Coronavirus: The forced remote workforce experiment
The onset of the Coronavirus is currently forcing many organisations to trial a remote workforce model. For many, this will be an involuntary experiment. As China continues to fight the crippling effects of the virus, organisations globally are urging any employees who’ve had contact with potentially infected persons to work from home for the duration of the incubation period (approximately 2–14 days). This was evidenced in Ireland this week by the online recruiter Indeed, who’s staff were told to work from home amid due to concerns that a staff member may have been exposed to the Coronavirus.
The worldwide response to try to contain the spread of the virus has the potential to result in one of the biggest remote workforce experiments to date. But make no mistake: the global workforce was moving towards a new paradigm well before Coronavirus began making headlines. While the advantages for employees are well known, the significant benefits for employers who offer flexible work options are often overlooked or undervalued. A flexible work culture is no longer a “nice to have” company perk—it’s become an area of competitive advantage for many companies.
The Competitive Advantage of Remote Working
In a fiercely competitive, globalised labour pool, the demand for talent has soared to unprecedented highs in the past number of years. Companies today have to contend with more than just their regional competitors to acquire high-quality talent. Yet, despite numerous studies disproving this theory, there remain firms that believe that allowing their employees to work remotely would be a drain on productivity. “Work from home” to them is synonymous with laying down on the couch and flicking through Netflix. This simply is not the case and there are both economic and other qualitative merits to explain why.
The Productivity Argument
Let’s start with the one rationale most commonly claimed: the productivity argument. The Lincoln 2020 Employment Insights Survey found that remote workers actually work more hours per week than the people who work in office environments. Another Stanford study by Professor Nicholas Bloom conducted research on a sample size of 500 telecommuters and office workers . At the conclusion of the study, they found that the telecommuters were up to 13% more productive than the office workers. The reason attributed to this was that work-from-home employees saved both time and energy by not having to contend with the distractions in an office environment, as well as not having to spend hours commuting to and from work.
There are commercial reasons backing remote work as well. A 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report  claimed that companies can generate about $11,000 in cost savings annually per remote worker. Indeed, the management of companies who are proponents of remote working outline the cost savings delivered by the reduced need for office space and equipment, as well as the lower number of sick days taken as major factors of their success. Beyond the tangible cost savings claimed by these organisations though, there is also a fundamental trend creeping into labour markets. As talent gets scarcer, companies have to shell out more money by way of benefits, wages and/or salaries for the talent they need. Simple supply and demand laws now take over wherein more demand is now chasing the same old fixed amount of supply. This in turn, creates a bidding war between firms where bidders with pockets not as deep as others inevitably lose out. But even for companies that do acquire this talent, they find that they have ended up overpaying drastically versus their initial budget for staffing expenses.
The Diversity Factor
Lastly, the advent of technology has also made it possible for companies to recruit a diverse workforce. A person in Dublin can now video conference with people based out of New York or Singapore to achieve the same outcomes as a physical meeting. This greatly enhances the quality of employees available to employers if they are willing to step outside of the box and accept remote working as a valuable tool to growth. For jobs which can be completed behind a computer, a company based out of San Francisco can now hire a person based out of Beijing with a unique skillset that may not be available or may be too expensive in the USA.
It is these collection of advantages that truly make remote working an exciting prospect and a genuine competitive advantage. Given that there are more millennials in the workforce than ever today, it is apt to note that 69% of millennials consider working from home as a legitimate perk and would even take up to an 8% pay cut for that luxury (Bloomberg) . Gone are the days when money could lure a professional across the world. In today’s rapidly evolving technological environment, the opportunities are endless and the companies that are resistant to this change risk letting themselves become irrelevant in a candidate’s consideration set.
Remote work isn’t just something that makes your employees happy; it’s a competitive advantage that will help you outgrow competitors. And in today’s world, there aren’t many of those competitive advantages left.
As someone much smarter than me said it best: [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” — Bill Gates[/perfectpullquote]
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