The last year has brought about all kinds of changes -- including the way we work. While many Americans were once accustomed to making the daily commute and clocking in for a conventional 9-to-5, millions are now adjusting to remote work environments.
While this new normal may take some getting used to, it’s easy to see why there’s widespread support for work-from-home (or WFH) arrangements. That said, the traditional American office job isn’t going away completely. But it’s clear that many workers and employers are embracing the benefits of working from home vs working in an office. The real question is: which setup is right for you?
In evaluating the merits of remote work vs office environments, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. As you consider some of the key points in today’s blog post, you’ll need to evaluate how they relate to your agency and which factors matter most to you. With that in mind, let’s tackle some of the most common considerations when deciding between working from home vs working in an office.
What Are the Benefits of Remote Work?
Office work is often considered to be the standard for the American workforce. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that having a physical workplace is the best option for every business.
More employers and employees are discovering that remote work can provide them with more flexibility, balance, and efficiency than they’d experience with a traditional office setup. Data from a two-year Stanford University study suggests that telecommuters experience a productivity boost that’s equivalent to a full day’s work, as many employees say they find it easier to concentrate and that they’re less likely to waste time when working from home.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that remote work arrangements result in higher levels of productivity, as well as lower rates of absenteeism and attrition. In other words, that means remote workers tend to be more engaged and stick around for the long term -- which is a major development for business owners.
In addition, employers can potentially save a lot of money by embracing a work-from-home model. That same Stanford study found that the company in question saved roughly $2,000 per employee in rent costs alone by embracing working from home vs working in an office.
There’s also evidence to suggest that a “work from anywhere” policy is even better for productivity than a strict “work from home” policy. Plus, it opens up more opportunities for employers who want to attract top talent from around the world. Not only could you potentially hire an incredible candidate who doesn’t reside in your general area, but you could actually be in a better position to attract top talent simply due to the fact that you offer teleworking options. A Gallup poll from 2017 found that 35% of employees would change jobs in order to have a more flexible work setup that would allow them to work off-site on a full-time basis. In many situations, being able to offer a flexible work arrangement could offset lower compensation or a less impressive benefits package due to the perceived benefits of a WFH structure.
That could be because employees generally feel that in the remote work vs office debate, remote work allows for a much better work-life balance. Not having to commute to and from the office each day allows for more free time with loved ones, while having the freedom to follow a more flexible schedule can encourage employees to take care of themselves in a way that normal office work might not. In many situations, an employee might not have to take time off for a doctor’s visit or family obligation; instead, they can make up the time in the best way for them.
Work-from-home employees tend to use fewer sick days because of this flexible scheduling arrangement, allowing them to save up their accrued time off for more enjoyable or urgent activities. They don’t have to worry about falling behind on their work if they feel under the weather or want to spend an afternoon with their family, which can relieve work-related stress. Being able to offer employees a better balance between their professional and personal commitments can go a long way in creating an incredible company culture -- one that attracts employees and keeps them around while supporting your other business goals.
What Are the Drawbacks of Working From Home?
Of course, there are bound to be disadvantages with a remote work vs office structure. As many business owners are now finding out, remote work can come with a lot of challenges -- particularly in regard to company culture. While having a more flexible work arrangement can keep employees engaged in certain areas, some organizations may struggle to maintain a high caliber of communication and collaboration when team members are working remotely.
Even with all of the technology we have at our fingertips, there’s really no substitute for the connections we build in-person. As such, working from home vs working in an office can come with a fair amount of isolation. Not being able to stop by a co-worker’s desk or share lunch with your team every day can be difficult for many employees, especially those who thrive in social environments. Having few opportunities to interact with anyone outside your immediate household can make some individuals think twice about working remotely on a full-time basis. And during a pandemic, when co-working spaces and even coffee shops may not make for feasible work environments, being required to work from home can start to feel monotonous or even tortuous after a while.
Working from home can also result in less oversight, which can be challenging for business owners. When it comes to issues like cybersecurity, having a work-from-home structure can make it harder to ensure compliance and prevent data loss. It can also be a problem when there are pre-existing trust issues between employer and employee; if you have staff members who are likely to take advantage of the freedoms that remote work affords, this can result in loss of productivity or even employee theft. However, it’s important to note that those issues really stem from other causes (like poor hiring practices or inadequate management) than from the concept of remote work itself.
Another reason to give careful consideration to your remote work vs office decision is the distractions that are inherent to WFH setups. Barking dogs, crying kids, street noise, loud neighbors, and other interruptions are commonplace in these situations. These can be somewhat problematic for client-facing businesses; whether you’re relying on video conferencing or phone calls, these distractions could inhibit productivity or even jeopardize customer relationships. However, in the era of COVID-19, most people are incredibly understanding. It may just take some work to minimize consistent distractions and make sure that all employees are adhering to expectations.
You may want to note that burnout is common among teleworkers, which might seem odd at first. If working from home vs working in an office is better for work-life balance, why would employees be more likely to experience burnout? For many people, the lack of separation between work life and home life can be an issue. Although you may have the flexibility to make up your hours or to enjoy a longer lunch break, you might always feel like you’re always worried about work. Having a dedicated office space at home can certainly help, though that often represents added expenses for the employee. Remote employees will need to focus on setting boundaries -- and employers must be careful not to push those boundaries -- in order to prevent burnout.
The remote work vs office argument might also come down to industry expectations. If you own and run your own digital marketing agency, you’ll no doubt want to be perceived as professional. In some situations, having a physical office space can promote a sense of legitimacy among your team or your clients. You may feel the need to maintain some kind of physical address -- even if it’s a rented “virtual office” for in-person meetings and important deliveries -- in order to protect your brand. While it’s becoming increasingly more common for businesses to go fully remote, you’ll still want to have a home base for client visits and even SEO purposes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that remote work can’t work for your business, but it may make things a bit more complicated or become an extra expense to deal with.
For many teams, the pros of remote work far outweigh the cons. But it’s essential to know what you’re up against before making the transition in order to protect your employees and your agency as a whole.
How Has the Pandemic Changed the Way We Work?
Of course, remote work is now fairly commonplace throughout the U.S., thanks to the pandemic. But even before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, remote work was on the rise. In 2016, a Gallup survey found that 43% of U.S. employees were working remotely at least part of the time, with 31% of employees spending at least 80% of their time in a remote work environment.
At that time, Gallup noted a significant upward trend in remote work across the industries they studied -- a trend that they felt would continue in the coming years. Although only 5.2% of U.S. workers worked entirely from home in 2017 according to Census Bureau data, a LinkedIn survey found that the vast majority of workers wanted to work from home at least a few times per week. Interestingly, statistics show that telecommuters also tend to make more -- yet another reason employees were already supportive of working from home vs working in an office!
Now, the desire to work from home has become a reality for many Americans. Aside from the other benefits we’ve already discussed, remote work can help remote employees -- and, indeed, entire companies -- stay safe in the wake of a highly contagious and deadly virus. In September 2020, Gallup found that 33% of employees were working remotely on a full-time basis. Although this was a significant drop from data collected in April and May, which showed 51% of employees were working totally from home during that time, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay. Pew Research Center also reported in December 2020 that 71% of U.S. workers whose jobs can be performed remotely were working from home, with more than half reporting that they’d continue to do so after the pandemic if given the choice.
Employees and employers who might not have considered remote work before the pandemic are now more likely to be on board. According to a PWC survey conducted in June 2020, 83% of employers reported that the shift to remote work has been a successful one for their companies. By December 2020, 52% of employers and 34% of employees agreed that productivity had improved while working remotely -- representing positive effects even from June to December 2020.
While more widespread vaccinations could make returning to a conventional office setup that much more feasible, it’s highly likely that a significant number of employers will continue to allow their workers to follow a remote structure even after COVID-19 is no longer an imminent threat. A recent survey by Gartner found that 80% of company leaders plan to let employees work remotely for at least part of the time after the pandemic, while 47% say they’ll allow their employees to continue full-time remote work. An Upwork survey also suggests that one in four Americans will be working remotely in 2021, with 36.2 million U.S. workers telecommuting by 2025 -- an 87% increase compared to pre-pandemic data.
Needless to say, the pandemic made the remote work trend go into overdrive. But most experts agree that remote work is far from a passing trend. It’s here to stay for the long haul -- which begs the question: should you make the switch to working from home vs working in an office?
What Makes the Most Sense For My Business?
At Semify, our team has been working remotely for years. We follow what’s known as a Results-Only Work Environment (or ROWE), which actually goes beyond the mere ability to work from anywhere.
With ROWE, where you work (or even when you work) doesn’t matter. It’s all about getting the results. This kind of structure requires radical autonomy and accountability. It’s played a critical role in developing our high-performance culture, even when team members are working outside of the office. Employees are fully responsible for achieving their results in a way that isn’t dictated by a schedule or by physical presence in an office.
In many ways, we believe this is what’s made our transition to a fully remote workplace so seamless. Although our team has been working solely from home (or from wherever they choose to work that day!) for almost a year now, the way we do our work really hasn’t changed. Neither has our commitment to collaboration. While there have been challenges, of course, we feel we were really ahead of the game during the onset of the pandemic. Because this setup wasn’t all that new to us, we were able to roll with the punches and actually grow our business at a time when many Americans were playing catch-up.
Even though we have retained our office space, Semify is staying fully remote until it’s safe to return. But is it time for your agency to think about going back to work in a more traditional sense?
In this post, we’ve weighed the benefits and disadvantages of remote work vs. office work. But in the end, it’s a personal decision that will really depend on your priorities as a business owner.
If you and your employees feel that you can return to the office in a way that’s truly safe, that’s the number one consideration. It’s our opinion that risking the safety of yourself and any team members simply isn’t worth that sense of normalcy that many people seek. Would it be great to see our co-workers in person? Of course! But the idea of risking the lives of the people we work with every day is too great a chance to take for us.
If you have a very small team and your employees are sequestered in their offices with very few opportunities to interact, that may be something to consider. But if that’s the case, you could just as easily succeed with a remote work setup! Running a digital marketing agency, as we’ve found, can be done from virtually anywhere. As long as you have the right people on your team and you have the technology you need, it might make sense to stick with remote work for now.
That’s also true if you’re looking to hire in the near future. Since it’s clear that candidates are actively looking for remote work opportunities, your business could potentially attract better talent simply due to the flexible work setup you provide. Continuing with a remote work environment, likewise, can keep current employees engaged and happy. That can allow you to avoid the costs of unwanted turnover even after the pandemic has ended.
Even without COVID-19 as a factor, remote work still might be a more appealing option. Although a traditional office comes with built-in socialization, the cost savings associated with working from home vs working in an office can be substantial. Eliminating rent payments and reducing other overhead costs (like electricity, heating and cooling, waste management, cleaning services, building maintenance, and office supplies) can be a huge help to your bottom line.
However, in the remote work vs office debate, remote work won’t always win out. If you’ve already been paying rent for an existing office space and need to make the most of your lease, that might convince you to go the traditional route. Outside of the context of the pandemic, it might make sense to embrace working in an office if your employees aren’t doing well in a remote environment or your agency is going through rapid expansion. Since inexperienced workers often benefit from working with others in an office, it’s possible that new hires might find value in a more conventional workplace.
Ultimately, the choice here is yours. But when you consider that remote work has been on the rise for years, that your agency might not require a physical location and that the health of your staff is likely a top priority, it’s no wonder that opting for an office might seem downright outdated.