Teleworking: Opportunity beyond the Pandemic

11 Mar 2021

IESE Business School professor and STI expert Mireia Las Heras has analyzed the benefits of remote work for companies, society and employees from a survey of 2,690 people from various countries.

STI Experts

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the forefront a long-standing work practice that has come to stay: teleworking. According to an International Labor Organization (ILO) policy brief, 78 countries around the world had more than 5% of their employees working remotely in 2019 and, in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, at least 58 countries implemented this modality for non-essential workers in April 2020. Accepting that not all economic or social activities can be carried out remotely... how should telework function to make it beneficial for businesses, society and people? What are the advantages of working remotely?

A study led by STI expert Mireia Las Heras, a professor at IESE Business School (University of Navarra) and Director of the International Work and Family Center (ICWF), has concluded that telework can serve as a strategy to promote well-being, family reconciliation, productivity and sustainability, when certain conditions are met. The report, developed jointly with IESE researcher María Barraza and in collaboration with several Latin American universities, included the participation of 2,690 people, 98% of them from Spain, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru.

First, the Las Heras study identifies ideal conditions for teleworking: a combination of days in the office and at home – proposing one or two days per week of remote work; an absence of distractions at home; employers' support for this mode of work; and acceptance by the worker's family. The employee must exhibit self-management and discipline, want to work remotely, and be committed to the corporate mission. Managers, for their part, must be willing to do remote work themselves, must be flexible and must establish channels of open communication with employees. In addition, according to Las Heras, companies that introduce telework must be willing to integrate technology and digitalization into their business, and to experiment, and must prioritize customer service.

According to the study, telework has numerous benefits with respect to employee productivity and concentration, which is especially necessary in the case of complex projects, strategy formulation, stimulating creativity, and planning. The report indicates that workers' energy increases by 14% on remote days – with a maximum of two days out of the office –, that their performance improves by 12%, and that interruptions decrease by 40%. In addition, employees prove to be more satisfied and engaged: they are less stressed, they miss fewer days, they feel more comfortable, and they demonstrate greater fidelity to the company. Customer service also improves with telework: the study indicates that employee availability increases by 9% when work is alternated between the office and the home or an alternative space chosen by the worker.

In the personal and family sphere, the study also identifies benefits in areas such as health, care for dependents or interpersonal relationships. It finds a 21% decrease in stress from (multitasking), a 72% reduction in commuting time, and time freed up for sports, hobbies and sleep. The work also reveals a greater sense of autonomy on the part of employees and their perception of greater interest on the part of the company to care for them. In addition, the boredom of routine is reduced, and the perception of work as something interesting and novel increases by 31%. Time is also available for taking better care of one's self and one's children or other dependents. There is more time to cook, eat healthy and take care of one's health and rest. Finally, there is an improvement in non-work-related interpersonal relationships: more time, resources and energy to care for loved ones. There is an educational effect on children – respect for working hours and parental availability – and, in general, greater well-being and happiness is detected in workers' lives.

Las Heras also describes benefits for society as a whole in areas such as the environment, the rationalization of public spending, the competitiveness of business, and quality of life. Reducing workplace commuting, for example, ostensibly reduces noise pollution, the carbon footprint and crowds on public transportation. Infrastructure spending, and school failures – thanks to the presence of parents at home – can also be reduced, and public spending on health and sick leaves can be avoided. Telework also makes the country more attractive for international private investment and more prepared for potential social eventualities (as in the case of the current pandemic). Finally, the study finds an improvement in the quality of life of citizens, as it prevents the population from accumulating in urban areas, decreases accidents, and reduces agglomerations in hospitals and medical centers.