By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, Corporate Trainer and Behavioral Scientist
Remote work is the rage nowadays. But its not entirely a new phenomenon. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that “between 2005 and 2015, the number of US employee who telecommuted increased by 115%. The decision by employers to allow their employees to working from home full time is largely predicated on the analysis of the maintenance of productivity. Not many firms, prior to COVID-19 pandemic, were willing to risk the potential loss of employee productivity with added gains of job convenience.”
The trend toward remote work, telework and work from home full time
Before the coronavirus pandemic, estimates of the percentage of remote workers varied from 5 percent (Bloom) to 16 percent (BLS). Employers calculated that their “workforce could theoretically work remotely one-third of the time without a loss of productivity, or almost half the time with diminished productivity.” After 18 months of government lock down mandates and quarantines, the number of remote workers (or teleworkers) working from home full time have ballooned to 37% (Nature Human Behavior). Just who are these teleworkers? BLS found that remote workers “tend to be older, more educated, work fulltime and are nonunion.”
Consistent with the BLS data, pertaining to the US market, not all workers will be presented with the option to telework three to five days a week. In analyzing 2,000 tasks of 800 jobs in nine countries, McKinsey & Company identified that two factors that determine the probability that an onsite job will transform to offsite, remote, home-based work full time.
Two Determinants of Remote Work
There two determinants are whether a job requires (1) interpersonal interaction, (2) physical presence at a specific worksite, and/or the (3) use of laboratory, specific machinery. Jobs with tasks involving these two elements are least likely to be carried out remotely. Landscapers, workers using specialized machinery, childcare providers, HVAC technicians, electricians, health care workers who conduct CT scans, home health aides, grocery and restaurant delivery drivers, for example, may be given no options for telework. McKinsey argues that jobs such as the ones indicated above are more threatened by automation and digitization than telework.
What is telework and remote work exactly?
The American Psychological Association reports that “telecommuting arrangements can vary greatly for different workers.” Teleworking can be organized based upon these characteristics: remote work 100% of the time, partial remote work from home less than 100% of the work week, working from a home office, to co-working from another space.
Job tasks most amenable to remote work
As with many researchers, McKinsey concluded that personal engagement and interaction with the client, customer, buyer and/or patient as well as physical presence are necessities that impede transformation of jobs, mostly low wage ones to telework and remote work. Other key findings of the preeminent consulting firm were the following:
- The potential for remote work is determined by tasks, not job title
- The potential for remote work is higher in advanced nations
- A hybrid model combining remote work and office work is possible for jobs with high remote work potential
- Hybrid models have implications for commercial real estate
- Employers must adjust policies and procedures to maintain employee remote worker productivity
Industries best suited for remote work
The consulting firm, during their inquiry of job tasks most suitable for remote work, telework and work from home, reasoned that “remote work potential is concentrated in a few sectors.” In ranked order, sectors and industries with the greatest likelihood of remote work adoptions are:
- Business services, and
- Information technology
The benefits of remote work, telework, telecommuting and work from home
According to the American Psychological Association, there are many benefits to the adoption of remote work, telework, telecommuting and work from home. From the employee’s perspective, they “gain flexibility, save time and reduce transportation, and some child-care costs.” For the viewpoint of the employer, they can “hire geographically distributed talent and reduce overhead expenses.”
Should you adopt or accept a remote work assignment?
What should you do if you are an extrovert, social gadfly, or one who revels in all-day in-person brainstorming sessions? Maybe you are someone who derives energy from others? Perhaps you are the resident ‘mom’ who dispenses advice to your peers unprompted? Better, yet, maybe your management skills are best suited for in-person rallying of the troops.
Regardless of whether one has the option, or independently decides to work from home 100% of the time or less, it would be prudent to fully explore the drawbacks before making a long term commitment, as “primarily working from home offers employees fewer opportunities to talk and network with their colleagues.”
The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers, Nature Human Behavior
The Future of Remote Work, American Psychological Association, Vol. 50, No. 9. October 2019
What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries, McKinsey & Company, November 23, 2020
Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant and blogger at http://edfraud.net specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com