Many companies that were fully remote during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have returned to traditional in-person office work. However, many others have adopted hybrid arrangements involving a mix of remote and in-person work. This raises a question: Should your business continue to operate virtually, revert to a traditional in-office environment, or combine both models? Like most business decisions, the answer depends on your company’s needs.
Telecommuting generally means that employees work from home, relying on email, video conferencing, messaging apps and the internet to do their jobs. Telecommuting can also represent a mix of in-office and at-home days in a hybrid work arrangement.
According to WFH Research data from April and May 2023, 25.6 percent of full-time employees — roughly 1 in 4 — work via hybrid arrangements. WFH Research also found that 7.9 percent of full-time employees work entirely from home. That represents a substantial dip from June 2020, when 42% of full-time employees worked from home amid the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Some businesses are unsure if they should continue allowing employees to work from home, mandate a return to in-office work, or adopt flexible and hybrid policies. Your company’s needs, industry and unique characteristics will drive this decision.
Ask the following questions to determine if you should make telecommuting permanent or shift to another model.
Managing a remote workforce can be challenging. However, managers who already embrace and enjoy dealing with remote teams will smooth the way for a permanent telecommuting policy.
“You want to know how [your managers] have interacted with their teams [and if they are] setting them up for success working remotely,” said Brie Weiler Reynolds, program coordinator at The Nature Conservancy.
Most importantly, you must determine if your managers handle telecommuting workers effectively. Is remote work productivity high? Are workers successfully contributing to the business’s bottom line? Are telecommuting challenges hampering operations, or is everything running smoothly?
If management is on board with keeping or expanding current remote work policies, consider training leaders to work with remote teams. Enhancing their communication and collaboration expertise can make telecommuting a win for everyone.
Your employees’ wants and needs are crucial indicators of whether you should continue to allow telecommuting. As a business owner, you may prefer in-office work. However, if your employees are thriving, enjoying a positive work-life balance and staying productive, consider keeping your remote workforce intact.
Survey employees to see where they stand on returning to the office or working on a hybrid schedule. Get their feedback about various options. Retaining excellent team members is vital to your business’s success, and mandating an in-office situation may not be worth losing top talent. Work on a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
It’s one thing if your employees are happy with their current telecommuting situation. Ensuring the situation works for your overall business success is another thing entirely. Assess the collaboration, teamwork and efficiency of your in-office (if applicable) and remote teams. If your entire workforce is remote, do they have the right collaboration tools for efficient and effective collaboration?
If you’ve noticed increased teamwork and efficiency with your remote or hybrid workforce, consider not disrupting that flow with a shift to in-person work.
Additionally, productivity and timeliness are crucial. Training and supervising your employees on these fronts are typically easier in person. However, if your team is hitting its quality marks and deadlines while remote, extra supervision or in-person time isn’t necessary.
Businesses operate to make money, so it’s essential to cut business expenses without losing productivity. Ideally, remote workers save your company money on overhead and office expenses.
“If you removed the office from your expenses, how big of an impact would it have?” Reynolds said. “For some companies, that could be massive. If that’s the case, where do the funds go?”
When you’re assessing whether a remote workforce is cost-effective, factor in expenses associated with telecommuting. For example, you may need to implement project management software or video conferencing software.
It’s crucial to consider your hiring needs when you’re assessing the best working model for your company. Specific situations may dictate your options. For example, think about the following:
Telecommuting is an excellent solution for many professionals and businesses. However, it has some drawbacks. Weigh the following pros and cons of telecommuting when you’re deciding whether to switch up your operation’s working model.
Any company that decides to make remote work permanent needs a formal telecommuting policy. When you devise your telecommuting policy, consider the following remote work best practices that can set up your organization for success:
Any business with a remote workforce needs robust collaboration tools, including a top video conferencing service. Numerous video conferencing services and software exist, including the ubiquitous Zoom. Read our GoTo Connect review to learn about one excellent option with secure file sharing, smart tools and calendar integrations.
Beyond video conferencing, numerous tech tools, including free remote work tools, can enhance collaboration and communication, including Dropbox, Google Workspace and Dialpad.
Ask employees to designate a quiet workspace in their homes. Set meeting times early, and agree on regular working hours to better manage everyone’s productivity. Communicate often to help keep remote workers engaged, check in with them, and ensure everyone remains on task.
Working from home presents challenges for everyone. Employees need to find the right rhythm, and employers must adopt a flexible mindset. Be prepared to handle any issues that may arise, including technical difficulties and family emergencies. Talk to employees about expectations, and develop a comprehensive communication plan.
Update your company’s various policies and the employee handbook if you plan to make telecommuting a permanent part of your operations. Employees should know what’s expected of them. Hold training sessions to review remote work policies and procedures, and confirm that each staff member understands your expectations.
Make sure your telecommuting policy includes remote work cybersecurity guidelines and tools. Ensure that your network is robust and secure, and train your remote team on best practices such as implementing multifactor authentication and avoiding phishing emails.
Some teams do better work from the comfort of home, whereas others get results only when sharing physical space. Look at your team’s productivity trends and workplace desires, as well as your own needs, when you’re deciding whether to go (or stay) remote. The answer to whether your business should allow telecommuting permanently lies somewhere between keeping your team happy and furthering your mission statement. You may be able to achieve your vision right from home, with your employees doing the same.
Max Freedman contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.