Working remotely is both a blessing and a curse.
If you want to spend a week in Hawaii working from a Wi-Fi-equipped hut on the beach, you can. You’ll save a lot of money on gas, lunches out, Starbucks and clothes. Going to the gym or running an errand mid-day is no problem. You’ll no longer waste half your day on boring office small talk. People will envy your seemingly low-stress, flexible life.
The downsides? Isolation and the need to self-motivate and set boundaries. Especially without roommates, kids or pets around, working from home can get very, very lonely. Sure, you can chat with your colleagues online or on the phone every day, but the lack of face-to-face contact can leave a void. If you’re looking to make new friends or date in your town, be ready to put yourself out there because it probably won’t happen organically.
Plus, without your boss there to pop by your desk and check in, you’ll essentially need to manage yourself. You’re also physically “at work” 24/7, so setting boundaries, such as no email after 6 p.m., is critical to keeping stress levels down.
And while some recommend getting into full business attire before sitting down at your home office desk, don’t expect that to last. Eventually, you might start feeling like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” when he wore those sweatpants that told the world, “I give up!”
Still, remote work has many benefits for both the employee and employer, and more credit unions should consider work-from-home policies for positions that don’t require regular face-to-face interactions. Multiple studies show remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts, according to a July 2016 Hubstaff blog post. In a ConnectSolutions remote working report, for example, 30% of survey respondents said working away from the office allowed them to achieve more in fewer hours, 24% said they accomplished more in the same amount of time and 77% of remote workers reported higher productivity. Stanford University’s Work From Home experiment, a study of 16,000 call center employees, found that 9% of a 13% performance boost of remote workers resulted from workers taking fewer breaks and sick time.
Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” study found remote employees log four more hours weekly than their colleagues in the office do, and that they’re even more engaged than office employees – 32% versus 28%. A work-from-home policy is a cost savings for the employer, too – Cisco reported it saved $277 million per year by allowing employees to telecommute, and Global Workplace Analytics found companies can save $11,000 per employee per year if they work remotely for just half of their working hours.
Research backs up remote work’s effect on employee happiness, too. According to the Hubstaff blog, some studies showed that after working remotely for three to five years, employees report higher levels of satisfaction and happiness with their jobs, likely due to increased freedom and flexibility, less stress, more sleep and less commuting or driving.
Being extra-productive in an isolated environment can take its toll on the worker, however. In a Psychological Science in the Public Interest study, cited in an October 2016 Fusion blog, a University of South Florida professor noted working from home “blurs the lines between work and home,” leading people to be less focused during working hours and stressed out about work during their free time. And in a 2012 poll, 62% of remote workers found their set-up socially isolating, Reuters reported.
But there are steps both the employee and employer can take to improve balance and decrease isolation in remote work situations. First, it’s up to the employee to ensure their live/work environment is one that is comfortable and distraction-free, yet provides access to social interactions when they want them.
As I alluded to in my last column, I’m in the process of relocating to Portland, Ore., and without a remote job, this would be much, much harder to do. During my apartment search, my goal was to reduce the isolation factor of working from home by choosing a place conducive to socializing. And I succeeded – at the end of May, I’ll be moving into a community with a lodge-like lounge area with Wi-Fi, pool/barbecue area, fitness center and brewery right around the corner. A new pet is in the plan too.
The employer can do their part by encouraging remote employees to attend local gatherings related to their field. So if your credit union has several employees scattered across the country, get them out to some events or meetings held by their state league or local young credit union professionals group. They’ll get those interactions they crave, feel a sense of belonging and might even bring some innovative ideas back to the credit union in the process. Sending remote employees to credit union industry conferences based on the regions they live in is another great way to encourage camaraderie and collaboration (and I don’t know about you, but after attending one of those, I’m dying for some alone time).
Does your credit union have a work-from-home policy? Why or why not? And if so, what are the benefits and drawbacks? Shoot me an email, and we might feature your story in a future article.
Natasha Chilingerian is managing editor for CU Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.