Future of Work, Remote

Report Suggests the Future of Work Starts at Home

Polling giant Gallup released its  sweeping report on the State of the American Workplace, and the data suggests some exciting conclusions about the future of work — the most important being that flexibility at the office may be even more important than previously thought.


According to the 2017 report, which interviewed more than 7,000 American workers, only 33 percent of American workers report being engaged at work, data that Gallup CEO Jim Clifton believes “point to a need for major workplace disruption.”

“If American companies were simply to double the number of engaged workers from one-third to two-thirds,” writes Clifton, “spirited employees would reverse our seriously declining national productivity.”

The numbers in the report suggest that workplace flexibility may be the most important tool in turning that decline around.

In the 2012 edition of “State of the American Workplace,” Gallup found that the most engaged workers — the ones who aren’t just happiest with their jobs, but committed to their work and the future of their companies — were those who worked remotely less than 20 percent of the time. In the 2017 report, that number has changed markedly. Today, the “optimal engagement boost” is achieved by workers who spend 60 to 80 percent of their week week working from home.

That’s right. The new data suggests that the ideal workweek is not 40 hours at an office, or even four days in the office and one day at home, but rather just one or two days in the office and three to four days at home. This is a significant shift achieved over just a few years, and it is a testament to the increasing prevalence and acceptance of workplace flexibility.

American workplace

What is driving the change?

Improved technology is a large part of it. Five years ago, many of the tools that make the transition to remote work seamless — from high-quality videoconferencing to productivity software — were in their infancy. Today, it’s easier than ever for a remote worker to join a meeting at the office without laggy video or uncooperative technology making the entire experience more trouble than it’s worth.

Not surprisingly, remote work is also more prevalent now than in  2012, with 43 percent of workers reporting working remotely in the 2017 study compared to 39 percent  in 2012. And, the increased acceptance of the practice means that working more days at home is easier, and therefore, more satisfying to the worker than ever before. But as Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management, says in an interview with the Washington Post, the biggest change since 2012 is that companies have really begun prioritizing making life easier for remote workers. “I think organizations are more intentional about it,” he says.

That intention manifests in many different ways, from training managers to work with remote employees to equipping remote workers with technology kits that allow them to move seamlessly from office to home and back again. The more time workers spend at home, the easier it becomes to get work done away from the office, and the less need they feel to work in a formal setting. That translates to greater engagement, and greater engagement — as many studies have shown — has direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

According to Gallup, the most important predictor for employee engagement is not salary or benefits or corporate culture, but when workers say they have what they need to lose themselves in their work. When a worker is really absorbed in a project, time goes faster, and the work gets done more quickly. “When you work remotely,” says Harter, “you certainly have more of a chance to get absorbed in your work.”

This points to another key advantage of working from home for a majority of the time: a lack of distractions. Gallup’s report tells us that employees who can work alone when they need to are 1.7 times more likely to be engaged, and those whose work space has a door are 1.3 times more likely to be engaged.

American workplace

In the report’s introduction, Gallup describes their findings as “a call to action.”

“The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing,” the report states. “They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen. This workforce isn’t going to acclimate to the status quo. There is an urgency for leaders to define and convey their vision more clearly — and rally workers around it.”

Embracing radical ideas like letting workers spend four days a week at home is a brave first step.