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Are You Ready for Remote Employment?

Many businesses no longer require all hands on deck, meaning that they either outsource tasks to vendors or allow employees to work someplace other than on-site. If there’s one benefit to the digital revolution (or maybe that’s evolution), it’s the flexibility that digital business in a global economy affords workers.

A global economy operates at all hours every single day. Humans generally do not and cannot work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, especially in countries with laws governing the labor of hourly employees. Some employers manage to dodge these restrictions on labor by outsourcing to vendors (freelance contractors), by keeping employee numbers under the legal trigger for such governmental oversight, or categorizing every employee as “non-exempt.” Arguments from such employers who resist offering flexible work arrangements to their employees focus on the difficulty of tracking employee hours, tracking employee productivity, and needing someone available during business hours no matter what.

Of course, many businesses do still require all hands on deck, especially general labor and skilled trades. Try getting your engine repaired by a remote worker, that leaky pipe fixed by a remote plumber, or that caramel macchiato prepared by a remote barista. The digital workplace, with advances in virtual private network (VPN) access and cloud computing, blows most of those arguments out of the water and undermines those that still retain legitimacy. If a worker sits at a desk in a corporate office, then it’s likely that same worker can sit elsewhere and do the same work.

Welcome to remote employment.

Defining remote employment

Remote jobs include traveling sales professionals, proving that the concept isn’t new or dependent upon an internet connection. L. Frank Baum, who wrote the beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as well as 41 other novels and 83 short stories, worked as a traveling salesman. However, today’s common concept of remote employment falls under terms that include telecommute, telework, virtual, and home-based. These may be partially or fully off-site, although positions labeled as “virtual” or “home-based” generally mean 100 percent off-site without regular trips to the office or meetings. Remote employment may be full-time or part-time.

In the USA, the difference between remote employment and freelancing depends upon the status of the worker and how the employer sets up the position. When reviewing job descriptions, carefully read for key phrases that indicate whether the job is considered an employment position or contracted work.

Remote employment reality

Remote employment isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Writing for Forbes, William Arruda states “There’s no arguing that the 9-to-5, 40-hour work week, with your entire team located near you, is gone. And it’s not coming back.” A remote worker can’t walk across the office and tap a colleague on the shoulder for an impromptu consultation or brainstorming session. Technology enables businesses to take advantage of unprecedented flexibility and accessibility, assembling teams from all over the world. This may require some team members work at odd hours to confer with and collaborate with other team members in vastly different time zones. Research also shows that remote employees are happier and more productive, which also benefits business.

As a remote employee, you can count the personal advantages on both hands, from eliminating the hassle and expense of a daily commute—10 seconds from the kitchen table to the home office—to the flexibility of working at your peak hours.

Workers increasingly demand more flexibility in their jobs, and the immensity of Generation Y, also known as Millennials, who are the children of the vast Baby Boom generation add clout to that demand. The largest generation has the sheer numbers to force business into compliance. Employers who have resisted that demand now find themselves buckling beneath it and struggling to manage remote workers. If you’re employed with one of those resistant businesses, prepare some convincing arguments to help sway the decision in your favor. These advantages of compliance with the trend to jump on the remote employment bandwagon range from reduced turnover—hiring and training new employees is expensive—to improved worker engagement.

As stated, remote work also comes with stress that differ from site-based employment. Entrepreneur offers an extensive list that succinctly describes the pros and cons of remote employment. Pitfalls of remote employment for the worker involve a reduced ability to disengage from the job, a blurring of work-life separation, and a loss of work-life balance. Of course, those remote workers who also spend their days looking after children suffer from increased distractions that range from feeding and changing diapers to supervising activities to attending school-related events.

Empirical research and anecdotal evidence both debunk one argument against remote employment—disengagement of employees from each other. Rather than endure a manager or boss who’s physically present but never bothers to greet employees or engage in actual conversation with them, Entrepreneur quotes a Gallup study that states remote employees are the most likely to feel that someone at work cares about them.

What the statistics say

Savvy employers don’t just take someone’s word for something before changing their employment practices. They want to get the most from their employees and scientific data is the surest way to convince them when change is in order. So, we rely upon civil and corporate surveys that measure opinion and correlate them to financial reports.

One major online job site analyzed data from studies, news articles, and corporate white papers to yield insights supporting remote employment form a business perspective. Remote employment:

  1. Increases worker productivity.
  2. Improves worker efficiency.
  3. Reduces stress.
  4. Improves morale.
  5. Reduces employee churn.
  6. Reduces overhead and real estate expenses.
  7. Increases employee engagement.
  8. Reduces the carbon footprint.

On February 15, 2017, The New York Times reported that “43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely, according to a survey of more than 15,000 adults.” The venerated newspaper also cites the same Gallup study as Entrepreneur to conclude that flexible scheduling and remote opportunities strongly influence workers’ decisions on whether to accept a job offer.

A boon for mothers

By now, the gender gap and the glass ceiling have become trite. We all know how biology affects career trajectories—and not usually for the better when it comes to women. The New York Times states that gender gaps arise from “employers’ expectation that people spend long hours at their desks.” That badge of honor, resurrected every time a recession hits the economy, perpetuates what social scientists call the flexibility stigma, which penalizes workers in terms of pay and career advancement because employers do not see them as dedicated as those who come in early to work and stay late. In some fields and corporations, the strength of that stigma prevents female workers, especially, from taking advantage of the availability of remote positions or such opportunities may only be offered to executives. Of course, with women assuming the bulk of responsibility for caregiving, this disproportionately affects them.

Now in their prime childbearing years, Millennials who were raised on expectations of equality, work-life balance, and career fulfillment are crushing that stigma. According to a Pew survey, 70 percent of working mothers and 48 percent of working fathers prize flexible work schedules. Making 47 percent of the current labor force, women and their needs are finding support from their partners. The coalition has become a formidable force for change.

Interestingly, the statistics in the aforementioned Pew survey echo information assumptions of support for remote work correlate to gender, economic circumstances, and marital status. Women’s preference and ability not to work or to work only part-time on a flexible or remote increase with motherhood, economic stability, and marriage. Men’s preferences remain steady with 75 percent—married or not, fathers or not—preferring full-time, on-site employment.

Women are reaping the benefits of changing expectations as societal opinion recognizes the tension between fulfilling the needs of women, their families, and business. A holistic approach that also considers environmental impact, professional fulfillment, and economic need leans more and more strongly toward the advantages of remote work and flexible employment. With a currently strong economy and shallow labor pool, stay-at-home parents have never had a better opportunity to find or request remote employment than they do now.