When Richard Branson tweets "In this increasingly connected world, you really can work from anywhere" along with a picture of him on top of a mountain, you might feel jealous as you read from your cubicle. But while we can't all work from our own private island instead of an office, maybe we can start working a little more like Branson. Remote working is becoming more popular and accepted—and it's time for it to be embraced by the entire working world.
As a leader in this space, I have noticed that at root the interest isn’t just in being location independent or living anywhere one desires: There’s growing realization that remote work can help solve our most troubling economic and environmental problems.
Labor force participation has actually fallen since the recession. But remote and work-anywhere jobs, both full-time and part-time, expand the opportunities available to workers who may be constrained by the supply or types of jobs near them. These jobs aren’t all just gigs anymore, as more and more pay competitive salaries with benefits like health insurance and retirement. Flexible working also helps address real-life needs like allowing more time to care for sick family members or eliminating difficult commutes.
Fifty-six percent of working parents say it’s difficult to balance work and family, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 74% of teleworkers have reported better work-life balance and 69% reported a less stressed day.
More than three-fourths of managers and staff surveyed at organizations around the world with workplace flexibility practices said they increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and more than two-thirds noted an increase in employee motivation.
We need urgently to address traffic congestion and the growing need for maintenance and repair of our transit systems and infrastructure. In the United States, commuters who drive spend about two weeks’ worth of work (42 hours) in traffic every year. As Washington, D.C., New York, London and other metro areas have experienced recently, transit repairs and disruptions can cause a domino effect of severe traffic delays and economic impact for businesses and organizations that aren’t mobile-ready.
All this means we need to be prepared and able to work remotely. Being able to work from home or anywhere shouldn’t be within the skill set of just freelancers and some employees. They should be within everyone’s skill set—from the most junior worker to the president or CEO.
Businesses, nonprofit organizations, government offices—everyone needs to consider teleworking in their operations, technology plans, and training. Everyone needs experience with telecommuting, including organizations themselves.
This means giving employees the option to work from home or remotely so they can practice doing so. Remote work is a win-win when it comes to more mobile, tech-savvy employees and organizations. These capabilities expand organizational flexibility as well as employee flexibility, enabling collaboration and productivity out of the office.
Many in-office expectations can apply to remote working. Periodic updates in a chat, shared document, or through a project management app make communication easier. Even in teams like ours that are entirely remote, simply keeping each other updated goes a long way to building collaboration and trust.
There should also be guidelines on total work hours with emphasis on overall wellness such as taking work breaks, getting enough rest, and physical fitness. For remote employees, being included in all-staff discussions and meet-ups are both expected and meaningful.
We also need to take a hard look in this age of climate change at how we work and environmental sustainability. Most of us who work still commute, but is that commute still necessary?
Besides time and money saved, a reduction in commuting serves corporate responsibility and broader sustainability goals. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year and more than half of all Americans live in counties with unhealthful levels of air pollution.
Being able to work from home or remotely isn’t just for the digital nomads. It’s becoming imperative for all of us.
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