I have long had the desire to convince companies to provide remote work options. (No, I do not mean increasing your few remote jobs from 3% to 10%, I mean completely rebuilding your business model to ensure that employees work from home at least part-time.) Recently I have come to realize that an important topic is being left out of remote work discussions: productivity-based salaries.
Whether employees are in the office or at home, there are inherent challenges to keeping your employees engaged and engendering their best work. But with the rising generation of millennials who cannot see the need to have employees sit in the same large room to get work done, it is critical that we recognize that the workplace is changing - in more ways than 'just' going remote.
But before I continue, let me pause and mention the most recognized benefits to remote work:
1. Hire Based on Talent, Not Location
Recruiting from a only a couple of cities significantly limits our talent pool.
2. Hire Based on Talent, Not Ability to Put in the Hours
I talk more about this later in the article, but suffice it to say, we're missing out on an entire workforce simply because they can't put in 40 hours in an office environment.
3. Increased Productivity for Most Workers
While I don't necessarily have any data to prove it, most of us recognize that the office is one of the most distracting places in existence. Interruptions from fellow employees, unnecessary meetings, and a myriad of other distractions get in the way from true productivity.
4. Decreased Costs for Office Buildings
I think this one is self-explanatory. Just imagine how much it costs to keep the Willis Tower stocked with toilet paper.
5. Less Time Wasted Commuting
Again, I don't think I need to delve into this one.
6. More Flexibility = Increase in Morale + Loyalty = Increased Retention
This is a hard time for employee retention. Between dips in the market, less benefits, job lay-offs and antsy millennials, companies are desperate to find other ways to incentivize loyalty. I cannot think of a cheaper way to bribe employees than providing flexibility.
7. It's Where the World is Headed
The increase in remote jobs is not a surprise. Nor is it just a fad. This is where the world is headed and companies can either adapt or lose their best employees to companies that have already gone remote.
Other than writing my blog post, Proud to Produce, I have not shared why I am so passionate about the need for remote work options.
I have a health problem that prohibits me from working 40 hours per week consistently and long-term. The problem is, in order to get benefits, I MUST work full-time. Yes, there is the option of SSI - a viable solution for many - but my problem isn't getting the work done, it's getting in the hours.
In my last job, even with employers that worked with me beyond the call of duty, I still found myself hardly able to put in the hours needed to be "full-time". Because my energy was limited, I studied every book, blog and TED talk possible to find ways to max my efficiency in the few hours I could think clearly. My wonderful boss told me one day that I did just as much work in my few hours as his past employees did with their 40 hours.
So this worked for a while, but then I recognized that the longer I went working full-time, the less energy I had each week. The less efficient hours I had per day. I was fighting a losing battle.
I loved this job and it was the hardest decision of my life to quit. I had to leave. Not because I wasn't getting my work done. (I was getting all I needed to get done and more.) Not because I didn't like the work I was doing. (It was extremely meaningful and gave me the opportunity to make a difference.) Not because I hated my co-workers. (I had the best co-workers in the world!)
Nope. I had to leave because I had used up all of my sick time and PTO to reach the hour quota required each week to keep my benefits. My ability to sit in a chair long enough trumped my ability to finish my work.
About 3 months after quitting, my employer called and asked if I would work for them as an online contractor/consultant. This miracle was exactly what I needed. Finally, the opportunity to max what limited energy my body had and not waste it on simply putting in hours at the office.
Which brings me to the point of this post:
Companies, it is time to promote project-based employment. The assumption that every job in the United States takes exactly 40 hours/week to complete is not just old-fashioned, it's a farce. Assign employees (office and remote employees) a set amount of work or projects and pay them for the work they produce. I'm not talking about contract work, I'm talking about getting paid a salary for getting the work done, regardless of how few hours it may take.
This kind of work structure does three things:
1. Rewards Efficient Employees
When an employee is done with their work, let them go home. The current workforce, like never before, increasingly prefers to be rewarded with time rather than benefits (or even pay increases). In a day and age when time seems non-existent, more employees desire the flexibility to hang out with family or friends, travel the world, or serve in their communities.
2. Engenders Creativity
In the above paragraph I said: "When an employee is done with their work, let them go home." I'm going to re-state that: When an employee is done with their work, ENCOURAGE them to go home. Employees with other interests, more time, more energy, more life experiences, more family time, are more creative in the office. Employees that have time to travel or work remotely from abroad will incorporate their personal growth into their projects. Employees that can help their families as needed will be more engaged when they are working.
3. Enables You to Hire or Fire Employees Based on Productivity
This kind of work option focuses on what an employee produces, not how much time the employee spends in the office. An assumption I see companies make is that office time means productive time. That could not be further from the truth. The majority of employers want to promote the hard workers, not just those who run around pretending to be busy or stay late simply to get in their 'face time' with the boss. For those of naysayers who say employees with remote jobs can easily take advantage of the system, I will only say this: you have the power. The amount of work an employee submits is the perfect indication as to whether they're taking advantage of your generosity or not. THE best way to ensure you that you give raises or promotions to the best employees is to look at what they produce: Are they getting done what you're paying them to do?
I recognize that not all jobs can be structured to be remote or project-based. Working as a nurse certainly needs "face time" with the patients. And yes, there are times when putting in long hours at the office to finish a project before a deadline is needed. But I would be willing to bet that there are more jobs than we think that can restructured to be remote and/or project-based positions. This isn't a new concept; it is simply a combination of what we call contract and salary work.
I recognize that not all employees will find working from home to be more productive or time saving. Some will prefer the consistency of structured work weeks and will prefer staying with their current situation. But simply by giving them the option of remote employment, you will have more loyal and satisfied employees. (Keep in mind that 80% of employees, according to research done at Georgetown University, would at least like the option of working from home every once in a while.)
I recognize that there are other challenges inherent in having remote employees, such as time differences and...well, I'm having a hard time thinking of another one that hasn't been refuted either in this post or by research...but the point is, I understand that there are many unknowns to transitioning. But when you calculate the costs of building and maintaining office buildings, high employee turnover from dissatisfaction, and employees taking time off for family emergencies or health conditions, I am convinced that most companies will find going remote to be a step forward.
Some companies have already made the transition and are doing extremely well. Some companies started a remote program without support or structure and when it flopped, determined it will never be 'for them'. (If at once you don't succeed, don't try again...?) Most companies, unfortunately, are scared to even open the door into remote work options. (Though most of the owners of these companies would love to work from home themselves - or already do.) Whatever company you are in this list - remember, remote work is the future. The near future. It is in your company's best interest to adapt sooner rather than later.
At some point, down the line, when remote jobs are the standard and not the exception, our kids or grandkids will look back and laugh at the thought of large warehouses holding people working on computers. This is a hard transition period for businesses, but remote employment will quickly become the new norm.
I encourage all companies to find ways to make their positions more flexible, remote, and project-based. The day of exchanging hours for money is almost over - it will soon become an exchange of productivity for salaries.
This is a good thing for companies. Gone will be the days when you wrestled to identify your legitimately good employees. Gone will be the days when you forked out millions of dollars for large office buildings (with toilet paper, computers, phones, desks, cafeterias). Gone will be the days when you had to personally deal with every employee who needed to leave and handle a family emergency. Gone will be the days when employees were forced to sit for hours simply to put in their time (on your bill).
I am grateful for an employer who went to bat to find me a remote position. But I cannot help but wonder who we have excluded from our workforce, not because of lack of ability, but because of our 40-hour, office-bound, city-centric work environments. Single mothers? People with disabilities? Millennial nomads? Family caregivers? International experts?
Of all the reasons to go remote, this is the most important. We are missing out on an entire pool of intelligent and loyal employees who could take our companies to the next level. In the past, this has been no one's fault - there was no internet back then. But with the miracle of the internet that brings information and communication to our fingertips, there are opportunities our parents couldn't have even imagined. It is an exciting time!
The most successful transitions are when teams of people go remote together (not individuals). What team in your company do you feel would rise to the challenge?
14 May 2016
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