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More Than Half of Companies Surveyed Allow Remote Work, But Fast-Paced Industries Lag Behind As remote work becomes the norm worldwide, 38 percent of technology and marketing professionals believe their remote work opportunities are limited

By Rebecca Corliss

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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When technology giant IBM, in 2017, ended its remote working policy, it's a safe bet that the info tech giant's employees were more than upset, considering that IBM allowed 40 percent of its global workforce to work remotely.

Related:Three Ways to Launch (or Become) a Remote Company

Other technology companies have also done away with their remote work policies in the last few years. Yahoo, for example, made the decision to ban employees from working from home, to eliminate productivity loss due to absenteeism. And Reddit, based in San Francisco, gave its workers a choice: Either relocate to the Bay Area or take a three-month severance package.

The technology industry's reluctance to lean into remote work is surprising, given its reputation for rapid growth and innovation. As businesses evolve to accommodate new technologies and trends, workforce policies must also undergo change to attract and retain top talent. A new report from Owl Labs explored this topic, finding that 38 percent of respondents working in fast-paced industries like technology and marketing had limited access to remote working gigs. But discontent seemed to linger there: 40 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "remote work provides more opportunities for quality employment."

Owl Labs, a smart video-conferencing provider for hybrid workplaces, surveyed more than 3,000 employees across 23 countries working in multiple industries to get a pulse on how employees around the world perceive remote work opportunities. Here are the report's major findings.

1. Remote work is spreading.

Just as some businesses remain behind the curve on their remote work policies, plenty of other organizations are wholeheartedly embracing such policies. The study found that 56 percent of global companies surveyed were either fully remote or hybrid, meaning they offer both remote and in-office options.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Smart Companies Are Going Remote

More than half, or 52 percent, of the workers polled described themselves as working remotely at least once a week, while 68 percent worked remotely at least once a month.

2. The reasons employees prefer remote work vary widely.

As for why workers choose to work remotely, the reasons varied. Twenty-eight percent of workers surveyed said they chose remote work for productivity gains, while 7 percent did so to save money. Sixteen percent said they worked remotely to reduce or eliminate their commute, and 14 percent craved a healthier work/life balance.

Not surprisingly, the report's authors expected the number of remote workers to rise as more employers warm up to the idea of accommodating individual learning styles. And those styles do differ: Self-identified verbal learners, for example, were 35 percent more likely than average to work remotely to improve their focus and productivity. And respondents who considered themselves auditory and physical learners were 22 percent more likely to work remotely as a way to minimize work-related stress.

3. Remote work has attractive benefits for employers.For entrepreneurs, especially, remote work opportunities can have a significant impact on their business success. Companies are able to explore different regional markets and create new jobs in areas where careers in various roles and industries previously didn't exist. In fact, one-third of survey respondents in North America and Europe believed that remote jobs open the door for greater opportunities for quality employment. Other benefits of encouraging remote work, described in the report, included:

Lower overhead costs. With employees working from home, employers can reduce operating costs associated with renting an office building or paying on-site technical support. For the budding entrepreneur, especially someone operating on a tight budget, a remote work policy is a great way to minimize office-related expenses. Full-time remote workers can help entrepreneurs slash real estate costs, resulting in an average savings of $10,000 per employee per year, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

Higher employee retention. Surprisingly, sending employees home can increase their loyalty to their employer. In 2017, U.S. companies allowing remote work experienced a 25 percent decrease in employee turnover, according to the report; and this was a welcome sight for businesses as they competed in a tightening labor market. The Owl Labs report also revealed that employees who worked remotely at least once a month were 24 percent more likely to say they felt happy and productive compared to those without a remote option.

Access to the best talent. For an entrepreneur to succeed, finding the best talent quickly is a must -- but what if the most qualified candidate is hundreds of miles away? A remote workforce significantly opens up talent pools for employers, and 35 percent of survey respondents agreed that remote work creates new opportunities for quality employment. This is especially useful when entrepreneurs are looking to hire individual contributors, who are 20 percent more likely than average to work remotely full time.

Decreased workplace stress. There's nothing easy about building a business from the ground up, and when teams experience high stress, they can struggle to get the job done. Twelve percent of global employees surveyed said they preferred to work remotely to alleviate some of those work-related pressures. There was also (reported above) the finding about auditory and physical learners, who were 22 percent more likely than average to work remotely to minimize stress.

Of course, remote work has to be done right.

As entrepreneurs begin rethinking their workforce policies, it's important to remember that remote work isn't a silver bullet. When poorly implemented, it can actually backfire on employers: For example, miscommunication among team members working in different locations can be a productivity killer.

At the same time, there are positive results. If you offer a remote work option, consider hosting frequent meetings with remote employees using video-conferencing tools to clearly set expectations, clarify any questions and, most importantly, build relationships.

Employers should also adjust their policies accordingly if they find that men and women employees differ in how much they value remote work. Across the globe, men in the study were nearly 10 percent more likely than women to work remotely, citing productivity gains as the number one reason why.

At the same time, the study found that men were only 2 percent more likely to feel happy and productive at work overall.

There is also the question of opportunities: Despite clear public support for remote work policies, a closer look at the data revealed an uneven distribution of global remote opportunities. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they still couldn't work remotely, and the total number of respondents who worked remotely at least once a month actually went down two percentage points, compared to 2017 data.

Other differences were more nuanced, varying by region. South America, for example, had 81 percent more fully remote companies than the global average; and South American respondents were 67 percent more likely than average to always work remote.

In Asia, the study found 9 percent more companies that didn't allow remote work at all, compared to the global average. And European respondents were found to be 13 percent less likely than average to feel there were more opportunities when they worked remotely.

Related: Out-Of-Office: Why A 'Work Anywhere' Culture Can Benefit Your Business

Remote work may offer a competitive advantage.

While some fast-paced industries remain the outlier, the majority of industries are trending toward remote working policies, to remain competitive and retain valuable talent. The modern workplace is no longer defined by the standard 9 to 5: Employees expect greater work flexibility and the chance to work wherever and whenever they want.

As the labor market tightens, and demand for high quality workers increases, innovative organizations offering remote work opportunities will find themselves ahead of the competition. Is your company one of them?

Rebecca Corliss

Vice President, Owl Labs

Rebecca Corliss is VP at Owl Labs, creator of the smart conferencing camera Meeting Owl. Previously, she was one of HubSpot's original team members, joining the company in 2008 when there were fewer than 50 employees. By the time she left, HubSpot had reached over 1,500 employees and 23,000 customers. 

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