Among other things, recent events have brought into focus something that we at Moonlight both practice and encourage – working from home (WFH), otherwise known as remote work, telework, or telecommuting.
Not everybody can work from home, of course. Grocery store stockers, ER doctors, and construction workers are all people that for now, need to be onsite. However, according to a University of Chicago study, an estimated 37 percent of US jobs could be done from home. According to a separate analysis from Global Workplace Analytics, around 56 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million employees, could work from home at least part of the time. That’s a staggering number of potential remote workers, and for those who have the opportunity, there are some compelling reasons to do so.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation is responsible for the greatest proportion of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. It makes sense that by working at home more often, there is less need to commute, burning less fossil fuel and reducing these emissions. Interestingly, Sun Microsystems conducted a study with their own employees and found that commuting made up over 98 percent of their work-related carbon footprint – far outweighing other factors like energy needed to power office equipment.
Some companies are already seeing the environmental benefits of telework. According to health care giant Aetna, “In 2014 alone, teleworkers reduced Aetna’s carbon footprint by preventing 127 million miles of driving, saving 5.3 million gallons of gas and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 46,700 metric tons.” Xerox VP Diane O’Connor concurs, as “annually, Xerox teleworkers drive 92 million fewer miles, saving 4.6 million gallons of gas, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 41,000 metric tons and saving over $10 million.” Their combined efforts amount to the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road. Not only would working from home reduce vehicular air pollution, it can protect you on days when air quality is especially poor, as per the US Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Director’s Blog.
If the environment isn’t as big a concern for you, how about your health? Data from the US Census Bureau shows that the average commute time for American workers is just over 27 minutes each way - nearly an hour, round trip. According to an article published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, that could be detrimental to our health, as “commuting distance was adversely associated with physical activity, CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness), adiposity (obesity), and indicators of metabolic risk.” Mental health, of course, shouldn’t be discounted either, since working from home might also keep you from getting distracted by coworkers and other general disturbances, or getting caught up in office politics, and could end up providing a quieter, more focused work environment.
Quality of life might also be improved for remote workers, too. A survey from ConnectSolutions, a cloud solutions provider, showed that:
"45% of remote workers are getting more sleep, 35% are getting more physical exercise, and 42% are eating healthier. Overall, 44% have a more positive attitude and 53% report reduced stress. 51% spend more time with their significant others, adding to the greater job satisfaction."
This is corroborated by a study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics, in an analysis of CTrip International Corporation’s work from home policy. To summarize their main discoveries: employees were less exhausted from work, had more positive attitude, were significantly more satisfied with their work, were less likely to quit their job, were more productive, worked longer each day, saved about 80 minutes per day in commute time, had a quieter environment to work in, and had more time to take care of personal and family responsibilities. The program was wildly successful. In fact, “CTrip considered the program so successful that it offered the option to work from home to the entire airfare and hotel departments in August 2011. CTrip estimated that they saved about US$2,000 per employee per year working from home.”
If neither of the previous categories got your boss’s attention, then this one certainly will. The financial benefits of working from home can be substantial and might make the numbers in your books look a bit rosier at the end of the quarter. From the same Sun Microsystems study mentioned at the beginning, employees were able to save over $1700 in gas money and vehicle maintenance per year by just working at home an average of 2.5 days a week, and it also saved them 2.5 weeks (420 hours) in commute time. Imagine spending that amount of time doing nothing but driving! And from the previous ConnectSolutions survey of remote workers:
"77% report greater productivity while working off site with 30% accomplishing more in less time and 24% accomplishing more in the same amount of time. 23% are even willing to work longer hours than they normally would on site to accomplish more while 52% are less likely to take time off when working remotely—even when sick."
A 2019 consultancy report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) may present the strongest economic argument of all. Their analysis found that a more flexible working culture utilizing remote work could help full-time workers to work more productively, part-time workers to work more hours, and make job opportunities more attractive to those currently not working. Not only that, but “the total potential US economic gains from a flexible working culture could accrue to approximately $2.36 trillion (in Gross Value Added) per annum.” That’s over a 10 percent boost to the annual US GDP. Employees and employers would furthermore save billions of dollars and billions of hours on commuting.
Telecommuting can decrease operating costs, as real estate and storefronts are very costly, and downsizing can make a large financial difference. It also increases operationality during a crisis – a business that is not adapted to remote work would not be able to have its employees work during a natural disaster, or an outbreak of disease. Remote workers face far less issue from these setbacks. This, of course, is not recent knowledge (though certainly it is topical). During the mid-2000s, the White House estimated that “a severe avian flu pandemic could last 18 months and keep 40 percent of American employees off the job for a few weeks at any time during the outbreak.”
The arguments presented may make a strong case for working from home, but as with anything, there are both upsides and downsides. A lack of face-to-face interaction may make it more complicated to manage the performance of remote workers. Managers may worry that there could be a lack of teamwork, and loss of camaraderie within a team. Feelings of isolation may increase. Workers at home will also be responsible for data security on their workstations. These are all possible issues that could arise.
Anecdotally, we haven’t seen these issues crop up here at Moonlight, and the entire team has been working remote since its inception. However, there could certainly be differences when applied to a larger company like Microsoft or Apple. If so, possible solutions include using video conferencing, work chatrooms, working from home only some days, or having regular team get togethers on a weekly or monthly basis.
On balance, though, the weight of the evidence currently seems to pull very strongly for a more flexible, remote working culture. If you or your company want to save some cash, save your health, and save the polar bears, why not explore working from home, and see if it’s right for your workplace?
And well, if anything, now’s the perfect time to jump in.