A recent satirical piece in the New Yorker played the stereotypical remote worker for laughs -- disheveled, disoriented, starved for human contact, still in his pajamas after who-knows-how-many-days. Unproductive, he calls 911 for help. While it's hilarious -- and for those who work from home, there's certainly a few grains of truth buried within -- new research from Future Workplace and Polycom might finally put to rest the perception that remote workers are lazy, anti-social and unproductive.
The report, The Human Face of Remote Working, polled 25,234 employees across 12 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Japan, the UK, India, Singapore, Germany, Russia, France, Australia and China. Of the respondents, 55 percent held managerial or higher job titles; 58 percent are responsible for care in some capacity and 68 percent are parents. The study found that despite the remote working stigma of laziness and isolation, remote workers are more empathetic, desire human connection and pick up the phone more than their in-office counterparts.
[ Related stories: Why building candidate personas helps you hire the right talent ]
"There is still a stigma that remote workers are disconnected from the rest of the team, yet this study proves that they are more sociable and proactively reach out to develop strong relationships. The new technology tools that enable communication and collaboration are motivating workers to pick up the phone, seek face time and create lasting bonds. This is the upside of remote work we rarely talk about," says Jeanne Meister, partner, Future Workplace.
The study revealed just how prevalent remote work is; nearly three out of every four employees surveyed say their company offers flexible working options and 32 percent of respondents say they regularly work remotely. An 79 percent of employees say they work with at least one person who isn't based in the same office as them.
Most research has focused on the benefits of remote work for employees: better work-life balance, greater engagement, loyalty and retention and improved productivity, says Meister. The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents say they benefit from control over their work life balance; 63 percent say it improves their productivity and 38 percent say it improves their ability to care for children. But there also are benefits for employers, too, Meister says.
"One of the biggest employer benefits is global access to talent, and that is huge. That's a very strategic way to run your business! And some clients I've worked with have saved anywhere from $15 million to $70 million on real estate, housekeeping, energy and other costs; it's not just an employee perk. There also are benefits to employee loyalty, retention and engagement," Meister says.
[ Related stories: How microcertifications work for IT job seekers and employers ]
The workplace of the future
Remote and flexible work options also are a great recruiting tool especially for younger workers, says Jim Kruger, chief marketing officer, Polycom.
One of the keys for creating the workplace of the future is offering flexible working policies -- this is a major competitive differentiator when you're hiring. To attract top talent, particularly when you segment the market and look at recruiting and retaining millennials and Generation Z, according to Kruger. "That's a hugely important factor they consider when they choose where they work. And companies are starting to understand that; 73 percent of companies from the survey offer flexible work arrangements, and I think that's being driven by millennials and new generation workers coming into the labor force," he says.
[ Related stories: Culture key to attracting and retaining tech talent ]
The research also uncovered how collaborative technologies have made employees more empathetic and helped them build better coworker relationships, with 98 percent of respondents saying collaborative technology has made it easier to get to know, or build relationships with co-workers. Nearly half say they know their co-workers more personally thanks to video conferencing and two-thirds of respondents say their "favorite" colleagues work in a different location.
Ninety-five percent of respondents use collaboration technology to connect with their coworkers and over one-third use that technology multiple times a day, the survey shows. In addition, 90 percent say collaboration technology improves productivity between teams in different locations.
"If you aren't offering remote and flexible work opportunities, you might not be reaping all the benefits of better productivity, better talent, and even greater engagement and connection," Kruger says.