The Pros and Cons of Remote Work

Telecommuting is a top choice for many modern workers, but remote work has its pros and cons.

When organizations and employees are asking themselves whether they should work remotely, they should weigh those benefits and drawbacks carefully.

After all:

  • Many employees are well-suited to remote working and prefer it over commuting to the office
  • Employees who work remotely are more productive and engaged
  • Organizations can reap a number of benefits, including cut costs and increased effectiveness
  • However, remote working can create social gaps in the workforce and increase feelings of loneliness, among other things

Understanding factors such as these can help businesses design better telecommuting policies, make better decisions around remote working, and improve the employee experience.

The Pros of Remote Work

There are a number of benefits to working remotely, which is why so many modern workers prefer to telecommute.

In fact, one study by Zapier found that…

  • 74% of people would be willing to quit their job to work remote
  • 31% would like to but wouldn’t allow it
  • 26% have quit their jobs for one that does

And another study by Buffer surveyed remote workers and found that…

  • 98% of them would like to continue working remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career
  • 97% would recommend remote working to others
  • 70% were happy with the amount of time they worked remotely
  • 19% wanted to work remotely more often

According to this same study, the top benefits included:

  • The ability to have a flexible schedule (32%)
  • Flexibility to work from anywhere (26%)
  • Not having to commute (21%)

Yet there are a number of other benefits to remote working, including:

  • Increased employee engagement. Happier employees are, by default, more engaged with their work, which leads to many of the other benefits covered below.
  • Boosted organizational efficiency. Remote working translates into workflows that are more transactional and efficient, which improves overall organizational efficiency. As we will discover later, this style of social interaction carries certain downsides, but on the upside, it improves organizational efficiency.
  • Improved organizational flexibility. An organization that offers more flexibility to its workers is itself also more flexible, since it is able to hire from a wider talent pool, stay resilient in the face of issues that can compromise on-site working, such as natural disasters or illnesses.
  • Decreased commutes. Lower commute times lower stress and transportation costs. These benefits certainly make employees happier, and they can also help employers cut costs if they have to compensate employees for travel expenses.
  • Improved employee productivity. A study by Stanford found that employees are far more productive when working from home than when working from the office.

For reasons such as those listed here, many workers have a strong preference for telecommuting – however, there are drawbacks that it pays to examine.

The Cons of Remote Work

To make the most of remote working policies, organizations should understand that remote working does come with drawbacks.

These include:

  • Less social interaction. Workers who are apart from the office will have less social interaction with their coworkers, which is why it is important to keep them engaged. Introverts may prefer the social distance, but a lack of social interaction can lead to other problems, such as…
  • Difficulty cultivating a unified organizational culture. An organization’s culture is built around people’s beliefs, values, and assumptions. But when people are not colocated, the lack of social interaction will make it more difficult to build a common culture, feelings of solidarity, and strong workplace relationships.
  • Decreased oversight. Managing remote workers is certainly possible, and some businesses operate entirely remotely. However, since workers are not physically located in the same place, managers must resort to online tools and performance indicators in order to manage remote teams.
  • Decreased ability to concentrate. When teleworkers can concentrate, they are often much more productive than when working in the office. However, when working from home, family members or pets can often prove distracting. 
  • Increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. Another problem for workers is the feeling of isolation. Working alone, instead of in an office with others, can quickly transform feelings of solitude into feelings of isolation and loneliness. The emotional impact can wear on certain employees, especially those who are not used to teleworking.

Fortunately, most of the drawbacks covered here can be remedied with the right approach.

Here are a few examples:

  • To combat social isolation, workers can become members of a coworking space, work at cafes, or add more items to their social calendars
  • Managers can improve oversight with certain software programs, such as digital adoption software, and through metric-based performance evaluations
  • Setting boundaries and creating a dedicated home workspace can help block out distractions

Clearly, remote working is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for employee productivity.

However, with the right approach – and a strategy for tackling obstacles – employees and organizations can both realize significant gains from a remote working program.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.