This is a guest post from Melissa Phy of TSheets by QuickBooks. She snagged a BA in journalism down in sunny San Diego and has since reported and edited for AOL, contributed to San Diego Magazine and Carlsbad Magazine, and gained valuable web experience as a multimedia designer for the County of San Diego.
For some employees, working from home seems like a dream. Your schedule is a little more flexible, commuting and morning traffic become intangible, and you no longer have to hire a dog walker. Heck, you could take a long lunch to go grocery shopping, and there would be no one waiting back at the office with a judgmental look on their face — or worse, disciplinary action from the boss. But how do employers feel about employees working remotely and the perceived lack of boundaries that come with it?
According to a recent survey from TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking software company, employers aren’t ignorant to the fact that their remote employees are using their flexible schedules to their own advantage. About 70% of employers said they thought their remote workers were sometimes taking care of personal tasks while on the clock, and nearly 25% said they estimated that time to be about two hours a day.
In the same TSheets survey, just under a quarter of employees who work remotely said they never spend their workday doing personal tasks (obviously, these are cat owners, not dog owners). 64% said they sometimes take care of personal tasks during the workday, and another 13% said they always have something personal to get done while on the clock.
As for time spent on those personal tasks? 30% said they spend 30 minutes a day doing personal tasks during work, while 39% said they spend an hour or more on such personal errands.
But maybe that flexible schedule is giving employers an advantage, too.
Time remote workers say they spend on personal tasks vs. time bosses think they spend
Factors that boost productivity for remote workers
On the surface, it seems that using on-the-clock time for personal use is a bit … distracting. But for those actually working from home, distractions are distractions no matter where they’re plugging in from. In a 2018 TSheets survey of remote workers, 71% said the number of distractions at home either stays the same or decreases from those in the office.
And let’s face it: If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve taken advantage of private cubicles and free internet access. Office gossip is called water cooler talk for a reason! Distractions, wherever you sit down to grind, are inevitable.
Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom did a two-year study on working from home and found that just 1% of the remote workers who were interviewed said distractions from friends and family reduced their work performance.
When asked why might a remote employee work less hard, only 6% of those who actually worked from home cited distractions from friends and family, compared to 18% from those who didn’t work from home. There is a perception that distractions from home are worse than at the office, but Bloom’s study showed employee attrition decreased by 50% among the telecommuters. They took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off than their in-office counterparts.
In interviews, the workers attributed the increase in time worked to the greater convenience of being at home (e.g., the ease of getting tea, coffee, or lunch or using the bathroom) and the increased output per minute to the relative quiet at home.
TSheets’ 2018 survey of remote workers saw a similar pattern. Of the recorded top five benefits of working remotely, four of them allow, arguably, for more productivity:
- Not having to commute
- Having more control over schedules
- Not having to get ready for work
- Being able to sleep in longer
About 54% of the employers from the followup 2019 TSheets survey said they believe their remote workers were “highly productive,” with only 5% saying theirs were “not very productive.” And just under a quarter of the surveyed employers said fewer distractions would help boost remote workers productivity.
Remote workers are high-performing employees
So if employers know their employees are using work time for personal time, why do they allow it? The easy answer: performance. About 60% of employers surveyed said the performance of their remote workers was above average.
And it’s that high performance that instills confidence in a boss about their employee. It’s what keeps employers from revoking work-from-home privileges — or perhaps what pushes them to have a work-from-home policy! In fact, 99% of employers said they “sometimes” or “always” trust their remote employees to work independently. The trust tree seems strong in remote work environments.
Meanwhile, as Bloom explained in a 2017 TEDx Talk about his study, the performance of the home workers went up dramatically, increasing by 13%. This improvement came mainly from a 9% increase in the number of minutes they worked during their shifts, due to reductions in breaks, time off, and sick days taken by the home workers.
Benefits for the biz and beyond
On top of the increased productivity and performance, working from home has even more benefits for everyone involved. TSheets’ employee survey showed working remotely had an overall positive effect on remote workers’:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Family life
- Social life
Whew! And with all those benefits to the employee, they’re more likely to stick around, which is great news for the employer. Fostering a work environment that keeps good employees around is a win-win.
Additionally, remote workers keep costs low for businesses. In a 2018 report from Indeed.com, Dell reportedly saved about $12 million per year in real estate costs by encouraging employees to work from home. Now, they want to see a 50% remote workforce by 2020.
As an employer, whether you’re looking to provide some additional incentives for employees or simply trying to save them (and your company) some time and money, you can learn a lot from the people already doing it.