If you've ever taken out your work computer to send a few emails from a coffee shop, a hotel room, or a train, you're probably familiar with the flexibility and challenges remote work can present.
The proliferation of high-speed, affordable WiFi and transportable, smart technology has made some form of remote work the norm across a variety of different industries. For team leaders and company executives seeking to best support employees and stay competitive in the world of talent hiring and retention, remote work is something you might be considering offering if you don't already.
In this guide, we'll dig into the key terms in the remote work discussion, statistics around the growth of remote work, and guidance for leaders for implementing and enabling successful remote and distributed teams.
The definition of remote work describes it as work that's done outside of a traditional office setting. Remote workers might work from home or work in satellite offices geographically apart from the rest of their team, or the company might be fully-remote with all employees working outside of a traditional office.
Below are a few of the related key terms we'll use in this post:
Working from home is a form of remote work that refers to employees working from a home office. Working from home may be supplemental for employees who work primarily from an office environment, or it may refer to remote workers who work full-time from their home city or office.
Flexible work refers to policies that allow employees to set their own schedules so long as they complete their job responsibilities. With a flexible work schedule, employees might choose to work from home some number of days per week, or they might set their own hours, so they're optimized for productivity instead of working during the traditional hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hybrid teams are teams made up of some employees who work onsite in an office, and some employees work remotely. Hybrid companies allow employees to choose where and when they work best and set their schedules accordingly.
Distributed teams consist of team members who work in a variety of different locations. Typically, distributed teams are made up of different remote workers living and working in different cities, but distributed teams can sometimes include some employees in an office and others working remotely.
Remote work is more prevalent than you might think, and it's becoming a powerful tool for companies and employees to do their best work and build the strongest teams. Here's a quick rundown of key statistics about remote work.
1. Globally, 56% of companies allow remote work. (Owl Labs)
2. 16% of companies are fully remote. (Owl Labs)
3. 40% of companies are hybrid and offer office and remote work options. (Owl Labs)
4. 52% of employee surveyed reported that they worked from home at least once per week. (Owl Labs)
5. Full-time remote workers were 20% more likely to be individual contributors than managers. (Owl Labs)
6. The primary reason people choose to work remotely is for increased productivity and better focus. (Owl Labs)
7. 44% of companies don't allow any remote work. (Owl Labs)
8. Those who work remotely are 24% more likely to feel happy and productive in their roles than those who don't or can't work remotely. (Owl Labs)
9. 43% of American employees worked remotely for some period of time in 2017 -- a 115% increase from 2005. (Gallup)
10. 3.9 million Americans work remotely "half the time." (FlexJobs)
To learn more remote work statistics, read our state of remote work report.
There are numerous benefits to remote work -- for remote workers, and for their employers.
By offering remote work policies, companies can recruit and attract talent from anywhere, which broadens the recruiting pool for open positions and helps companies hire the best of the best, regardless of where they live.
Whether it's due to personal preferences, familial obligations, or financial restraints, it's not feasible or desirable for a lot of people to move to a different city just to take a job. Remote work policies make it possible for people to carry out the job that's right for them, regardless of where they live.
The goal of any company is to empower employees to do their best work and achieve the mission of serving its customers. The primary reason remote workers cite for choosing to work remotely or from home is for improved focus and increased productivity. Company policies that allow employees to decide how and where they work best, in theory, help its workforce do their best work on behalf of the company, too.
Remote work policies can also help retain in-office employees who decide to work remotely due to changing personal circumstances. That way, companies don't need to lose high-performers due to a change of address -- instead, they can retain those employees by offering them greater flexibility and support. Companies that offer remote work see 25% less employee turnover than companies that do not.
Diverse teams perform better than homogenous teams, and building diverse and inclusive teams within a growing company is simply the right thing to do. Remote work policies make it easier to build these higher-performing teams with greater racial and ethnic diversity by recruiting for positions from around the country or the world. If companies restrict hiring to a single city or metropolitan area, the company will reflect its demographics, but recruiting from a wider pool will increase candidate diversity and expose employees to different ideas and challenges.
Now that you're on board with the benefits of remote work for your company and your employees, you'll need to build a policy that's consistently communicated and offered to new and existing employees for them to take advantage of. Read our tips for setting up a straightforward remote work policy below:
You'll want to determine who is able to work remotely and in what capacity. Questions to answer include the following:
Determine these rules with your core Human Resources, Finance, and Legal teams before rolling out any policies to your employees to ensure this option is feasible.
Whether employees will be able to work remotely on an occasional or permanent basis, you'll want to make sure they have the right tools to work securely and productively when they aren't in the office. Some things to consider will include:
Next, if your policy will be flexible for some employees -- meaning they can work remotely some of the time but not all of the time -- clarify the guidance for when and where employees can work remotely. Some situations to consider whether in-person or remote communication is acceptable include:
Additionally, you'll want to set guidelines for where employees are and are not allowed to work remotely. Depending on the security or team development needs of your organization, you may want to restrict employees to working from their home office or a co-working space versus allowing them to work from coffee shops or other public spaces.
Once you've established policies for remote work, you'll also want to build policies for hybrid and remote team collaboration and communication across different locations. You'll want to determine the best strategies for live and asynchronous communication so different schedules and time zones don't impact productivity using tools like the following:
To the last point, you may want to determine on what schedule you want to gather all team members in one location for team-building and collaborative work. At least once per year is a good rule of thumb here.
Finally, you'll want to set limitations on how remote employees are spending their working hours, particularly if they're working from home where distractions like family members, pets, working out, and household chores can present easy distractions. Your policy should be clear if employees are expected to be available online during a certain timeframe, or if they can operate on a flexible schedule that's built around their personal life while they put in additional hours before or after the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.
Once your remote work policy and team members are up-and-running, use these general best practices for effective collaboration and communication among your distributed team members.
Distributed or remote teams don't have the advantage of being able to tap a co-worker on the shoulder to swap ideas or build personal rapport, both of which are important to foster a productive team. What this means is distributed teams need to get comfortable and skilled at over-communicating. This includes updating personal calendars for details about when they'll be out of the office on vacation or at personal appointments, being clear about which hours team members in different time zones will and will not be available online, and sharing with other team members and superiors what they're working on and achieving since coworkers won't be able to see it happening.
As a company or team leader, make sure you're regularly soliciting updates on the work team members are doing and achievements they're hitting so you can share their success with others. Individual or team wins aren't as obvious when the team is all working from different locations, so leaders should seek to do the heavy lifting when it comes to finding out how their team is doing so they can give their achievements visibility.
When it comes to remote or distributed teams and over-communication, the power of the written or spoken word can have greater impact than it would in-person. With fewer opportunities to clarify or rephrase things remotely as you would have with in-person team members, leaders and employees need to focus on crafting clear, intentional, and effective emails, meeting agendas, and instant messages, and on preparing for video meetings in advance to ensure the right messages are shared. Nobody is perfect, so allow enough vulnerability for team members to rephrase or course-correct if messages are misinterpreted so everyone can learn from them and improve their own skills.
Make sure remote and distributed teams are leveraging the power of video to communicate as effectively as possible. Asynchronous, pre-recorded screen share and explainer videos are particularly helpful for sharing context and ideas with team members in different time zones (using tools like Loom or Soapbox), and live video conferencing is helpful for emulating the closest possible feeling to a huddle meeting, 1:1, or brainstorm (using tools like Zoom or Skype for Business).
Just because teams don't all sit together in the same room doesn't mean efforts shouldn't be made to build team rapport and spirit. Team members that trust one another and like working with each other will get better work done, so time spend team-building is time well-spent. Team-building can happen via instant messaging platforms, in virtual team meetings, or through gestures as simple as mailing out birthday cards or work anniversary presents. Remote team members shouldn't feel excluded because they don't work in the office, so leaders should make sure to consistently include them in the same perks, meals, and gifts as in-office team members.
Despite the multitude of remote work enablement technologies, there's no perfect substitution for the power of a group of people spending time in a room together. In-person connection helps build team trust and rapport, establishes networking and friendly connections, and every effort should be made to bring distributed teams together in one place when time and funds allow. Whether it's for a January team kickoff meeting, or to get together at the same conference or company event, or to attend a company-wide retreat, teams should gather together in person at least once per year to build team culture and camaraderie.
Remote work is a constantly evolving discipline, so we'll keep sharing insights and learnings about how remote and distributed teams can thrive on this blog. To learn more about remote work, read this list of some of our favorite remote work travel programs next.