What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear someone say they will work from home? Slacker or hard worker?
Most of you will have thought of slacker. That’s alright. All you need to do is a quick search online to find various caricatures of individuals who work from home as easy going slackers who work in their pajamas.
Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that employees who spend at least a portion of their week working from home see an increase in productivity. Furthermore, those employees who work from home nearly the full week saw their productivity increase by 13%.
But with such clear evidence, why are you probably reading this from the confines of your company’s office?
A study found that only 33% of major employers allowed their employees to work from home regularly in 2013, which is a mere 2% increase from 2005.
Despite that there are already many leading businesses that have already switched to to either mostly or entirely virtual offices, including companies like Basecamp, Mozilla, and Upworthy. And one mustn’t forget Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, who teleworks from Necker Island in the Caribbean. Here are the top 100 companies of 2014 ranked by the availability of remote jobs.
Before we proceed into the discussion about the the availability of tools to work from home productively, we must first define a couple of words that are thrown around a lot in the heated debates about whether a business should allow a work from home policy: telecommuting and teleworking.
The definition of telecommuting or a telecommuter is someone who rarely needs to leave his or her home in order to do his or her job.
On the other hand, the definition of teleworking or a teleworker is someone who travels regularly from place to place (whether it includes his or her office and home or not) in order to do his or her job.
Based on this definition, teleworking is therefore not particularly rare as many individuals’ jobs depend on their ability to spend time with clients at their offices and thus require them to travel regularly.
So what types of tools to work from home productively have these sorts of companies been using, both for their telecommuters and teleworkers?
The first of the tools to work from home productively is called Dropbox. With more than 250 million users, including 100,000 paying businesses, this Silicon Valley tech star is reportedly valued at more than $10 billion.
Founded in June 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, this startup helps employees telework productively by providing them with a secure central hub for all their files that is accessible by any member of the team anytime anywhere.
Founded in 2008 by David Barrett, Expensify is the second one among the tools to work from home productively. A regular source of paperwork for employees in many businesses is the filing of expenses.
Typically an individual must fill in at least one form, locate and print out the receipts, and then submit everything to someone in the Finance Department. The inability to perform this virtually may undoubtedly be a hindrance to teams that aim to work remotely.
This is why Expensify is suggested as one of the tools to work from home productively. It helps any employee submit their expenses digitally and all that in a way that is convenient for the colleague who is responsible for processing the expenses thanks to its integrations with Uber and other platforms.
One of the key challenges for any team that works remotely is the multitude of documents that end up being created as individuals regularly create new versions of the same document that they then email each other. But there’s a solution for that.
Available in 53 languages and used by more than 200 million people around the world, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Google Docs is found on the list of top tools to work from home productively.
Thanks to this collaboration tool employees can work on the same documents online simultaneously. There’s no more need to have endless email chains with multiple versions of the same document. With Google Docs every employee can access the most recent version (as well as the past versions) online anytime anywhere.
But what about the ability to collaborate around the same project? That’s easily done when everyone is in the same office, but what if the team works remotely?
This is why Huddle is one of the tools to to work from home productively. Valued at more than $250 million, this exciting startup is redefining how teams can work together without being together. And a nice touch by this tech business is the fact that registered nonprofit organizations can use its services for free.
Founded in 2006 by Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin, Huddle’s services are already used by more than 100,000 businesses including Panasonic Europe and Kia Motors as well as 80% of the central UK government departments.
Typically the focus of the conversations around the pros and cons of working from home are centered around two things: the impact on the productivity of the employees and the impact on the ability for managers to oversee them.
As we’re demonstrating, there is a vast availability of tools to work from home productively, but there are also tools to address the later, like iDoneThis.
One of the biggest challenges for any manager is ensuring their employees are prioritizing correctly and getting the right things done on time. While it’s never easy to ensure this is done properly, it is harder when the team is working remotely. But there are ways to get around that.
With services like iDoneThis, it’s very easy for everyone on the team to receive an automated email that sends a daily update of what everyone worked on the previous day. This will help everyone, including team managers, be up to speed about what’s being completed.
Another challenge of remote teams is security of information. The use of some of the services we highlighted before like Dropbox and Huddle would cover the security of documents and files, but what about the security of various usernames and passwords that multiple team members use?
This is why Meldium is one of the top tools to work from home productively. There’s no more need to have easily crackable passwords (i.e. password123 or using the name of your company – you’d be surprised how often that happens!) so that everyone can remember it just as there’s no more need to insecurely email usernames and passwords.
Instead, remote teams can rely on Meldium’s service to give everyone realtime access to the most up to date usernames and passwords for the various tools and services each employee needs access to.
The reason this is one of the tools to work from home productively is that it is designed specifically with teams in mind as opposed to most of the other password managing services.
Founded in 2011 in Argentina by Agustin Soler, Mural.ly is one of the interesting tools to work from home productively. Envisioned as a collaboration tool to help team members who are not in the same location brainstorm together, Mural.ly is in essence a virtual board where each member can post ideas, expand on them.
While it was built with design teams in mind, it can be used by any remote team that needs a single hub that enables creative real time collaborative brainstorming.
Used daily by more than 750,000 individuals and valued at $2.8 billion, this 2-year-old startup is already a leader among the top tools to work from home productively. Slack has been growing at an astounding pace since it was founded and already has more than 200,000 paid accounts across the thousands of business customers paying for Slack.
When it comes to business communication tools and real time internal chatting services, it’s only a matter of time before Slack becomes the market leader, if it hasn’t already achieved that.
What makes Slack so unique among the tools to work from home productively is the fact that it has managed to position itself at the heart of an entire team’s business communication and has helped reduce the reliance on email through its integrations with third party services.
9. Switch Communications
It’s great to know that members of a remote team can share documents, collaborate virtually, and even chat to each endlessly with each other, but what you just want to actually speak with your colleague or even a group of colleagues?
This is why Switch Communications is also one of the key tools to work from home productively. Founded in 2011 by John Rector, Brian Peterson, and Craig Walker, this startup offers two important services for any business, with a physical office or a virtual one.
The first is called UberConference, which has helped redefine what conference calls should be like, both internally between teams and with clients. This product makes it easy for everyone in the conference call to see each other as well as to share screens and many other features making it integral among tools to work from home productively.
The second is called Switch.co, which enables any individual to receive his or her calls and text messages on any device they prefer, even forgoing the need for a desk phone if they so chose. This is crucial for remote workers because they can always be contactable office phone numbers that can be set up on multiple devices for example.
One challenge that every business faces, whether the teams are teleworking, telecommuting, or just in the office, is how they can manage their Human Resources needs with the least complication (and paperwork!) possible. This is why Zenefits was founded in 2013.
Already valued at $4.5 billion, this 2-year-old startup has helped revolutionize how HR is managed within companies by moving the entire department online and streamlining how it is managed for each new employee as well as when the circumstances of existing employees change.
While there are clear benefits for any business, period, there are invaluable benefits for remote teams, making it a definite addition to the top tools to work from home productively.
The endless need for paperwork for HR purposes is over, making it all that much more convenient for remote employees to have their HR affairs easily managed.
So what’s holding companies back?
With the availability of all these amazing tools to work from home productively, what’s holding the other companies back from implementing policies that enable their employees to work from home?
Working remotely does come with certain challenges that even tools to work from home productively may not be able to resolve.
One key issue was observed by researchers at the London Business School and the University of California. They noted that unfortunately too many employers have a habit of only promoting or giving pay raises to individuals whom they see in the office, whether they are more productive or not, merely because they can actually see the them in person every day.
A second key issue with working remotely is the fact that it’s typically the high performing employees who prefer to work from home. The same study that identified that those individuals who work from home see their productivity increase by 13%, also noted that at the end of their research period, when the company in question offered a generous work from home policy to all its employees, it was typically the low performing employees that opted to return to the office.
The compounded challenge for businesses caused by each of these issues is the fact that if employers continue to prefer promoting employees who remain in the office, but those same employees are less productive than their remote counterparts, it can have dire consequences for companies. And unfortunately this is not something that those tools to work from home productively can help resolve.
Aside from the challenges, are there any benefits beyond the productivity increase?
1. Improved employee satisfaction and retention
A study found that the rate of staff turnover fell by almost 50% among the teleworkers compared to their counterparts in the office. And for 36% of working adults, the ability to work from home is more important than getting a pay raise.
2. Reduced costs for businesses
A 2013 report by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com found that employers can save up to $11,000 per employee that telecommutes through the reduced physical office costs like furnishings, maintenance, and overall real estate.
3. Increased work hours
A 2012 report found that 53% of telecommuters work more than 40 hours per week. One assumption is since commuting time has been eliminated for those employees, they can both start earlier and finish working later.
So what are businesses waiting for?
First of all, we must acknowledge that a work from home policy is clearly not for everyone. This probably explains why Yahoo! eliminated its telecommuting policy after Marissa Mayer became CEO. She implemented this policy reversal despite the heavy criticism from many business leaders including Richard Branson who called it a “backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
On the other hand, the evidence is clear. There are countless benefits for businesses to encourage employees to telecommute, particularly with all these affordable tools to work from home productively.
Maybe it’s time for employers to trust their employees and encourage more of them to start working from home.