The Future Is Here, and It’s Remote: Why Companies Can’t Afford Not to Go Virtual

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Good news, office workers of the world: Your office may be about to close!

Yes, that really is a great thing, because it gives you more power. Wouldn’t you rather skip your commute, work when you’re freshest, and get the job done in a way that best uses your skills? Your boss may soon ask you to do just that.

Why? Because the virtual office trend is building. Once a nice-to-have perk, the option to telecommute is fast becoming a dealmaker for top talent.

Competition for the best candidates is high, and employer’s tools for attracting them are finite. With so many companies now providing them, flex time, wellness programs, and skill-building opportunities are nearly maxed out as innovative benefits. When it comes to what employees really want — more autonomy over their work lives — the comforts of home may be the best resources.

Now, while it’s an employee’s market, is the time to cast votes for remote work. If you’re looking for a new position, let your interviewer know how important a remote option is to you. If you’re an employer, pay attention to what your current staff really wants — or watch them leave. In a recent survey of American office workers commissioned by Zapier, 95 percent of respondents said they wanted to work off site — and 74 percent would gladly switch jobs to do that!

The good news is that switching to a virtual office pays off for everybody.

The Benefits of Going Virtual for Business

For employers looking to attract and retain the best talent, a telecommuting option is a big draw that doesn’t require much investment. Better yet, remote work arrangements can even boost the company’s balance sheet.

In a 2013 study of remote work arrangements at a Chinese travel agency, Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom found the company saved nearly $2000 per employee. Furthermore, retention rates were 50 percent higher among the employees who worked from home — which represents additional cost savings in the form of fewer new hires.

I have seen similar cost benefits in my own small business. Compelled by the economic collapse in the US, my company ditched the office and went fully remote 10 years ago — and it was the best decision we ever made. The hurdles of working remotely became strengths. The need for better communication led to greater transparency and team cohesion. A higher level of trust among staff members translated to higher productivity, and our sales growth nearly doubled over the course of three years.

Today, businesses no longer need as dire a reason to go remote. In fact, given all the concrete benefits telecommuting has been shown to afford, companies will soon need a good excuse not to offer remote work. Positive impacts on profit, productivity, and employee satisfaction have already been documented, and additional factors in favor of telecommuting — such as rising transportation costs and environmental impacts — will only become more compelling in the coming years.

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My business is in the minority nationally, as just about 5 percent of Americans work from home all the time. However, the US is behind in the trend: Globally speaking, 18 percent of employees work remotely full-time. As the global wave builds, American businesses will surely to want to catch it.

What Workers Get From Telecommuting

The ability to work from home (or a shared office space of choice) checks off so many of employees’ preferences that it can literally change the way they think about work. As a result, employees are more engaged, in better health, and have more money in their pockets.

The obvious savings come from cutting transportation costs, but there’s more. Remote workers may spend less on wardrobes, meals, and other incidentals. When they are satisfied and stick with a job, they eliminate unemployment downtime. If they do sign on with a new organization that lets them telecommute from anywhere, they avoid the stress and expense of relocation.

Stress relief is an oft-cited bonus of remote work. Telecommuters have more time and fewer frustrations in their lives, and that pays off in the form of better health. Employees who set their own work hours have an easier time fitting exercise into their schedules. Furthermore, because they’re not working around other people all day, they’re less exposed to illness — which means fewer colds and flus.

But the mental health benefits may be most striking of all. Without a daily commute, employees have more time to do things that support their mental well-being. Plus, the autonomy they gain over their schedules and work styles motivates them to do great work on their own terms.

A growing number of people are also concerned with how their lifestyles impact the planet, and traveling less is one way to greatly reduce your carbon footprint. Environmentally conscious employees can feel good about working for a company that helps them cut emissions, and business leaders can improve their company brands by pointing to the good their off-site policies do for the world.

As environmental concerns — and the competition for top talent — increase, the future is looking more and more as though it belongs to remote workers.

Chris Dyer is founder and CEO of PeopleG2 and author of The Power of Company Culture .

By Chris Dyer