Is Telework Becoming Essential for Small Businesses?

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, resulting in the shutdown of the U.S. economy, the workforce trend of telework or remote work was well underway. According to a 2019 Global Workplace Analytics study, the number of people working remotely has increased by 91% over the last twelve years. However, the vast majority of that growth has occurred within larger companies. Due primarily to a lack of resources, management, or trust, small businesses have lagged behind the remote work trend. Then the pandemic came.

Small Businesses Swept into the Telework Revolution

As stay-at-home orders spread across the nation, businesses that were considered “nonessential” were forced to temporarily shut their doors, with many forced to furlough or lay off their staffs. But many businesses quickly learned that their operations could continue, at least in part, with their employees teleworking at home. The technology was already there to communicate (video chat or instant messaging), to meet individually or in groups (Zoom, Skype), to collaborate (Slack, Microsoft Team), to manage projects (Trello, Basecamp Business) while doing it all securely through the cloud (virtual private networks).

Businesses had to quickly cobble together new protocols for managing employees, tracking projects and productivity, and engaging with their workers. They soon learned what the larger companies have known for a while – that performance and productivity don’t have to suffer through telework. In fact, it has been shown to improve productivity and profitability.

Studies Show Telework Works

Numerous studies from leading research institutions, such as Stanford, Harvard, Gallup, and Global Workplace Analytics, show teleworkers are an average of 35% to 40% more productive than their office counterparts with 40% fewer quality defects. The higher productivity and performance have resulted in 41% lower absenteeism and a 50% reduction in turnover. On average, a part-time teleworker saves an organization $11,000 per year, resulting in 21% higher profitability.

The question facing small businesses is whether they should return to a normal, physical operation once they are able to reopen, or should they adopt workplace flexibility as the new normal. If the studies of remote work productivity and profitability can’t answer that question, then the changing attitudes and preferences of the workforce will.

Workers are Leading the Change

A recent survey by Robert Half reveals that workers who have experienced telework during the pandemic now prefer it over returning to the workplace. Of the 1,000 respondents

  • 74% said they’d prefer to telecommute more often
  • 56% said they worry about being in close proximity to colleagues
  • 70% said their company should hold fewer in-person meetings and training sessions
  • 86% of employees say they’re more productive working from home without distractions such as inefficient meetings, office gossip, and loud office noises

Businesses hoping to attract, hire and retain quality employees need to know that many are now willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to their workplace preferences. Sixty-two percent of U.S. workers now say they would take a pay cut to work remotely or sacrifice other benefits such as vacation days. Thirty percent of employees have left a job because it did not offer flexible work options. The work from home option is especially important for millennials, with 68% saying it would greatly influence their interest in working for a company.

Telework: From Optional Perk to Essential Capability

While the remote work revolution was well underway before the pandemic, the COVID-induced shutdown has brought it home to small businesses that have been otherwise reluctant to get on board. Employees have discovered they can be as productive, if not more, and less stressed working at home while improving their work/life balance. Businesses have also found they can increase productivity, employee retention, and profits with a properly structured telework regimen. To grow and prosper in a post-COVID world, businesses must come to the realization that telework has gone from an optional perk to an essential capability.

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