Support for remote working is generally strong among employers, managers and co-workers in 25 midsize U.S. cities, but adoption among employees lags, despite their desire to work remotely, according to initial findings from a survey of information workers commissioned by Microsoft Corp. through 7th Sense LP.
A growing interest in remote working has been spurred in part by rising energy costs, environmental concerns and the recent economic crisis. Remote working is widely understood to provide companies with access to a larger talent pool, improve productivity, and lower overhead for items such as workstation space, common office space, insurance, utilities, maintenance and parking. However, today's survey results suggest business leaders need to do more to encourage adoption to realize these benefits. Microsoft also released its rankings of best midsize cities for remote workers.
The rankings were determined through a combination of six key characteristics: employer support as reported by workers; the reported number of companies with remote-working policies; the level of managerial support reported by workers; the level of co-worker and peer support reported by workers; the percentage of workers who believe their job can be completed from home; and the percentage of workers using remote-working programs.
Microsoft's Best Midsize Cities for Remote Workers: Survey Highlights
The survey showed four major trends:
• Employers support remote-working programs, although only 40 percent have a formal policy.
• Bosses, peers and colleagues support remote-working programs.
• Employees identify commuting avoidance and productivity of environment as benefits to using remote-working programs.
• Most employees do not work remotely, despite having desire, supportive environments and a belief that they can work competently from home.
The top 10 best midsize cities for remote workers are:
1. San Diego
2. West Palm Beach, Fla.
3. Buffalo, N.Y.
4. Salt Lake City
5. Raleigh, N.C.
6. Oklahoma City
7. Nashville, Tenn.
8. Charleston, S.C.
9. Greensboro, N.C.
10. Hartford-New Haven, Conn.
"Strategic use of a remote work force and supporting technologies can be a competitive game-changer in this down economy, especially for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that have historically trailed large enterprise companies in adopting remote working practices," says Michael Park, corporate vice president of the U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners Group at Microsoft. "After surveying those areas where SMBs employ a large percentage of the local work force, our findings suggest that businesses that currently leverage remote workers are enjoying an advantage over their competitors."
The rise of widespread public demand for more environmentally sustainable business practices and the extreme volatility of fuel and energy costs have accelerated the adoption of teleworking in recent years. The trend has gained additional momentum from recently introduced security improvements, which require better equipped IT departments to support remote workers. Unified communications technologies now enable teleworkers to communicate and collaborate in the context they prefer, helping to reduce the barriers that have been at the root of resistance to remote working. Surprisingly, however, despite the widely understood business benefits, the survey results suggest workers need greater reliable access to systems and formal usage policies from their employers before they will embrace remote working.
Other interesting survey findings include these:
• Most employers do not have a remote-working policy; 39.4 percent actually have a policy detailing or enabling remote work.
• Buffalo, N.Y., had a statistically significantly higher number of companies with remote-working policies (68 percent) compared with all 25 cities polled for the survey.
• Respondents in most cities see employers as being slightly positive about remote-working programs, with a mean of 5.5 on a scale in which "1" equals not supportive and "10" equals very supportive.
• When compared with respondents from other cities, those in San Diego and Buffalo see their employers as being more supportive, with statistically higher means in the "supportive" range (7.02 and 6.82, respectively).
• When compared with responses from other cities, employers in Las Vegas are seen as less supportive, with a significantly lower mean of 4.04. Las Vegas ranked last of 25 cities polled
• Respondents generally felt that their manager (67.4 percent) was more supportive than their peers or colleagues (61.2 percent).
• Salt Lake City respondents reported significant support(3) by boss or manager, as did West Palm Beach, Fla(4).
• Compared with responses from other cities, those from New Orleans and Louisville, Ky., reported significantly less support from managers, peers or colleagues(4). New Orleans ranked 23rd and Louisville ranked 22nd.
Peers and Colleagues
• San Diego, Salt Lake City, West Palm Beach and Charleston, S.C., are significantly more supportive than the overall group(4).
• Grand Rapids, Mich., is below the average(4); it ranked 24th.
• The top three reasons to work from home according to survey respondents are to save gas, be more productive and have fewer distractions.
• The data showed a significant drop-off in response after the traffic/commuting and productivity/distractions categories were removed.
• Across the board, 77.3 percent(5) of people reported that gas prices increased their desire to work from home. New Orleans was significantly lower. Still, approximately 50 percent of respondents from New Orleans believed gas price had an effect.
• Respondents' preferences for working remotely are influenced by weather and seasonality.
• On average, more than 60 percent of respondents in the survey favored working from home during the winter months.
• The only two exceptions to this were Las Vegas and West Palm Beach, Fla., where respondents favored remote work during the summer, at 72 percent and 56 percent respectively.
• Regardless of region, weather was the No. 1 reason (71.7 percent) respondents gave for wanting to work remotely.