Navigating The Brave New World of Remote Work

By Lindsey Neal

Of all the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become the stickiest.  

Early in the pandemic, nearly 60% of U.S. employees working remotely reported wanting to do so post-pandemic. Today, 59% of workers whose jobs can be done remotely work from home all or most of the time. 

Understanding the Benefits 

As with any significant operational shift, there are benefits and challenges that companies must navigate, and a remote work environment is no different. On the positive side, numerous studies have shown how remote work benefits employers. These include: 

  • Productivity gains – On average, remote workers outperform their in-office counterparts by 35-40%. Furthermore, remote employees report 41% fewer absences than those working in-office, further compounding these productivity benefits.
  • Reduced costs – Companies can realize an average savings of $11,000 per year per employee just by allowing part-time telecommuting. These savings stem from increased productivity, operational continuity, employee retention, reduced rent expenses, lower absenteeism, and lower cost of benefits.
  • Increased job satisfaction – Employees who cannot work from home more frequently report being less satisfied and more often hate their job than those that have the option to telecommute. Moreover, employees view the ability to work from home so highly that 36% would eschew a pay increase in favor of this benefit.
  • Lower employee turnover – To paraphrase an old saying, an employee saved is a penny earned, given that the average cost of onboarding a new employee is between six and nine months’ salary and 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that allowed telecommuting. The good news is companies that support remote work experience 25% lower turnover than those that do not.
  • Larger talent pool – With the ability to work from anywhere (within reason, of course), employers and employees are no longer bound by geographical constraints when it comes to work. For employers, this means they can source the best talent available without limiting themselves to only those candidates located within commuting distance or potentially incurring relocation expenses to bring top-tier talent geographically closer.
  • Minimize environmental impact – One study has shown that working remotely reduced employees’ carbon emissions by 44,000 tons. In addition, if the nearly 40% of U.S. employees that currently hold remote-compatible jobs that want to work remotely were allowed to do so, it would reduce greenhouse gases by 54 million tons. With an estimated 13 to 27 million people continuing to work from home in the coming years, this could cut commuting miles by 70 to 140 billion each year, resulting in further reductions in emissions.
  • Boost employees’ real income – Remote work not only enables employees to relocate to areas with a lower cost of living, thereby increasing their buying power overall, but it also reduces their commuting expenses. It’s estimated that the average American commuter spends as much as $5,000 per year on gas, maintenance, and commuting-related other expenditures. For an employee making $100,000, cutting that cost would be like receiving a 5% increase in pay – all at no real cost to the employer. 

Understanding the Challenges 

While the benefits of remote work are undoubtedly significant, there are certainly challenges with which companies must contend. For example, some employees may take the definition of “remote” to the extreme and set up their remote office in another country without their employer’s knowledge. One such example is “Matt,” an employee who shared the incredible lengths he went to deceive his employer after his request to continue living and working overseas post-pandemic was denied, including: 

  • Purchasing a plane ticket as evidence of his return, only to promptly cancel it after providing it as proof; 
  • Lying to his coworkers about relocating to a new state located far from the company’s offices;
  • Requesting an employment verification under false pretenses to get his visa; 
  • Cycling through various virtual private networks (VPNs) to create a false trail about his network location; and 
  • Masking his background on Zoom or simply not turning on his camera to hide environmental details that might expose him. 

While the deception and abuse of his company’s work-from-home policy are bad enough, Matt’s actions also expose his company to significant legal risks, such as violating compliance requirements depending on the industry, and cybersecurity risks. 

Of course, offshore work locations are not the only source of IT/cybersecurity risk employer face in a remote work environment, as domestic internet networks can also be vulnerable to attacks. In addition, maintaining company-issued devices also becomes a challenge if employees are not centrally located, and for those companies that employ Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, ensuring data privacy and security on employees’ personal devices can be tricky, especially if it affects the employee’s ability to access non-work-related sites and content. 

In addition, regulatory requirements in many industries mandate that employers verify the physical security of employee workspaces, and a remote work environment definitely creates a logistical hurdle in this regard. Examples of regulated industries include mortgage lending, government employees, financial advisors, etc. 

On an individual level, a remote work environment also poses challenges for managing and monitoring staff. From a supervisory perspective, telecommuting can diminish the direct, in-person interaction inherent in personnel management. This might make it more difficult for teams to communicate and collaborate or for employees to seek real-time guidance from their direct supervisors. 

For managers, it’s difficult to know whether employees are working from where they say they are when using a background image or simply turning off the camera can easily mask an employee’s location. In addition, assessing employee adherence to company data privacy and cybersecurity protocols is also a challenge, as managers cannot easily physically inspect employees’ home offices or conduct unannounced spot checks. 

Interested in learning more about how the mortgage industry manages remote work? Check out our article on Best Practices for Remote Work in the Mortgage Business.