Study: Teleworkers More Productive—Even When Sick

By Aliah D. Wright Feb 13, 2015
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​​Teleworkers are more productive and less likely to take time off work—even when sick, a new survey reveals.

Human capital experts interviewed by SHRM Online said the study reveals what those who have successfully deployed telework for years already know: that with proper management and guidance, telework can provide many benefits for employer as well as employee.

The Remote Collaborative Worker Survey, released Feb. 9, was conducted by ConnectSolutionsin December. ConnectSolutions is a private-cloud solutions provider for Adobe Connect and Microsoft Lync. It surveyed 353 U.S. Internet users 18 years and older. The study had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.22 percentage points.

Of those who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77 percent reported greater productivity while working offsite; 30 percent said they accomplished more in less time and 24 percent said they accomplished more in the same amount of time.

“Our Remote Collaborative Worker Survey suggests there are significant benefits to be gained by both remote workers and their employers with offsite employees motivated to work harder and more efficiently to protect both the personal and professional benefits of working remotely,” Michael Fitzpatrick, CEO of ConnectSolutions, said in a statement. “Even the personal benefits workers experience can be viewed as employer benefits since workers tend to be happier, less stressed out and healthier thereby bringing down the costs of turnover, absenteeism, lower productivity and other issues.”

Other studies confirm those findings.

According to U.S. News & World Report, “Telecommuters log five to seven more hours per week than non-telecommuters, often working even when they’re sick or on vacation.”

The ConnectSolutions survey also revealed that 23 percent of those who telework are willing to work longer hours from home than they normally would onsite to accomplish more; 42 percent of remote workers feel they’re just as connected with colleagues as if they were working on-premises.

Overcoming Telework Stigmas

Despite consistent studies that tout the benefits of telework, some companies have curtailed telecommuting, citing a need for workers to be physically present for better collaboration and communication.

Experts said telework success is really just a matter of better management and recognizing the benefits based on the analysis of empirical data.

“Most managers become believers [in the benefits of telework] when they have experience with an employee or employees working remotely who are more productive and highly engaged,” Carol Sladek, a partner and work/life consulting lead in the Communications Consulting Practice of the human capital management consultancy Aon Hewitt. “With a highly productive employee, the advantages of telework are very convincing to managers. Positive experience and results with telework tend to make manager believers and make organizational cultures change, albeit slowly.”

Still, the myths surrounding the lack of benefits abound, some experts said.

“One common myth I’ve run into frequently regarding teleworking is the general assumption that if someone wants the ability to telework, they are a slacker,” said RJMetrics’ Head of People Samantha Straube. RJMetrics is a tech company in Philadelphia.

“Another is the myth that teleworkers don’t produce the same quality of work as folks who work from the office,” she told SHRM Online. “These two myths are just that—myths. But many companies don’t review the data, which doesn’t support either of these claims.”

According to the most recent statistics from Global Workplace Analytics:

  • 95 percent of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention.

  • 46 percent of organizations that permit telework say it reduces attrition.

  • 37 percent of 1,500 technology professionals said they would take a pay cut of 10 percent to telecommute.

  • Teleworkers typically return to work faster following medical issues or surgery.

  • Compaq, American Express and other companies have said that telecommuting employees are more productive than their in-office counterparts.

    Telework Benefits

    In the ConnectSolutions study, respondents said they see a clear financial motive in working remotely. Thirty percent reported saving $5,240 per year in expenses such as day care, transportation, lunch and dry cleaning.

    “Half of the remote workers surveyed also say being able to work remotely at least some of the time makes them much more likely to stay with the company,” the study stated.

    Other benefits include personal satisfaction and more of a work/life balance, the study concluded. Forty-five percent of remote workers get more sleep, 35 percent exercise more and 42 percent eat healthier. Some 44 percent report a more positive attitude and 53 percent say they’re less stressed. Fifty-one percent spend more time with loved ones and report greater job satisfaction.

    Telework Technological Drivers

    The study pointed out that telecommuters deploy more tech tools to help them better collaborate remotely. Eighty-eight percent use e-mail, 47 percent use instant messaging, 36 percent use video conferencing, 32 percent use Skype/Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and 28 percent use “an enterprise unified communication solution such as Microsoft Lync,” the study found.

    “Mobile devices with growing desktop-like functionality are also doing much to empower workers remotely—at home or in the field, including cafes, parks and other nontraditional locations—with 40 percent of those surveyed able to conduct at least half of their total workload on a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device,” the survey stated.

    Telework may be embraced more fully once Millennials make up the majority of the workplace, according to experts. “They will want a work/life balance,” Straube said. According to the Brookings Institution, Millennials are predicted to comprise 75 percent of the U.S. workforce in 10 years.

    Straube also said that in the war for talent, many companies will need to embrace telework because “it becomes harder and harder for organizations to find the talent that they need.” In many cases, she added, “teleworking allows you to hire the perfect person for the job, which you don’t always get if you are not in an ideal location.

    “Without teleworking, you’re forced to hire the best person from your local pool and that person could offer significantly less experience than the perfect person you could find if you’d be open to teleworking.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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