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Pushing the Envelope of the Remote Workforce

Many companies were forced to explore a remote workforce because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of these companies did not have a cohesive system in place for employees that were suddenly working from home. For these companies, the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of a remote workforce. Many companies were already on the path to establishing a partial and even an entire workforce that only used the office as an anchor while they worked remotely. For these companies, the jury has already returned the verdict that a remote workforce can be more effective, efficient, and productive.

Long before anyone thought that an invisible virus would change the face of the Global Office Workforce, millions of workers were already remote employees. Stanford Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom was in the enviable position of gathering controlled analytics of a workforce evenly split with half working at the office and half remotely for the same company and performing the same jobs.

Attending his Graduate Economics Class was James Liang, the co-founder, and CEO of Ctrip, a startup travel agency with 16,000 employees. With the skyrocketing office rent and long commutes for employees, Liang was extremely interested in exploring a remote workforce, however he wanted to be sure that productivity would not suffer. Professor Bloom took 500 of the Ctrip employees and divided them evenly between office workers and remote workers.

As any good scientist would do, Professor Bloom wanted to control the parameters as much as possible. He required that all work from home employees had a private workspace at their home, were with Ctrip for at least 6 months, and had reliable broadband access. The employees who were remaining as office workers at the headquarters also had to have a minimum of 6 months of work experience at the company.

The nearly two-year study which wrapped up in 2018, long before the start of most countries closing workspaces for a pandemic, Professor Bloom results showed an astounding productivity boost among the remote workers. Because the work from home employees was not late to the office, didn’t leave early like their headquarters cohorts the remote workers were producing a full shift of work daily, which equated to a full day more per week than their colleagues working at the corporate headquarters.

Other takeaways from the Professor Bloom Study at Ctrip that were unexpected were:

  • Remote worker attrition decreased by 50% compared to their office working contemporaries
  • Remote workers even though unsupervised took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off
  • The company saved on average of $2000 per remote employee annually on office space

Of course, the Bloom study is not the final word on having a remote workforce. Other data points to it as the new normal for employment at companies around the world. In a recent survey of 1,000hiring decision-makers conducted by Upwork, an online portal for remote freelance workers, it was found that 48% of companies use freelance remote workers, this was up from 43% only a year ago.

The surge of the remote freelance worker unlike corporate employees assigned to work remotely has been growing in numbers and the scope of the jobs performed. A study by looked at the variety of jobs performed by remote workers for companies. It found the diversity of the most common jobs performed by the remote freelancers were Client Services, Business Development, Manager, Accountant, Writer, and Account Manager.