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In the battle for talent, employers would be wise to offer telecommuting options to employees, judging by a recent survey.
Nearly two of three Canadian professionals (65 per cent) said they are more likely to accept a job offer if there’s the possibility of telecommuting, according to a Robert Half survey of more than 550 workers. That’s even truer for millennials, as 79 per cent favour the remote work option.
“If you’re offering telecommuting, your organization will attract better candidates and you’ll have a stronger recruitment program,” said Sandra Lavoy, regional vice-president at Robert Half in Ottawa. “It’s also a really strong retention tool.”
“The biggest downside is that 20 per cent abuse the benefit of working from home,” she said. “But if you don’t offer telecommuting, and statistics say 65 per cent of your workforce wants it, you won’t be able to recruit the best candidates or keep your best people.”
Workers with remote work options are happier and more loyal, according to Rachel Jay, researcher at FlexJobs in Nashville.
“The benefits are far-reaching, and include cost savings and better productivity.”
Set up a structured plan
However, telecommuting has its challenges. More than a quarter (26 per cent) of employees surveyed said a major drawback is feeling isolated and missing a team environment. One in five raised concerns about people abusing the benefit, while 16 per cent cited strained interpersonal relationships due to a lack of face time as a concern.
There are steps to take to address these issues, said Jay.
“Businesses should do their due diligence to create formalized programs,” she said. “Having a casual program that isn’t clearly defined and isn’t supported by management will lead to confusion and possibly even resentment by employees.”
Employers should start by assessing their goals, and check in with employees to see what they want, said Jay. It’s also important to consider what type of flexible work will integrate best in the workplace and culture.
Flexible work options range from full telecommuting — perhaps with occasional on-site meetings — to a day or two of telecommuting per week.
But employers shouldn’t assume everyone understands the benefits of telecommuting.
“It’s vital to make sure managers are on board with remote working,” she said. “A negative attitude from the top down can discourage employees and make them feel unsupported in this new setup.”
“Managers will need to learn to communicate well and set expectations of feedback from employees.”
Communication issues and feelings of isolation are two problems that can arise, said Jay.
“This can be combatted by having the right tools in place and encouraging managers to act proactively.”
A business needs to truly understand what the work arrangements are going to be, and how people are going to communicate, said Lavoy.
At the Robert Half office, for example, an instant messaging platform and video conferencing platform help keep remote workers connected.
“These tools are improving all the time, and employees are getting more and more comfortable, so staying connected now is so much easier than it was five years ago,” she said.
Another concern? Not being considered for new projects or promotions because of a loss of face time, according to the survey. Supervisors may have similar concerns, said Lavoy.
“How can a manager promote somebody if they’re not seeing them regularly and seeing their leadership skills and how they work with the team?”
Another consideration is collaboration, she said.
“How are you going to ensure people are collaborating effectively when they’re working remotely?”
Because of those concerns, many workers will say they want to come in to the office sometimes so they feel like they’re part of a team environment, she said, noting younger employees feel more at home in a digital-only environment.
“Millennials are in their element with things like instant messaging, and don’t see the technology as an obstacle to collaboration or staying connected at all.”
Adapt managing styles
Many of these challenges can be at least partly solved by revisiting how teams are managed, said Jay.
“There are differences in managing a remote employee versus someone in-office,” she said. “Remote work environments are more about results, rather than face time.”
Trust is also important, said Lavoy.
“If you know and connect with your employees and you’re engaged with them as a leader, you’ll be able to understand them and how they work best.”
“There will, of course, be some people who abuse the benefit, she said, “but you manage by holding your staff accountable through the job description and job function... The message is: ‘Here is your job. You deliver and do your work and we’re not concerned with the how or the where.’”
Melissa Campeau is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
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