This article was updated on July 6, 2018.
Remote work is on the rise. Global Workplace Analytics reports that approximately one-quarter of all U.S. workers now telecommute with some frequency, while Fortune 1000 businesses worldwide are changing their remote working policies to reflect the fact that staff are away from their desks more than 50 percent of the time. For finance leaders, however, it's easy to see the rise of remote work and commensurate technology investment as more of a budget crunch than a revenue driver. So here's a look at the potential benefits of telecommuting technology on corporate ROI.
The Case for Cost
Adapting to remote work demands means making changes — businesses must spend on IT solutions such as voice over internet protocol technology to enable seamless mobile and desktop integration, in addition to managing the potential pitfalls of network access outside the physical security of corporate offices. Identity and access management tools, malware detectors and multifactor authentication solutions are all par for the course in keeping both workers and businesses safe.
This comes with a price tag, typically payable per month. But as noted by the Harvard Business Review, it may also pay significant dividends. Consider the health care sector, for instance. Despite a recent push toward electronic records and e-information sharing, the industry still struggles with the problem of limited facility space and personnel against the growing medical needs of an aging American population. One facility, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, began testing a telecare strategy that lets patients schedule video appointments with staff rather than requiring their physical presence. These appointments are ideal for patients that require frequent follow-up consultation but infrequent physical exams. Doctors are able to more effectively manage their time, facilities aren't as overburdened and patients get the care they need without waiting. For finance leaders this can be ideal — by giving employees the leeway to schedule their own time and reducing the drain on physical resources, the IT investment required takes on the aspects of a full-blown IT investment rather than mandatory cost.
The Finance of Flexibility
Beyond the ability to schedule their own time and conduct meetings remotely, rather than face-to-face, organizations can also derive significant savings from the flexibility offered by remote work. Specifically, it can allow for greater productivity since employees don't need to worry about enduring long commutes, paying for parking or dealing with office politics. As noted by Forbes, studies consistently rate remote workers as more productive, meaning they offer the double benefit of leveraging their own resources to connect with corporate servers and are more efficient at getting their work done than in-house counterparts.
Finance leaders should be careful, however, and monitor for emerging pay gaps. It makes sense given the nature of at-home work that many businesses may view the role as less demanding than a full-time office job. As a result, it can be tempting to pay remote workers less than their corporately-located colleagues, which in turn can foster a sense of dissatisfaction. Given that remote workers must create a space for themselves to work, spend on the necessary technology and ensure work is completed without direct supervisor oversight, these demands need to be considered when determining overall compensation levels.
Along with reduced costs and improved productivity, making the technology investment of remote work can also increase employee happiness and overall job satisfaction, reducing the amount of churn experienced by businesses. As noted by Business.com, happier employees are also more productive and creative, in turn boosting the corporate bottom line. But there's a limit. If employees are pressured to work longer hours or be constantly available, this happiness benefit could disappear and workers could be at risk of burnout, meaning reduced efficacy and time needed for rehabilitation. Set firm limits about work hours — backed by effective, time-sensitive access policies — to ensure staff aren't answering emails or working on presentations in the middle of the night.
If your organization is considering a shift to remote work, then this type of technology investment can offer potential savings, enhanced employee productivity and improved retention rates.