Office, Schmoffice: How 3 Big-Name Companies Succeed With Remote Working The option to telecommute at least part time is increasingly a requirement to keeping talented workers from leaving.

By Sara Sutton

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Just 20 years ago, only 9 percent of U.S. workers worked from home on occasion. Today, that number has risen to 37 percent, and the number of people telecommuting full-time has grown 103 percent over the last 10 years. Remote work is gaining more mainstream acceptance as a viable way of conducting business by many companies, large and small. But what does it take to run a successful remote work program?

My company, FlexJobs, just released our annual list of the 100 companies to watch for remote jobs. Industries like medical and health, sales, education and training, and computer and IT are all represented, with companies hiring for hundreds, if not thousands, of remote jobs every year. The top 20 companies for remote jobs include names you'll likely recognize, but might not associate with remote and distributed workforces, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Humana, Salesforce, IBM, and Kaplan, just to name a few.

Dell, Deloitte, and UnitedHealth Group are also three of the companies on the list, and they've successfully integrated remote work within their organizations for years. We interviewed leaders at these companies to find out what this looks like in practice.

Remote work is a business strategy that comes down from the top.

Several years ago, Dell created its remote work program, Connected Workplace, and announced it wanted employees to be 50 percent remote by 2020. At the end of FY15, approximately one in four eligible Dell team members worldwide were enrolled in flexible work programs, putting the company halfway toward its 2020 goal. Human Resources Director Mohammed Chahdi credits the flexwork program's success to making flexible and remote work part of business strategy.

"Support starts with Dell's executive leadership team members, who work flexibly themselves," says Chahdi. "We must continually show team members that we trust them to organize their work in a way that meets both their personal and professional priorities." The leadership's example is instrumental in Connected Workplace's widespread adoption within the company.

Deloitte LLP has established a "Flexibility and Predictability initiative" (F&P), says Mike Preston, Chief Talent Officer, to help managers and employees take advantage of flexibility while collaborating effectively as a team. He calls the program "grassroots" because each team sets its own expectations and parameters. "But it's a grassroots program championed and supported at the highest levels of Deloitte."

Related: Why It Might Be Time to Abandon the Office

Establish goals, test assumptions, and track performance.

A 2015 study conducted by FlexJobs and WorldAtWork found that 80 percent of companies offer flexible work options, but only 3 percent measure programs to quantify ROI. Without measurements, it's impossible to leverage remote and flexible work to support company goals. Thankfully, some companies understand the value of data when it comes to remote and flexible work.

At UnitedHealth Group, where 20 to 25 percent of employees work remotely at least part-time, performance measurements like work quality, retention rates, and employees satisfaction are tracked to determine the ROI of work-at-home (WAH) arrangements. UnitedHealth tests flexible work options before deploying them company-wide, and has several new pilot programs underway. Heather Lemke, Vice President of Talent Acquisition, says, "Our internal data has shown that telecommuters have high quality performance, a low turnover rate and increased employee satisfaction."

At Deloitte, Preston says, "95 percent of our people use some form of flexibility in determining how, where and when to complete their work." Through the company's own surveys, it's found that remote and flexible work is key to retaining and engaging its talent. Additionally, Deloitte's research correlates flexible work with high performance in work quality, productivity, and business growth. Finally, Preston credits work flexibility as a contributing factor to attracting, retaining and engaging talent.

Related: 10 Tips to Become Happier and More Productive Working From Home

Remote working includes occasional telecommuting and flexible hours.

Some assume that telecommuting and remote work must be an all or nothing arrangement, but the majority of telecommuting is done with a hybrid approach and/or is combined with flexible or alternative schedules. Different arrangements may work better for different people, teams, and departments. For example, Dell, UnitedHealth Group, and Deloitte offer multiple remote work options that suit both business and employee needs, including:

  • Full-time telecommuting

  • Occasional telecommuting (some days in the office, some days at home)

  • Hybrid or part-time telecommuting

  • Compressed workweeks or alternative set schedules

  • Flexible schedules and employee-managed schedules

Successful remote work, or any workplace flexibility program, should be customized to the needs and goals of the company, while adhering to the key features that help these programs succeed: top-level support, company-wide deployment, and regular tracking and updating for effectiveness.

Related: How to Run a Virtual Meeting That Gets Results

Balancing best practices with a focus on company-specific situations and goals is what allows successful remote work programs to support both employee wellness AND business objectives--to be kind to employees and to the bottom line. As Preston at Deloitte puts it, "Every organization approaches flexibility and well-being differently. We believe well-being is not mutually exclusive to delivering value to clients. In fact--it's important in a high performance culture."

Sara Sutton

CEO & Founder of FlexJobs

Sara Sutton is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies, and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. Sutton is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo. Sutton is also the creator of The TRaD Works Conference, dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote and distributed teams.

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