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The Data-based Business Case for Remote Work

April 21, 2023

TRANSFORMING
WORK

WITH
SOPHIE WADE

The Data-based Business Case for Remote Work

The Data-based Business Case for Remote Work

Kate Lister is President of Global Workplace Analytics and a veteran advocate of remote working—or teleworking as it was previously called. For Part 1 of a two part series, Kate brings almost two decades of experience making data-based business cases to employers to convince them of the financial merits of offering remote working options. She discusses the catalyzing effect of the pandemic which substantially increased the awareness and acceptance of new work arrangements. Kate highlights the long history of employees’ desire for flexibility over their work location and schedule. She also warns of significant downsides for corporations if they do not integrate hybrid or remote work models.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

[03:34] Kate starts as a banker, becomes an entrepreneur, and is about to retire when the Great Recession hits.

[04:14] With her husband, Kate builds and runs a vintage airplane ride business for 16 years!

[05:10] They sell the business—which they had run from home—and research their next home-based venture.

[06:40] Kate’s daughter gets scammed by home-based work, so Kate and her husband write their third book revealing the “naked truth” about making money from home.

[07:56] Researching for the book, Kate notices no one has made the business case for “teleworking”—trying to quantify the benefits.

[08:40] “Show me the money!” The financial benefits are clear—saving 52 mins of commuting time and 3 hours of distracted time at the office every day.

[09:07] Kate has built up a database of over 6,000 research documents studying workplaces and quantifying telecommuting/remote working effects and benefits.

[09:32] Making the fact-based business case to the C-suite, quantifying why productivity and or retention would increase. A calculator is available online.

[10:20] Benefiting people, planet, and profit. Employees also saved money—employees’ desire to work remotely or not is not considered (pre-pandemic).

[11:02] A champion typically brings Kate in to persuade the (rest of the) C-suite depending on the pain point(s) for the particular company—such as saving money, talent or office space.

[13:59] Contingent labor typically goes up and down signaling the start and end of a recession, but that does not happen at the end of the Great Recession—and reasons change.

[14:54] Reported remote workdays grow 10% a year pre-pandemic, but from a small base.

[15:41] Census data (questions) is not capturing accurate data about remote workdays.

[16:57] Kate is surprised by how quickly people adapted to working remotely during the pandemic.

[18:31] Remote work becomes more humanized and egalitarian, people feel more trusted.

[20:59] 2021 is Kate’s busiest and most polarized consulting year to date as employers and employees had conflicting desires about returning to the office.

[21:59] Time-shifting work is even more popular with employees than remote working options, but meets more resistance from employers.

[23:12] If people working from home get their work done, why do you care what else they do?

[23:37] The percentage of people wanting to work fully-remote and hybrid is increasing.

[24:02] 18 years ago, 90% of people already wanted to work part of the week from home.

[26:26] Kate shows CEOs and CFOs the business costs if they were to force people back to the office.

[27:13] The business case often involves reducing real estate costs, also recognizing workplace issues.

[28:27] Research shows people want the ability to have privacy at the office.

[29:00] Activity Based Working was building prior to the pandemic to provide better office workspaces.

[30:18] Kate shares the likely stable office- and home-based working percentages going forward.

[31:35] Remote working is one choice in a palette of flexibility to give people autonomy.

[33:52] Trust hindered telework taking off in 1973—leaders are babysitting, not managing by results.

[34:40] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: To hire the best and the brightest, the work has got to be where they are, as well as to achieve levels of engagement necessary to be successful and to attain the kind of trust that will support innovation. So double down on integrating remote to benefit.

QUOTES

“The C-suite talks in numbers. ‘Show me the money!’ and it just seemed easy to me to look at.”

“At the end of the day, we showed that you could save $11,000 per halftime remote worker per year.”

“They could offset the cost of the entire office space with an increase of productivity of less than one minute a day.”

“I know a big part of the reason, from the data I've collected, that people didn't want to come back to the office is because we've made them so awful.”

“We're also starting to see that it's just one choice in a palette of flexibility. We wouldn't just be doing a telework program or remote work program. It would be a suite of programs so that everybody had a chance to participate.”

“Nobody's telling you how to do it or when to do it. We’ve known since the fifties that it's the best way to manage people anyway. And we just ignored the science.”

“Managers didn't trust their people, it’s why telework didn’t take off in the 70’s.”

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