More than 26 million Americans—about 16% of the total workforce—now work remotely at least part of the time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Between 2005 and 2015, the number of U.S. employees who telecommuted increased by 115%. Those workers tend to be older, more educated, full time and nonunion.
Telecommuting arrangements can vary greatly for different workers. They can be fully or partially remote; they may work from a home office, co-working space or other location; and increasingly they may be geographically distant from the organization or clients they serve.
And such remote work can benefit both employers and employees, experts say. Employers can hire geographically distributed talent and reduce overhead expenses, while employees can gain flexibility, save time, and reduce transportation and some child-care costs. But the impact of such arrangements on productivity, creativity and morale has been up for debate, primarily because working from home offers employees fewer opportunities to talk and network with their colleagues.
Now, to learn more about telecommuting and its implications for the future of work, psychologists are studying remote work’s benefits, drawbacks and best practices. A related line of research is also exploring how to maximize the effectiveness of geographically distributed teams that rely primarily on virtual means of communication.
“Telework is here to stay,” says industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologist Timothy Golden, PhD, professor and area coordinator of enterprise management and organization at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “As researchers and managers practicing in the field, what we need to understand more fully is not if, but how, teleworking is best conducted to maximize work outputs.”
Small but tangible benefits
Many workers view telecommuting as a job perk, with more than half seeking the arrangement as a way to improve work-life balance. People choose to work remotely to avoid daily commutes, reduce workplace distractions and fulfill family care responsibilities (Owl Labs State of Remote Work, 2017). In other cases, an organization may require its employees to work from home, for instance, if a branch office is shut down.
Of course, some jobs are better suited to remote work than others. Knowledge workers such as computer programmers who can do most of their work on a laptop—tasks like creating software code, reports or spreadsheets—and people whose productivity is easily monitored, such as insurance claims adjusters or call center workers, are the most likely to telecommute, says Ravi Gajendran, PhD, assistant professor in the department of global leadership and management at Florida International University.
In a study of 273 teleworkers from sales, marketing, accounting, engineering and other departments at one organization, Gajendran and Golden found that employees whose jobs were highly complex but did not require significant collaboration or social support performed better when telecommuting than when working in the company’s office (Journal of Business and Psychology, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2019).
“Employees whose jobs require concentration or significant problem-solving often need focused time to think deeply about the task at hand,” Golden says. “In a shared office full of potential interruptions, that can be hard to do.”
Even within a specific role, some duties may be well suited to teleworking, while others are better performed in person. An employee can write reports or articles from a home office, but interpersonally sensitive tasks that may involve nonverbal communication—conducting a quarterly performance review with a subordinate, for example—tend to go more smoothly when handled face to face, says Golden.
“It’s not so much that telecommuting is good or bad; it’s just that sometimes it’s advantageous and sometimes it’s not,” Gajendran says.
In a 2015 research review, Golden and his colleagues found that, overall, telecommuting increased job satisfaction, performance and feelings of commitment to an organization among employees. People who teleworked also tended to experience less work stress or exhaustion. Drawbacks included social and professional isolation, fewer opportunities for information sharing and a blurring of boundaries between work and personal life (Allen, T.D., et al., Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2015).
“The research has generally shown that for most outcomes, remote work leads to small but tangible benefits,” says I/O psychologist Bradford Bell, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) at Cornell University. “Employees who telecommute tend to be slightly more satisfied, and their performance tends to be the same or a little higher.”
But researchers also caution that teleworking is rarely an all-or-nothing arrangement. Some employees work from home a few days a month, some a few days a week and some full time—and the extent of a worker’s telecommuting can dictate his or her experience. For instance, a meta-analysis by Gajendran and a co-author found that telecommuters’ relationships with colleagues generally only suffered if they worked remotely three or more days each week (Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 92, No. 6, 2007).
Along with social isolation, the clouding of work-family boundaries is a significant challenge for remote employees. Teleworkers operating from a home office lack the physical and psychological separation between these two domains that exists in a traditional office setting, says Golden. On the one hand, family and social obligations can easily bleed over into work hours. But more often, studies show, teleworkers’ professional obligations tend to extend beyond the traditional workday, interrupting family time and preventing teleworkers from ever truly disconnecting.
One analysis showed that the blurring of such boundaries causes remote workers to associate their homes with their work roles as work obligations repeatedly intrude upon family time (Eddleston, K.A., & Mulki, J., Group & Organization Management, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2017). Teleworkers also appear to work more. A 2013 Gallup poll found that teleworkers log an extra four hours per week on average compared with their counterparts in the office.
Employers may see these outcomes as positive, translating into higher productivity and better workplace citizenship. Gajendran and his colleagues found that teleworkers often go above and beyond—for instance, by responding to emails outside of work hours—to demonstrate their organizational commitment (Personnel Psychology, Vol. 62, No. 2, 2015). But experts say that without firmer boundaries, employees can experience exhaustion and burnout and that such overwork should be discouraged by managers and organizations.
Social support for teleworkers
Despite the largely positive findings on the benefits of telecommuting, just 7% of American companies offer the option to most or all of their employees, according to recent BLS data. Some early adopters—including Best Buy, IBM and Yahoo—are even reversing policies that once allowed employees to telecommute, citing leadership changes and a growing need for creative collaboration.
Company leaders’ hesitation around flexible work arrangements is often driven by the fear that performance will suffer if employees aren’t closely monitored.
“Often, managers use busyness, working late or other proxies to infer that an employee is effective,” says Jeanne Wilson, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. “In a remote work situation, managers must rely more heavily on results. That’s a hard transition for a lot of people to make.”
But a handful of organizations are effectively using research insights to build evidence-based remote work programs—and reaping the rewards. Health-care company Aetna, for example, has a decade-old remote work program that screens, trains and supports teleworkers—a group that now makes up around half of the company’s workforce. The company has collaborated with psychologists at Cornell University, including Bell, to proactively address issues such as employee isolation, and has seen rewards including reduced real estate costs and better talent retention.
“Companies that have backtracked on remote work—such as Yahoo and IBM—make headlines because they’re outliers in the general trend toward teleworking,” says Bell. In a survey his team conducted, nearly all companies interviewed said they intend to continue offering teleworking or expand its use in the future (“Workplace Redesign: Current Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities,” CAHRS White Paper, 2019).
In another example of research-informed telecommuting, Kaila Jacoby, a consultant with a master’s degree in I/O psychology, leads a work-from-home task force at DCI Consulting, a human resources risk-management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. The task force has created guidelines for the company’s managers and employees who telework, drawing on research on work-family conflict (Greer, T.W., & Payne, S.C., The Psychologist-Manager Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2014), employee engagement (Masuda, A.D., et al., Career Development International, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2017) and other dimensions of the remote work arrangement.
Jacoby recommends that firms get company-wide buy-in for telework and include remote workers in all team- and company-wide events, via video conferencing when necessary. And because teleworkers can’t make social connections during “watercooler” chats, Jacoby also suggests alternative ways to support staff relationship-building, including online message boards and small stipends for virtual lunch or coffee dates.
“Companies should never just implement telecommuting without changing anything else,” says I/O psychologist Kristen Shockley, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “They also need to shift their culture and norms to support the new arrangement.”
Before allowing employees to work remotely, organizations should reevaluate policies around performance evaluation, promotion and salary increases to ensure they don’t favor on-site workers, she says.
But the onus for making remote work a success does not fall solely on employers. Employees also need to cultivate effective routines; set boundaries with managers, colleagues and family members; and make an effort to stay socially and professionally engaged, Jacoby says.
For some, operating from a co-working space—a shared office that provides telecommuters and freelancers with internet access, meeting rooms and other amenities—can help address social isolation. In an ongoing effort known as the University of Michigan Coworking Project, a team of researchers has used surveys, interviews and participatory observations to show that such spaces can create a sense of community without threatening remote workers’ prized autonomy (Garrett, L.E., et al., Organization Studies, Vol. 38, No. 6, 2017).
Golden affirms that coworking spaces may alleviate social isolation, “but it’s unclear whether they address the professional isolation that out-of-office employees tend to experience,” he says.
Interestingly, the growing popularity of remote work could end up dampening its benefits, suggests research by Gajendran. He found that when telecommuting is less common at a company, employees tend to perform best when they work primarily remotely. But when most employees at an organization are allowed to telecommute, working remotely more often does not improve work performance, suggesting that enthusiasm about the arrangement may wane in such cases (Personnel Psychology, Vol. 62, No. 2, 2015).
“In most organizations, telecommuting is not a right; it’s a privilege that you earn. But if everybody is getting it, people may value it less,” Gajendran says. “It all depends on the context.”
Still, he says, companies that offer telework arrangements strategically—by making it contingent upon hitting performance targets, for instance—may be able to avoid such pitfalls.
Connecting remote teams
In another line of research, psychologists are exploring how to maximize the efficiency and productivity of teams that are geographically dispersed.
In today’s global economy, virtual teams can be distributed across different offices or departments in a single organization or they can span time zones, industries and national borders. Greater physical distances can present logistical concerns when tasks require real-time communication—for instance, during a military operation. In addition, cultural differences, such as how direct eye contact is perceived, influence the way people interact.
The way teams are configured—the number and distribution of members and sites—also matters. One study found that teams with one large and multiple smaller subgroups tend to develop an ingroup-outgroup mentality and experience more conflict and coordination problems, whereas teams with individual members who are geographically isolated report fewer such problems (O’Leary, M.B., & Mortensen, M., Organization Science, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2010).
Fortunately, geographic distance is not destiny, says Wilson, whose research shows that communication and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation. In a study of 733 work relationships among colleagues from a variety of industries, she found that relationship quality was more closely tied to “perceived proximity”—or relational closeness—than it was to physical proximity (O’Leary, M.B., et al., MIS Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4, 2014).
Teams with a strong group identity—for instance, those that have unified against a competing team or organization—tend to have more perceived proximity, Wilson says. At the personal level, team members who disclose personal information, such as a favorite television show or the birth of a child, also build stronger connections and more trust.
“Trust among team members starts lower in virtual teams than in face-to-face teams, but over time, it can build to the same levels,” she says.
Other researchers have found that formalizing a virtual team’s goals, roles and communication methods at the outset improves effectiveness (Gibson, C.B., et al., Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 50, No. 6, 2019). In addition to formally exploring any cultural or ideological differences, collaborators should also consider how such teams are led. A study of 101 virtual teams co-authored by Steve Kozlowski, PhD, professor of organizational psychology at Michigan State University, shows that shared leadership rather than traditional hierarchical leadership is associated with improved team performance (Hoch, J.E., & Kozlowski, S.W.J., Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 99, No. 3, 2014).
“As teams become more virtual, it may be impossible for a single person to direct an entire project,” Kozlowski says. “In these cases, leadership functions need to be shifted to the team itself, so members with specific expertise can drive problem-solving in various areas.”
Researchers already know a lot about how to coordinate behavior and motivate people working in face-to-face teams, says Kozlowski. Moving forward, he hopes to see researchers studying virtual teams do a better job of building on those existing insights, such as by investigating how to coordinate knowledge sharing in virtual teams. Meanwhile, Wilson is expanding her focus to explore the roles of extroversion and attractiveness—both of which are associated with leadership—in virtual team dynamics.
In the teleworking sphere, psychologists are confident about a continuing upward trend—Bell anticipates such growth as businesses aim to attract employees in a tight labor market and as communication technologies become more sophisticated—but they’re still probing a number of unanswered questions. Those include the effects of increasing the extent of telecommuting, best practices for managers and the relative effectiveness of various communication methods, particularly video, says Golden. Others are exploring issues of isolation and overwork, how first-time teleworkers adjust to their new circumstances and which types of employees thrive when working remotely.
“Telecommuting is a management tool just like any other,” Gajendran says. “It’s time for organizations to move beyond seeing it as a family-friendly work arrangement. When done well, remote work has the potential to improve performance, increase employee satisfaction and benefit a business.”
Supporting Virtual Collaborations
National Research Council, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science,” National Academies Press, 2015
Virtual Teams: Conceptualization, Integrative Review and Research Recommendations
Mak, S., & Kozlowski, S.W.J., In Landers, R.N. (Ed.) “The Cambridge Handbook of Technology and Employee Behavior,” Cambridge University Press 2019
Digital Nomads: The Final Frontier of Work Arrangements?
Jacoby, K.S., & Holland, S., In The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Jan. 4, 2019
SIOP White Paper Series: Telecommuting
Shockley, K. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2014
How remote work is the future? ›
The trend of people working outside of the office setting is expected to continue. Forbes recently highlighted a survey that found that working remotely was expected to double in 2021. Looking further into the future, it's predicted that 70% of the workforce will be working remotely by 2025.Why do you want to work remotely answer? ›
Your reasons could be, for example: You could be more productive by using the time you would spend in commute in planning and working. You are more productive and creative at home. Working in an environment free of distractions ensures your work is more accurate.Is remote working a good idea? ›
You can complete more work tasks and assignments.
And a 2021 survey of remote workers found that 6 in 10 reported they're more productive working from home than they expected to be because they don't have the commute and may be getting a better night's sleep.
Several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.Can remote working replace office in future? ›
Yes, while work from home is a solution with growing technology, it cannot replace office. There are several reasons. Only job related to industries like Information Technology, Internet, Online Services etc. can be carried out from a work from home scenario.Will remote work continue forever? ›
Remote work is here to stay. According to their projections, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023.What is your biggest challenge with working remotely? ›
One of the major challenges associated with remote work is communication. Lack of in-person interaction can lead to miscommunication and make you feel disconnected from your team. Hence, communicating effectively with your team becomes necessary to get your message across.How do you feel about working remotely? ›
Example 1: "I enjoy the flexibility that working from home allows. When I'm able to set my own hours, it helps me stay on task for a specific amount of time. This translates to a higher quality of work and a better job performance overall." Example 2: "I love the distraction-free atmosphere that remote work provides.What are the advantages and disadvantages of work from home? ›
- Pro: More independence.
- Con: Increased isolation.
- Pro: No commute.
- Con: Increased home office costs.
- Pro: Increased productivity.
- Con: Risk of overworking.
- Pro: Increased flexibility.
- Con: Less face time.
In terms of happiness, remote work tops in-person
In our data, workers who are currently doing their jobs fully from home or mostly from home are happier than those who are working fully or mostly from the office.
What are the benefits working from home? ›
Benefits of Working From Home
Pro: More flexibility to take care of appointments and errands. Pro: Fewer interruptions from meetings and chitchat. Pro: No commute time or expense. Pro: More time spent with family.
A survey by mental health research website Tracking Happiness found that the ability to work remotely is positively correlated with employee happiness. Fully remote workers reported a happiness level roughly 20% higher than those who worked in the office 100% of the time.Why do employees prefer work from home? ›
The study further revealed that 64 per cent employees said they are more productive working from home and feel less stressed. With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing unprecedented changes in work life, a study has revealed that 82 per cent respondents admitted that they prefer working from home to going back to the office.Is working from home good for mental health? ›
In a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2021, the majority of employees working remotely reported a decline in their mental health. Respondents cited isolation, loneliness, and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day as drawbacks to working from home.Why work from home is the future? ›
In Conclusion. There are several other reasons why work from home is the future trend. Burgeoning real estate prices renders it impossible even for large corporations to open offices at multiple locations. Providing work-from-home facilities circumvents such investments in terms of financial commitments and manpower.Why do companies not like remote work? ›
Along with a feeling of no control, managers may hate remote work because there is a lack of constant visibility of what people are doing. And at times this is understandable, as managers might not know who has the bandwidth for projects, where tasks are stuck, or how teams are feeling.Do employees want to work from home? ›
The COVID-19 pandemic may be settling into society as an endemic infection like the flu, but according to a recent Pew Research Center study, that doesn't mean employees are ready to head back to the office.How many companies have gone fully remote? ›
Globally, 16% of companies are fully remote according to an Owl labs study. This same study found that about 62% of workers aged 22 to 65 claim to work remotely at least occasionally. This study also found that 44% of companies do not allow remote work of any kind.What is the hardest part about working virtually for you? ›
Remote work comes without that physical office comradery, water fountain chat, and lunchroom banter. With that said, working from home can be extremely isolating and lonely at times. Schedule calls, both personal and professional, throughout the day. Stay in touch with loved ones and use your webcam whenever possible.Why is it difficult to work from home? ›
One reason why remote work is so hard is because of at-home interruptions. Although many believe that working from home boosts your productivity, distractions can easily interrupt the tempo of your work. In order to avoid this issue, it is essential to manage your time well and separate “home” time from “work” time.
What are the challenges you face working from home remotely? ›
- Developing Blurred Work-Life Boundaries.
- Inadequate Practical Equipment.
- Hovering Supervisors.
- Employee Isolation.
- Resolving Technical Challenges. ...
- Increased Cybersecurity Risk.
- Mis-aligned Team Performance.
- Employee Loyalty and Retention.
Remote work improves work-life balance
One of the greatest advantages of remote-friendly work is that employees achieve a better work-life balance. This means they can manage their own flexible working schedules to create a balance in their personal and professional lives.
In conclusion, working from home should be encouraged because the advantages overcome the disadvantages. Office has no longer been the only work place since many people are considering working from home. Some may argue the majority of employees should change their work place from office to home.Who benefits from remote work? ›
3. Being a remote employee promotes employee well-being. With no commute, no lunch rush, and no long hours in the office away from family or friends, working remotely can improve the health and wellness of employees by reducing stress—and limiting exposure to potentially sick coworkers.Which is better office or remote? ›
77% of employees report higher productivity from home. Remote work also allows employees to have better control over their own schedule, allowing them to make better life decisions that affect their overall career performance.Is the future of work in person remote or hybrid? ›
We found that remote working is definitely the new normal – 75% of the organizations expect at least 30% of their employees to work remotely, while over 30% expect 70% of their workforce to become remote.Why is in person work better? ›
Colleague relationships: Working face to face with peers gives colleagues the chance to build a rapport with each other and get to know each other better, which in turn will improve team relationships and the ability to work together effectively.What are the challenges of 100% working from home? ›
- Remote work challenge: Social isolation.
- Remote work challenge: Working across different time zones.
- Remote work challenge: Distractions at home.
- Remote work challenge: Building and maintaining strong company culture.
- Remote work challenge: Lack of routine and time-management.
- Remote work challenge: Poor work/life balance.
The research firm Global Workplace Analytics found that companies can save up to $11,000 for every employee working two or three days remotely per week. The firm says these savings come from reduced rent as well as increased productivity and lower absenteeism and turnover.What are the opportunity of work from home? ›
- Save time without a commute.
- More schedule flexibility.
- Higher productivity.
- Greater opportunity for inclusivity.
- Extra money saved on office attire.
- Opportunity for a customizable office.
- Increased time with loved ones.
- Reduced outside spending.
Will remote work continue 2022? ›
Hybrid work has increased in 2022 (from 42% in February to 49% in June) and is expected to further increase to 55% of remote-capable workers by the end of 2022 and beyond. This shift aligns closely with the preferences of many remote-capable workers, as 60% want a long-term hybrid work arrangement.How much has remote work increased 2022? ›
41% of those workers are fully remote. This is a dramatic increase from the 17% percent of U.S. employees that worked from home 5 days or more per week before the pandemic, per Statista.What companies are going remote permanently? ›
Airbnb, 3M, Spotify and Lyft have all enshrined permanent home-working set-ups. Some firms, like Yelp, have also closed office space: in May, worker-for-hire app TaskRabbit completely closed all its offices, including its headquarters in San Francisco; in April, PayPal shuttered its San Francisco presence.Are remote jobs here to stay? ›
Based on available data, working from home is likely to remain a popular option with a high percentage of workers, changing the ways and places Americans live, work, and travel.Is remote work declining? ›
But remote work has fallen in the past year. One year ago, the survey reported “about a third of all service work and just under 10 percent of manufacturing work” being done remotely. So you could view the survey as showing a sharp decline in remote work compared to last year—in services, from 33% to 20%.Will remote work continue 2023? ›
Now, it's expected that 25% of professional workers will work remotely by the end of 2023. With such a fundamental change to the workplace, let's take a look at seven important remote work trends for 2022-2024.What percentage of people work from home in 2022? ›
SEPT. 15, 2022 – Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people primarily working from home tripled from 5.7% (roughly 9 million people) to 17.9% (27.6 million people), according to new 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.Are people happier working from home? ›
A survey by mental health research website Tracking Happiness found that the ability to work remotely is positively correlated with employee happiness. Fully remote workers reported a happiness level roughly 20% higher than those who worked in the office 100% of the time.Do employees prefer working from home? ›
In fact, they just want more flexibility: although 58 percent of employed respondents say they can work from home at least part of the time, 65 percent of employed respondents say they would be willing to do so all the time.What percentage of jobs are fully remote? ›
16% of companies globally are fully remote.
A study conducted by Owl Labs found that 16% of companies across the globe are now fully remote, while 44% do not allow any form of remote work. In the United States, more than 4.7 million people work remotely at least half the time.
Why are companies ending remote work? ›
Productivity loss combined with higher stress levels while working from home are concerns that IT companies want to address. Cybersecurity risks while working from home have been looming large while employees took to remote at the onset of the pandemic.Which companies are ending work from home? ›
- Aug 26, 2022,
- Updated Aug 26, 2022, 3:39 PM IST.
- Work out all the details and list them. ...
- Present the benefits of work from home. ...
- List out the potential problems that may arise in remote work. ...
- Curate a proposal plan. ...
- Arrange a meeting with your Manager. ...
- Explain the reason for your request.
Increased productivity and engagement.
One of the major benefits of remote work is that it boosts productivity and engagement. In fact, studies have found that 81% of hybrid employees report being highly engaged, followed by 78% of fully remote employees, and only 72% of on-site employees.
To have a better workspace set-up. To network and be more visible to leadership. To get better access to tools and physical resources. To improve overall well-being: Getting dressed up and having in-person conversations helps support mental and physical well-being.