work and personal priorities at an accelerated pace.”

In fact, about half of the respondents (49%) to the study said technology was a challenge when it came to remote working, reporting issues like accessing network files and working in a secure IT environment. The biggest technological challenge came down to interpersonal issues like connecting with colleagues.

The main “pet peeves” that respondents had about their coworkers’ remote work habits was a lack of a quick response and the inability to work face to face. Chan Jones said, “A combination of the right technology with proper etiquette can eliminate issues associated with inaccessibility and slow response times. By using technologies (like Microsoft Office 365’s instant messaging and conference capabilities), remote workers can host real-time chats and video conferences from wherever they are, which provides instant access and collaboration with colleagues.”

She continued, “Additionally, remote working etiquette should be followed, including:

  • Utilizing technologies that enable colleagues to know when you are available. This will let people know when you are or are not online and will also help you to prioritize and stay productive.
  • Establishing a schedule. Keep home work hours similar to those you would keep at an office. Your manager, coworkers and customers appreciate knowing when you are available.
  • Being present. Check in with your team regularly throughout the day and be responsive to their questions and comments.”

Twenty percent of individuals surveyed said they believed their remote working coworkers did less work than those in the office (even though the productivity research shows that this is probably not true). These challenges around perception and collaboration can be overcome – if leadership is up to the task.

Recently Alison Maitland told us about the future of work – and she said that while technology is a component of the shift to a more flexible and productive environment, it’s not the only issue. She said, “It’s not enough to introduce new technology to the workplace. And it’s not enough to redesign workplaces. Those are just they physical manifestations. It’s critical for leaders and managers to examine their attitudes toward flexibility and they may need to change attitudes and practices.”