Article

What the Earliest Adopters Say About Remote Work 

Young ethnic female freelancer in black blouse sitting with cup of coffee and notepad while working on computer and speaking on cellphone in cafe terrace and looking away in daytime

In 1973, scientist Jack Nilles collected a multidisciplinary team of researchers to determine the business potential of what he called “telecommuting” and see its effect on productivity.

More recently, this groundbreaking work has taken Nilles and his colleagues worldwide to advise governments on effective ways to use remote and hybrid work models.

The original project involved employees at a national insurance company working a few days each week, working from home, and using their home phone. Participants also spent a few days each week going into a satellite office and feeding their work into a small computer. At night, data in the small computer was moved to a larger mainframe.

As we all know, the hybrid work experiment produced very positive results. Over nine months, the employee turnover rate fell from 35 percent to 0. Meanwhile, productivity increased by 15 percent. The results were less money spent on training, expenses, and sick pay.

Regardless of these benefits, the researchers found company leaders have mostly resisted remote working. Even when companies invested in remote work and began to see benefits, a new CEO would often come in and reverse course.

If you’re considering a remote or hybrid position, Nilles and his team have some advice on what to look for from an employer.

A Focus on Results  

Supervisors have been focused on overseeing processes for hundreds of years, but Nilles suggests that a better approach is to focus on results.

An ideal structure lays out what remote employees are expected to do from home, specifically the results they are supposed to deliver. A task schedule and specific milestones allow employees to deliver results in ways that best suit their working habits while maintaining a better work-life balance.

Investments in Leadership 

Throughout the years, the study team found one of the big differences between good and poor remote managers is training. Managers who have received training in remote work management often outperform those who have yet to.

In addition to managers’ training, the researchers also found a successful structure that includes an advocate for effective remote work at the executive level. Although a remote-first mentality still isn’t the norm, having a senior role that is at least partly focused and facilitating remote work makes any transitions easier and the overall model more effective.

A Committed Mindset 

Even though it’s been more than two years since remote work became the default approach, many companies are still grappling with it. If a potential employer isn’t fully committed to remote or hybrid working, it should be considered a major red flag.

A hybrid model is more complicated than a fully remote model and therefore requires even greater commitment from leadership. It takes time to get the proper mix of remote and on-premise work, and the researchers say leaders should avoid falling into the trap of prioritizing in-person time.

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