5 recent U.S. studies that shape the future of managing remote teams

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Here at RealtimeBoard, we are creating a visual collaboration tool that helps leading organizations from all over the world (including Fortune 500 companies) create innovative products. We are always curious to hear their stories on how they manage remote or collocated teams and use our platform.

Over the last few months, we have talked to a number of successful companies including Automattic, Upwork, BCG and SEEK. What do they have in common? They all have remote or distributed teams. To make a case for this type of collaboration, we decided to gather studies that show the benefits of working outside an office environment.

Anna Savina

Anna
Savina

Author

Remote workers are less distracted

In the recent two decades after the era of cubicles ended, thousands of organizations from all over the world embraced an open-office layout. Especially in Silicon Valley, most of the tech companies’ HQs reflect this idea, as their senior management stress the importance of collaboration and a free flow of ideas. Researchers Christine Congdon, Donna Flynn and Melanie Redman found out that, in fact, this trend affects workers’ concentration.

From 2008 to 2014, the number of employees who say they can’t concentrate at their desk has increased by 16%, and the number of employees who can’t access quiet places to do focused work is up by 13%. Also, the number of people who are worried about their privacy in the workplace increased by 74% over a ten-year period. To address this problem, researchers suggest that companies improve employees’ ability to control their private information and manage distraction – both are much more accessible to people who manage remote teams instead of collocated ones.

Remote workers are more productive

A 2012 Stanford study showed that flexibility of remote work may be the key to increased productivity. Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom analyzed the performance of people working for CTrip.com, a billion-dollar NASDAQ-listed company based in Shanghai. He and his colleagues compared the efficiency of those who worked from home for four days a week and those who worked from the office. The study showed that remote employees worked more hours because they had shorter breaks and less sick leave. They also stayed with the company longer and reported a higher level of happiness.

There were also other implications of this study. “If people can work where they live, they are going to live in different places. The CTrip employees, many of whom come from rural China and have come to Shanghai to find work, would much rather be at home in the villages and working from there. We interviewed them and they want to do that,” said economics professor John Roberts, who also contributed to the study.

The more demanding the collaboration task is, the more individuals need punctuating moments of private time to think or recharge


Christine Congdon, Donna Flynn, Melanie Redman

Remote workers feel better

In 2016, Phyllis Moen and Erin L. Kelly (from the University of Minnesota and MIT Sloan School of Management, respectively) studied Fortune 500 companies’ employees who participated in a program that let them have a flexible schedule and work from home more. The group reported “higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress than employees within the same company who did not participate.” Study participants were also offered the opportunity to reduce the number of daily meetings and communicate more via chat, which resulted in their ability to better anticipate periods of high demand and feel more in control of their lives and in tune with their families.

“Today’s workers are bombarded by advice on how to juggle their work and family lives. We’re told to take up yoga, or learn to meditate, or only check email twice a day,” says Moen. “But individual coping strategies alone won’t solve the problem. Our study makes clear that organizational initiatives, including programs that promote greater flexibility and control for workers as well as greater supervisor support, are needed,” Moen says.

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Remote workers are more engaged

According to the latest State of the American Workplace report, engagement levels increase for those who work from home, so remote teams management is less of a challenge. Gallup’s study shows that these workers are slightly more engaged (32%) than office workers (28%). Also curious is that, despite all the obstacles, a lot of remote workers have a stronger sense of belonging then their colleagues who work on-site. Despite the fact that remote workers often communicate with their teams only over the internet, they feel like their “opinions seem to count,” the study says.

Remote work positions are on the rise

The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report by FlexJobs and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics showed that telecommuting (working from home) grew by 115% between 2005 and 2015. Most of the surveyed workers who enjoy telecommuting are middle-aged, have a bachelor’s degree and are most likely to have management positions. Also, they have a higher salary than office workers; the average annual income for most telecommuters is $4,000 higher than that of non-telecommuters, the study says.

40% more US employers offered flexible opportunities than they did in 2010. But it’s not only about the market dynamics. In terms of organizational changes, employers that manage their teams remotely can save over $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. “Across the existing work-at-home population, that potentially adds up to $44 billion in savings,” states the report.

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