I wanted to tell a joke about working from home, but I worried someone would say it could’ve been an email.
But seriously, though. Five years ago, I wrote a blog post outlining five tips for success with remote workers. A whole presidency and pandemic later, I’m actually proud of how well it’s held up over time. The only things that have changed are that Game of Thrones is no longer on the air, and now everyone I know is working from home in t-shirts and sweatpants—not just me.
The only person looking better than me and Dr. Fauci is CHRO-turned-prophet Sheila Rutt, whom I quoted at the time as saying, “The proof will ultimately be in our results. It’s a virtual world with a 24/7 global workday—work is what we do, not where we are.”
Well. Right you were/are, Sheila.
So, why am I bringing up five-year-old blog posts and Sheila’s fortuneteller quote? To drive home the point that all those years ago, with a better economy and a healthier populace, the business and culture case for remote work was as strong then as it is now—and now we have the added advantage of spending almost a year and a half perfecting it.
It’s important to remember that remote work works, because the reality is this: Employees, by and large, really (really) don’t want to return to the office. Recent coverage from Human Resource Executive makes it plain:
- 100% (yes, 100) of employees are anxious about returning to the workplace. Their top worries are being exposed to COVID-19 (77%), less flexibility (71%), and commuting to work (58%).
- 58% of workers say they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position.
Here are three reasons employers may want to reconsider making people commute back to the cubicle farm:
- Remote employees are more comfortable—and more productive. There’s a reason nationwide pajama sales surged 143% in April 2020 alone, and doubled for the entire year over 2019. Pants sales? Dropped 13%. Adjustment for the “quarantine fifteen” aside, it’s not as if people ran out of pants during lockdown. They simply decided that if we were going to be at home for a while, we might as well get cozy.
And note that I said, cozy, not lazy. “Business on top, bedtime on the bottom” became a rallying cry and employee productivity during 2020 expanded right along with our stretchy waistbands. According to Businessolver’s 2021 State of Workplace Empathy data, 66% of remote employees say they are more productive at home than in the office, and 71% believe the quality of their work improved during the pandemic. I say pajamas, 1; pants, 0.
- Remote employees are saving everyone money. Think of this as the “bake bread to make bread” strategy.
For starters, longitudinal data from the State of Workplace Empathy shows that employees are more willing than ever to stay with (88% in 2021 versus 55% in 2016) and work longer hours (up to 74% today from 41% in 2016) for an empathetic employer. And we already know that they think allowing remote work is empathetic. Lower employee turnover + higher employee output = higher organizational profits.
And whether it was making the most of overripe bananas or embracing an inner San Franciscan that was fueling all of our banana and sourdough bread-making last year, the bottom line is employees staying at home helped save employers’ bottom line.
Research shows that during the pandemic specifically, remote work helped prevent layoffs and/or increase profits. And apart from COVID-19 cost considerations, one study concluded that allowing employees to work remotely just part-time would save organizations an average $11,000 per employee, with employees pocketing $2,000-$7,000 by slashing commuting expenses. People way smarter than me estimate the national annual savings at $700 billion.
$700 billion?! Let them eat sourdough.
- Remote employees are less stressed. One of my mantras during lockdown that I’ve brought into my post-pandemic life is, “If it costs you your inner peace, it’s too expensive.” In other words, I place overall well-being—and mental health in particular—on the top of my personal priority list.
And I’m far from alone. It’s undoubtedly part of the reason upwards of 80% of employees want the option to keep working from home after the pandemic is over, Businessolver finds. After all, commuting is stressful—never mind the stress of commuting to a place where your options are to risk open exposure to a highly contagious virus, be forced to wear a mask you don’t like, or get a vaccine you may not want/trust.
One study found that commutes and contagions aside, remote work could help employees reduce stress and improve productivity by: reducing distractions during the workday (75%), reducing interruptions from colleagues (74%), staying out of office politics (65%), allowing for a quieter work environment (60%), providing a more comfortable workspace (52%), and creating a more personalized work environment (46%).
That study? Is from 2018. Like I said, that 2016 blog post of mine holds up pretty nicely. So nicely, in fact, that Businessolver is now a remote-first employer. I think I’ll go order some new pajamas … and maybe a sourdough starter.
To learn more about how empathy impacted the way employees felt during the pandemic, check out our white paper below.