Monday Mornings with Madison

Telecommuting and Remote Work, Part 1

Word Count: 1,220
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

The Rise of Telecommuting / Remote Work

Working from home regularly — referred to as telecommuting for those who live near their employer and remote work for those who live far away and cannot go to their workplace on a daily basis – has been on the rise for years.  In fact, it increased 173% in the last 15 years.  That is because more U.S. employers began offering a flexible workplace option.  One reason is the availability of sophisticated, affordable online tools that make remote work more seamless.  Today, larger companies are more likely to offer telecommuting options to their employees, and employers in densely populated areas — such as the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions — are more likely to allow telecommuting.

However, the latest available statistics on the work-at-home/telework population in the U.S. — based on an analysis of 2005-2018 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau) conducted by Global Workplace Analytics and released in August 2019 — shows that just five million employees work from home half-time or more.  That is only about 3.8 % of the 130,000,000 million people in the U.S. workforce, not including those who are self-employed.  This is true even though 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and 80%-90% of all U.S. employees say they’d like to telework at least part-time.  And this is the case even though 43% of the workforce already works remotely some amount of time with some frequency, according to a Gallup poll.

So most employees already telecommute part-time and want to telecommute more.  And most employees hold a job that is compatible with telecommuting at least part-time.  And yet, only 7% of employers offer remote work or telecommuting to the majority of their employees.   In fact, despite the increase in people working from home, the vast majority of employees (96%) still go to their workplace at least half of every work week.   Two days a week seems to be the sweet spot that balances concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).  That may all be about to change radically because of the Coronavirus.

Telecommuting may be the Silver Lining
Companies that want to keep from shutting down to prevent the spread of the virus are turning to remote work and telecommuting.  Companies are starting to ask all employees that can to work from home.  Employers see this as a measure of last resort.  But perhaps they should look at the silver lining of this cloud?

According to Global Workplace Analytics, if those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time, the national savings is estimated to total over $700 Billion a year.  If they did it full time, then, the saving would be $1.4 Trillion a year.  Businesses would save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year or $22,000 for a full-time telecommuter.  And telecommuting employees would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year for part-time telecommuting, and $4,000 to $14,000 for telecommuting full-time.   That is an instant raise.  As a bonus, greenhouse gas emissions would also drop equal to taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.  So this could be economically positive for employers and employees alike.

Of course, the problem is that companies are having to make this change in a snap, from one day to the next.  And, working remotely can have its challenges.  Here are some things for management to keep in mind in ramping up to a 100% remote team.

1. Set Clear Expectations
How long it takes to do a job is unclear to most everyone except the person doing the job.  And even for that person, it may vary.  To an outsider, most any task could seem to take 5-10 minutes.  But the job is likely more involved than it seems.  For managers, making sure to have clear expectations from those who work remotely about how long any project, task or job will take.  This means being realistic, somewhat flexible and allowing wiggle room for unexpected issues.

2. Be Available and Responsive
According to author Mark Sanborn, “In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.”   This is definitely true of teamwork among remote employees.  Managers must give remote employees as much access as possible.  Remember, the ability to ask a question when a person passes in the hallway doesn’t happen for remote workers.  There is no stopping by the desk, or asking a question while in the lunchroom.  Remote employees don’t have that access and can feel disconnected and frustrated at an inability to get feedback.  So it is important to respond to them as quickly as possible.

3. Engage Regularly
For remote workers, isolation can be the enemy.   Remote employees can easily end up wondering how they’re doing and if all is well with their performance.  Managers and team members should engage with remote workers on a regular basis – that means daily — through some kind of communication tool.  Using multiple channels to communicate is important.  Cell phone.  Texting.  Instant messaging app such as Slack.  Email.  More is better.

Also, plan a regularly scheduled face-to-face meeting using a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or Skype.  This can happen daily, weekly or biweekly depending on the type of work and need for interaction.  Circulate an internal eNews Bulletin to keep everyone on the same page about major happenings or announcements.   This constant interaction and engagement helps remote workers feel connected to the organization.

4.  Train for Remote Work
Offer online training to help employees become better at working remotely (which requires different set of skills than in-person work).   Employees must become much better communicators in both writing and by phone.  They can no longer rely on body language or social communication that happens just by being in close proximity.  There must be more precise language used and more intentionality in sharing information.  For many, this doesn’t come naturally.  That’s where a little training can go a long way.

5.  Establish Trust Boundaries
Managers may have trouble embracing a remote workforce because there’s an uncertainty about whether or not the work will get completed at the same level or in the same timeframe as if they were in the office.  To avoid those concerns, set up remote work guidelines.  Here are some examples.  Emails that need a response should be responded to within 24 hours.  Text or call for urgent matters.  No calls between certain hours to ensure remote employees don’t end up working around the clock, especially if the company has employees in different time zones.

6.  Create a Culture of Inclusivity
It is easy to relegate remote staff to secondary consideration.  It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that communication and connection among all members of the team are valued and no remote employee is excluded or sidelined.

7.  Reinforce a Sense of Community
Working remotely can be a lonely experience.  Building a sense of community is an important part of having and keeping an engaged remote workforce. Technology can help with that too.  Create dedicated spaces for celebrating company milestones, communicating big events, and giving recognition.  This helps preserve the corporate culture that would happen more naturally in the office, and which is a big part of increasing connection and driving productivity.

Next week, we will explore additional tips for managing a fully remote team, and learn about some of the things that no one ever mentions when discussing remote work.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“You can never over-communicate as a leader at a company, but at a remote company, that is even more true.  Because you don’t physically see people in-person, information doesn’t spread in the same way, so leaders need to do the heavy lifting for evangelizing the message.” Claire Lew


© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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