Is It Time to Double Down on Remote Work?
The pendulum swings fast when it comes to the so-called future of work. In the nearly three years since the pandemic pushed remote work into the mainstream, the work from home vs. on-site debate has raged in almost every industry sector. As early as 2021, 14% of Fortune 100 companies issued return-to-office mandates, but with fierce employee pushback, policies were seldom enforced. To date, offices remain at about half their pre-pandemic occupancy.
Yet, as the dust settles, business leaders, including many in our own industry, are feeling pressed to take a stand. Companies that were fully remote are now calling employees back to the office full-time or, more typically, opting for hybrid solutions, dividing the work week between, say, two days at home and three in the office. The main reasons given are the desire for more teamwork and mentorship, as well as concerns about performance and productivity at home.
Many workers, on the other hand, defend the benefits of working from home. They want to avoid the time and expense of commuting; they can concentrate better without office distractions; and they feel it’s better for their general well-being. In a revealing survey conducted by ZipRecruiter, job seekers, on average, said they would accept a 14% pay cut in order to work remotely.
So, is there room for compromise? We say yes, but with the important caveat that remote-first work, when done right, is the most sustainable option for workers and companies. Here’s why.
Higher probability of finding the right person for the right job.
The ability to attract, develop, and retain strong talent without geographical limitations is perhaps the most obvious benefit of a fully remote workforce. This is especially significant in the call center setting where challenges of turnover have only intensified since the Great Resignation when many agents traded up for higher-paying jobs. With virtual sourcing and recruiting, however, companies can build niche talent communities whose goals are aligned with the companies they represent. This sense of personal investment gives employees purpose and fulfillment beyond a paycheck and builds loyalty that makes them want to stay.
Schedule flexibility is a priority for most workers.
A McKinsey survey of 25,000 workers revealed that when people have the option to work flexibly, 87% of them will take it. Interestingly, 12% of respondents who were presented with the option of part-time or occasional remote work said they preferred working from home five days a week. This raises the question of whether there’s a disconnect between how much flexibility employers think is desirable and how much workers really want. Other research shows that frontline workers, not just knowledge workers, highly value control over their work schedules. This poses a conundrum in the hybrid world, where rigid schedules are the only guarantee that team members will actually be in the office at the same time.
Remote work is easier on the environment.
Eliminating commutes not only saves employees time and money but also reduces greenhouse gases wreaking havoc on the climate. Carbon dioxide emissions from transportation dropped 15% in 2020 when most people who could work remotely did so. Working from home also decreases the need to heat, cool, and light offices. Further, it relies more on digital approaches to recording, storing, and sharing information, which in turn reduces paper use. Hybrid work, on the other hand, presents a complicated picture in that it consumes more energy and emits more emissions from both homes and offices. And while many companies with green intentions are now downsizing and redesigning their offices, the environmental impact of things like furniture waste is often overlooked.
Business continuity and disaster recovery strategies are increasingly top of mind.
In the age of cyberattacks and extreme weather events, remote work and hybrid arrangements are fueling fresh concerns about business continuity and disaster recovery. Most experts agree that a balance of hard and soft assets is required for optimum security. In other words, while technology and process solutions are obviously critical, employee behaviors are equally important. At our company, we developed a global virtual workplace platform that not only includes 24/7 real-time power and internet assessment but also unites people around a shared sense of mission, vision, and values. This culture component was crucial during the early days of the pandemic when we maintained over 97% capacity while most brick-and-mortar operations scrambled to develop contingency plans.
Lower cost does not mean lower quality of service.
The work from home contact center model reduces some overhead costs for obvious reasons. Rent, utilities, and other expenses related to brick-and-mortar spaces are eliminated, and scaling is easier without having to account for physical infrastructure. Less obviously, however, lack of brick-and-mortar investment translates to better customer service quality. One reason is that work from home employees hired from selective markets are more likely to take ownership of what they’re doing and make the most of their autonomy, especially when KPIs place as much emphasis on meeting customer’s needs as on operational efficiency. Additionally, when employees are working remotely, workforce management can respond more easily to unplanned work arrival patterns with less need to overstaff or fall short of customer expectations. This results in lower costs.
Finally, another reason remote work deserves renewed appraisal is the promising future of global business services sourcing driven by cost pressures and the evolution of remote-delivery models since the pandemic. Future blogs in this series will delve further into this and other aspects of fully remote work in the hope that as hybrid workplaces compete with 100% work from home models, we leaders understand the trade-offs.