Working remotely is fast becoming the new norm. In 2015, 37 percent of US workers said they had telecommuted, representing a huge increase from the 9 percent who said the same in 1995. Advances in technology have meant that it’s easier than ever before to make the world your office, rather than the office your world. But is technology the only thing that’s driving the increase in remote workers, or could it be that they’re actually happier than everyone else? And, if so, is there anything that makes them unhappy? Let’s get the low-down on them and see what’s really going on.
Who are remote workers?
Working remotely has enormous appeal for many employees, particularly Gen Xers, who are currently the ones taking the most advantage of it. Meanwhile, 68 percent of job-seeking Millennials say the option to work remotely is a big drawcard when they are looking at potential employers. The reasons why employees want to work remotely vary. Some want the freedom of choosing when and where they work, while others simply dislike working in an office environment or have family obligations that require them to be at home. Almost a quarter, however, work off-site because their job requires them to.
Are remote workers happier?
There’s no doubt that, compared to all employees, remote workers say they are happier at work and feel more valued. However, there’s more to the story. Those employees who are required to work remotely are actually less happy than those who do it because they chose to. Having said that, however, even these remote-by-force workers report being marginally happier than your typical employees.
Their happiness also depends on how long they have been working remotely for, and tends to increase over time. Workers who have been telecommuting for between six and 10 years, for example, report being 11 percent happier than remote workers in their first year. The happiest remote workers are ones who typically work a normal week, in the same time zone as their colleagues.
What makes them unhappy?
If working remotely means working night shifts or over the weekend then remote workers are definitely not the happiest of all. Schedules matter and most remote workers perform at their best when they are on the same schedule as everyone else on their team. Working unusual hours or in a different time zone to everyone tends to get them down. While flexibility is important, not forcing people to work flexibly may be even more important. If you’re considering offering remote working options to your employees, it’s important to first take stock of what kinds of remote working arrangements you’re going to implement and how they well they might suit your employees.
The biggest challenges for remote workers
They might feel happier and more valued in their job than other workers, but remote workers do fare worse in one area when it comes to satisfaction: their relationships with their co-workers. It’s easy to understand why; remote workers have less face-to-face interaction with their colleagues and can get forgotten about in the daily workings of the office.
And that can cause real problems. Remote workers can easily feel that they are deliberately being kept out of the loop. Technology failures that exclude them from meetings can result in issues with projects. Miscommunication and misunderstandings with colleagues that occur when most interactions are via email can lead to isolation. They can feel excluded, no longer part of them team, and demoralized.
It’s all about balance
Flexibility and remote working doesn’t work for everyone. Some people aren’t suited to it and others don’t want it. The right person with the right kind of flexible work practices can be happier, more productive and will stay with your company longer. However, you can’t simply retain workers by instituting a flexible remote work program. The appeal and satisfaction of remote working depends on the quality of the flexibility offered and its suitability to the individual.
Remote workers who choose work practices that best work for them love their freedom, and don’t want a great deal of oversight. But remember that they don’t want to be forgotten about either. If you get the balance right for those who want it, you can build a great workforce of happy people no matter where they happen to be located.