Many high-profile companies have been banning remote working recently, so should your company?

Should You Ban Remote Working?

A recent International Workplace Group publication reported that over half of global employees work away from their office at least twice a week, and yet early last month, bank BNY Mellon tried to ban all of its employees in the UK from remote working, before quickly reversing that policy two days later following a backlash. BNY Mellon informed employees that they would now be expected to work from their offices full-time and decision-makers were soon inundated with emails from staff, press, politicians, and lawyers informing them why this was a foolish policy. Many formerly work-from-home staff came into the office only to find a dearth of desks and nowhere to sit, and the company was warned it could face an exodus of working parents, who disproportionately work from home.

Spokespeople for BNY Mellon explained that the policy was revised to “increase collaboration, enable faster decision making and better serve clients” but plans fell flat in the face of public outcry. But the real question is are there benefits to remote working, are there any drawbacks and if there are, should you institute an outright ban?

Many large companies have suspected remote working as the root of their productivity woes, from Yahoo in 2013 to IBM in 2017, but the research shows that this just isn’t the case. In 2015, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom studied 500 employees working at a company in Shanghai. He ensured half of the employees worked from the office full time, whilst allowing the other half to work from home. Over the course of the study, the company saw a 13% improvement in the work output from the remote workers – almost a full work day’s worth. Employees didn’t turn up late due to public transport delays, didn’t leave early to pick up their children and weren’t distracted by noisy offices or chatty co-workers.

Remote workers also report feeling more professionally fulfilled, more trusted and felt they have a better work/life balance due to the lack of a commute. These effects can work wonders for staff morale and attrition rates, saving companies time and money on training replacement workers and, in fact, can be seen in Bloom’s Chinese study – The company, Ctrip, reported a 50% decrease in attrition after rolling out the remote working policy company-wide, fewer sick days being taken and also reported a yearly saving of nearly £1500 per employee on rent by reducing the size of their offices.

Remote working can also be a considerable boon to recruitment, with 70% of millennials wishing they were offered it and over a third said they would prefer flexible working to a pay rise. Along with targeting millennials, remote working policies also massively appeal to working parents, with 86% of working parents saying they want to work flexibly.

Of course, there can be downsides to remote working. 100% home-based jobs can be isolating, and some remote workers can feel left out of the office culture, leading to disengagement. Distractions have also been said to be greater at home, especially in the case of working parents and some say communication can be stunted if instant communication is needed. These problems, however, are easily solvable (in the case of isolation) or downright dubious (in the case of distractions and communication). Remote workers can be made to feel less isolated when regularly invited into the office for meetings or ‘office days’, and day-to-day isolation can be lessened through the use of intra-office instant messaging services such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. When it comes to distractions and communication, study after study has come out in support of remote working for its positive effect on distractions and communication due being away from a noisy open-plan office and companies have started to codify their needs for instant communication by instituting formal policies on expected communication times when out of the office.

Fundamentally, companies who hire the right people and give them the flexibility to do their job, rather than fostering a culture of clock-watching and presenteeism, consistently see higher productivity in their employees across the board.

Jackson Hogg is a specialist recruitment consultancy operating within the engineering, manufacturing and technology markets in the UK, US, and Europe. We practice relationship-led recruitment, focussing on meeting our clients and candidates face-to-face as much as possible to foster a high level of communication between everyone involved in the recruitment process in order to attain an optimal culture fit.