The Business Case For Remote Work
Global Workplace Analytics published a comprehensive report on the benefits to employers, employees, the environment, and society. The findings are crystal clear: remote work is here to stay.
Learning from the pandemic
The report, titled 'The business case for remote work', draws from a wide range of research papers and surveys and provides an interesting insight into the potential benefits of sustained remote work.
Many like to make the conversation about remote work black or white— either everyone is in the office, or everyone is remote. This is both shortsighted and unwise.
Why? Because as with many things in life, beauty lies in the balance.
Consider this: Roughly 95 percent of U.S. office workers worked from their homes for three or more days a week during the pandemic. Ninety-five freaking percent. That’s basically one big test case that most everyone was forced to participate in, to an extent.
And guess what? 82 percent of the workers surveyed said they’d like to keep working remotely at least once per week after the pandemic is over. On the other hand, a slightly insignificant (and probably robotic) three percent said they’d rather forgo working remotely post-pandemic. Okay.
Anyway, at the same time, less than a fifth (19 percent) say they want to work fully remote. The majority prefer a mix of both. In the U.S., the preference averages out to be 2.5 days a week.
Why? Because they are fearful that a fully remote approach would likely lead to the erosion of the established work culture at that business. This notion seems a bit blah at first, but moving from fully on-premises to fully remote can actually make it more difficult for these companies to onboard new employees, make things harder for parents who have young children running all over the place and screaming at home, and even deprive young employees of the subtle mentorship and guidance that happens when they are physically around more experienced colleagues.
Luckily, remote work shouldn't be a problem for many. The benefits for those with remote-compatible jobs (45 percent) are omnipresent and can be summarized into three categories: those for employees, employers, and environment & society.
More remote work doesn't just bring in more time and money, it also benefits the health of employees.
Employees who can work remotely at least a few times a week—and actually want to—can preserve three valuable commodities: time, money, and their health.
1. More time
Aside from being liberated from the need to wear pants, the first thing most people think about when toying with the idea of working from home is the elimination of the daily commute—which is potentially a massive time-saver for many.
Think about it. U.S. workers spend the equivalent of 28 days a year commuting. Imagine spending the entire month of a non-leap year February stuck in a perpetual commute. Working remotely even half the time would shave off 14 of those days, leaving you with just a half of a February spent commuting.
Roughly 20 percent of workers have it even worse: their one-way commutes exceed an hour a day, equating to 60 days a year. Half-time remote work would lop off a full 30 days of being stuck in traffic, which most would surely take unless they have an inherent affinity for red lights, subways, and bus stops.
What would you do with an extra 14-30 days’ worth of hours each year? Well, you can do whatever you want, obviously, but it definitely won’t be spent in traffic.
2. More money
Yes, reducing the commute also means having more money in the bank.
By staying home half the time, a typical worker can save anywhere from $640 to $6,400 a year by reducing their spending on things like transportation, parking, gas, work clothes (and dry cleaning), food, and serendipity spending on stuff like gifts, impulsive lunchtime shopping, etc. Just whatever you spend by going into work, cut it in half in this scenario; that’s the point.
Oh, and these hypothetical figures account for increased utility bills and food at home, in case you were about to bust out a “well, actually” in response.
Depending on their situations, some workers could further reduce costs by:
- Selling their car
- Negotiating a new auto insurance premium (since they won’t be commuting as much)
- Moving to a different, less expensive area that’s not as close to their physical workplace
- Lowering any daycare, after-school, or eldercare costs
Whatever your work situation is, staying home half the time presents multiple opportunities to save some cash.
3. Better health
More remote work doesn't just bring in more time and money, it also benefits the health of employees.
Not that you need a study to really prove this, but long commutes have been linked to higher levels of stress (surprise), increased anxiety and depression, higher risks of heart issues like hypertension, increased obesity, and really just poor heart health in general. All of this, simply from long commutes.
Here are some stats gleaned from what surveyed remote workers say:
- 77% report having a better work/life balance between
- 69% report an improvement to their well-being—due to factors like more sleep and less stress
- 54% report eating healthier
- 48% report exercising more often
The fact that employees benefit from policy change is, in most companies, not enough to actually make a change happen. However, when employers benefit from more money, more time, and more productivity, all of a sudden, an interest to change is sparked.
Luckily, for remote work, that's the case. So let’s discuss three of the most important ones.
1. Reduced office costs
Let's start with the three biggest reasons as to why company leaders enact change: money, money, money.
An employer that shells out $7,700 per employee, per year for their hallowed office space would save nearly $2k per half-time remote worker per year. How? By simply reducing their real estate footprint by a measly 25 percent for each half-time remote worker on staff. And as for the most expensive cities in the U.S.? The savings would increase by a factor of nearly five times that amount.
While there's some extra cost involved for giving stipends to purchase home office equipment, better tools, and stuff like that (around $666 per remote worker per year), there's still quite a lot to be saved.
So yes, it’s true that employers may implement remote work as a strategy to cut costs, but many see that the true value of remote work centers on human capital benefits.
You’re clearly intrigued, so let's look at some of those.
2. Increased productivity
Another one of those favorite yardsticks for success: productivity. Even in those terms, remote work gets shit done. Again, let’s turn to those who were surveyed:
- Remote workers said they gained an average of 35 working minutes a day due to fewer interruptions at their home (as opposed to constant interruptions at an office).
- Remote workers also reported voluntarily working an average of 47 percent of the time they would have otherwise spent stuck in their typical commute. That’s an additional seven days per year of good ‘ol productivity.
When considering these two factors, a half-time remote worker increases their productivity by the equivalent of 16 workdays a year.
Productivity, productivity, productivity. Every employer and C-suite type just loves increased productivity. And remote work increases it—which means they should love remote work.
3. Reduced absenteeism
Here’s a fact: Most workers who call in sick are extremely not sick. Statistics show that nearly 70 percent of unplanned work absences are actually due to personal situations, family issues, stress, or being literally sick of work. Sick of work to the point of calling in sick to work.
That’s an astounding number. Depressing, even.
Fortunately, remote work reduces absenteeism because remote workers:
- Are not as exposed to sick coworkers who still come into work
- Limit their exposure to occupational and environmental risks
- Are still capable of working—even if they don’t feel well enough to physically show up at work
- Can handle personal appointments without the need to take the entire day or half-day off
- Lessen the stresses that come from commuting, interruptions, and all the standard office politics bullshit
- Tend to sleep better (and longer), eat healthier, and exercise more
Plenty of case studies have shown that the option to work remotely can reduce absenteeism anywhere from 26 percent to 88 percent. That’s actually kind of a hilarious window between two figures, but even the bottom number of 26 percent is a vast improvement.
When adding and subtracting some more numbers (details here), the report concludes as follows:
"[A] typical U.S. employer can save $11,000 a year for each half-time (2 to 3 day a week) remote worker. That’s over $1M for every thousand employees!"
What's not to love?!
Environmental & societal benefits
But wait, there's more! We do, as they say, live in a society. Thankfully, the potential benefits of remote work for the environment—and society in general—are just as abundant.
Let’s examine a few. Remote work might help to:
- Decrease the risks stemming from human congestion
- Decrease wear and tear on a city’s transportation infrastructure
- Increase productivity among even non-remote workers by cutting down their travel times (and shortening their commutes)
- Reduce travel, even more, thanks to the widespread use of virtual-based tech
- Encourage a fuller, more robust employment for the disabled who can work from home
- Increase the standard of living in rural and economically disadvantaged areas
- Revitalize cities by reducing congestion and traffic and all the problems that come from them—such as dissuading visitors and tourists
- Make a bigger dent in the housing crisis by repurposing unneeded office spaces into residential buildings
Employers may implement remote work as a strategy to cut costs, but the true value of remote work centers on human capital benefits.
We rest our case
The case is clear: let's make the option of remote work available to any and all remote-compatible jobs out there. All of the associated myths and concerns people had with the prospect of an increase of remote work has proven to be typical hysteria about nothing.
The bottom line is this: we can improve the lives of employees while benefiting employers. This is an actual thing that can happen and IS happening already. Oh, and don’t forget, both the environment and society benefit too. No big deal.
This is not hard. Everyone wins with remote work. Literally, everyone.
And with that, we rest our case.
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Recently, a CEO told us something along the lines of this: "I am trying to set a bit of a frame for a remuneration conversation—for myself and other leaders. One way of talking about it is the ‘appropriate´ ratio of lowest to highest paid, from the front lines to CEO. I also recall you saying that if you ask employees what they think, the usual response is in the order of 6 to 8 times. Is my memory accurate? Are you aware of any empirical basis for this? Or have I made it up?!"
The vast majority of employers have been fiercely against the idea of remote work for ages. Before the pandemic hit, most companies lacked the trust and flexibility (and imagination, apparently) to believe it would benefit themselves and their employees.
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