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Is it time to let top talent work remotely?

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It’s an appealing scenario. The opportunity to work anywhere, anytime. Escaping the confines of the office to work in a much more inspiring location. But surely that’s affording too much freedom, even for your organisation’s best and brightest?

Not necessarily. The data is in – and it is emphatically suggesting that remote work is increasing. A 2017 Gallup poll revealed that 43% of employees had spent at least part of their time working remotely. While a recent study of US workers showed that 5.2% of them worked entirely from home.

Helped by the rise of the gig economy, working from home is becoming relatively common. But a new form of remote work is definitely emerging: Working from anywhere. In this situation, employees can live and work where they choose. This is generally within a particular country, but in some cases can occur anywhere in the world – all that is needed is a reliable internet connection.

Some highly respected companies, in fact, are already adopting this policy. Enterprise software developer SAP and cloud-service provider Akamai are two organisations already taking steps in allowing employees to work from anywhere.

Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that HR – particularly in Asia – may not be ready to embrace such a laissez-faire approach to managing their charges, equating working remotely with working less.

In addition, there are also justifiable concerns that allowing employees to work from anywhere could decrease communication and collaboration with colleagues and constrain the informal learning that typically takes place in the more formal setting of the office.

However, in one 2015 study based on results from a Chinese travel agency, when call centre employees had the option of working from home, their productivity went up by an average of 13% – due to a reduction in break time and sick days (and presumably commute time) in combination with a more comfortable work environment.

There is also strong evidence that employees value the option to work remotely. A 2017 study revealed the average employee is willing to accept 8% less pay for the chance to work from home. This indicates that employees assign monetary value to the flexibility afforded by a work-from-home policy.

And with a work-from-anywhere policy, organisations add even more value to employees by granting them geographic flexibility.

If a work setting is suitable for remote work – the job is fairly independent and the employee knows their job well – implementing a work-from-anywhere policy might just benefit both the organisation and the employee.

Parts of this article were first published in the Harvard Business Review

 

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