Why firms needn’t fear remote working
Firms can reap the benefits of remote working beyond savings on office space – including attracting new talent and keeping staff for longer.
Sticking to traditional working hours of nine-to-five Monday to Friday – and doing it from the office – is a challenge at the best of times. With delayed trains and overcrowded buses, routine healthcare appointments, family dramas, childcare crises and caring commitments, it’s easy to see why so many employees often need to start late or leave the office early.
No wonder remote working is one of the most popular employee benefits around today. But accountancy firms, especially the larger ones, have some catching up to do on the remote working front. For example, only 3% of job opportunities offered by PwC – which does offer flexible working hours – appear to be advertised as remote, according to Flexjobs’ data.
The irony is that white-collar jobs and remote working are often a match made in heaven, with just a smartphone, laptop and software required to do the job. And the rewards aren’t just for employees: firms have much to gain from offering flexibility.
South Wales-based practitioner Phil Bessant, for example, has given all his staff the opportunity to work from home or at their clients’ premises whenever possible – and he’s even considering closing his office altogether.
A great believer in having a work-life balance, Bessant explained the reasons behind his firm’s flexible office environment in a recent Practice Talk interview: “There is someone answering the phone in the office, but other than that, the rest of the team are either working out with clients or from home. It's made a massive difference to our efficiency…. Since we've started remote working we’ve all worked an awful lot fewer weekends.”
And with the recent coronavirus outbreak, Jennifer Adams used this as a chance to advocate remote working. “Think of the savings in travel costs, time, environment as there won’t be so many cars or buses on the road and a possible reduction in car accidents,” she explained.
AccountingWEB reader mbee was fully behind this quarantine idea: “All our programs are cloud-based so there is very little [our employees] can't do at home.” Whilst others like FirstTab were not sold on the remote working lifestyle. “I need clear separation of home and office. Working from home has never worked from me. I need to be out.”
So, let’s look at the benefits for firms. Here are three reasons why remote working could work for your firm.
Recruitment and retention
For firms concerned they cannot hold onto top talent, or recruit new talent, remote work may no longer be an optional benefit. A recent report by Zapier found almost three quarters (74%) of so-called ‘knowledge workers’ – professionals who can do their jobs primarily from laptops – are willing to hand in their notices right now to work for companies that will let them work from anywhere. And, in a 2019 survey of 7,300 workers by Flexjobs, 80% said they would be more loyal to employers if given flexible work options.
In short, flexible work has become an important factor in choosing a job. For firms that want to attract, and keep, the best talent, it has already become the price of entry. Flexjobs’ data puts accounting and finance in the top six career fields for remote work opportunities.
Health and happiness
A 2018 survey by Indeed revealed 50% of employers offering remote work reported reduced absenteeism. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Cut out the commute and you get less stressed employees with a better work-life balance and more time for exercise.
The Royal Society for Public Health conducted a report of 1,500 commuters. It found that more than half (55%) were stressed by their commute – with the average journey lasting 56 minutes a day – while 41% did less physical exercise. It even recommended that, where possible, employers adopt flexible working policies, citing the obvious benefits to health, wellbeing and productivity.
One of the biggest misconceptions of remote workers is that they will give in to the siren call of Netflix, or spend more time planning holidays than servicing clients.
In fact, the opposite is true. In the productivity stakes, research shows remote workers don’t just match their office-bound peers but out-perform them, and they remain focused on tasks for longer.
A 2019 survey by Airtasker found that remote employees work on average 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than those who work in offices. And, each day, remote workers only lost 27 minutes to distractions, compared to 37 minutes for office-based workers.
But a word of warning. The success of remote working depends on your technology setup, and how well it lets your team communicate and collaborate on work. Get that right, and the transition will be far easier.
And, rather than trying to manage everyone’s schedules, try a carte blanche approach: let your employees create their own routines. You’ll be surprised how many people still show up to the office. For the most part, we’re social creatures and we like our colleagues. Plus, too much isolation leads to fear of missing out.
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Nigel Davies has been building intranets and digital workplaces since 1998. He is founder and CEO of digital workplace software Claromentis, which is used by financial services firms, banks and credit unions all over the world to help scattered teams...