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Worker, Unbound: Those Who Work at Home or Remotely Report Higher Levels of Satisfaction

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By Andrea Coombes

RISMEDIA, Sept. 18, 2007-(MarketWatch)-If asked who is the most devoted, loyal employee in your office you’d probably point to the guy at his desk long before you arrive and long after you leave, right? You might be wrong.

A new survey finds that workers who telecommute, either from home or other remote location, report the highest levels of satisfaction with and loyalty to their company.
Seventy-three percent of the remote and home-based workers surveyed said they are satisfied with their company as a place to work compared with 64% of office workers, according to the survey in June of about 10,000 U.S. workers.

Meanwhile, 70% of the telecommuters said they’re “proud to tell people I work for my company” versus 64% of office workers, based on the annual survey conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute, a unit of Kenexa, a recruitment and retention consulting firm.

“When companies allow employees to work remotely or from home, they are explicitly communicating to them that ‘I trust you to be dedicated to the accomplishment of the work, even if I’m not able to observe you doing it,’” said Jack Wiley, executive director of the Kenexa Research Institute, in Minneapolis. Kenexa is based near Philadelphia.

“It boils down to respect,” he said. “I respect you and I have confidence in your commitment to the work, to do this under the conditions and at the time you feel will be most productive for you.”

Some of the differences were striking, Wiley said, pointing to the 10 percentage point difference between the 54% of telecommuters who said there is “open, honest two-way communication” at their company versus 44% of the office workers who said that.
Fifty-three percent of the remote workers said they were not considering leaving the company within 12 months, while 46% of the office workers said leaving was not a consideration.

Fifty-eight percent of the telecommuters said “senior management demonstrates that employees are important to the success of the company,” versus 51% of the office workers who agreed, and 53% of the telecommuters said they believe senior management speaks honestly versus 44% of the office workers.

Companies can reap benefits

Still, not all that many of the 10,000 workers surveyed work outside the cubicle: Just 4% say they work from home or remotely, a percentage that has remained fairly steady for years, Wiley said.

To some degree, that’s because companies don’t embrace work-at-home policies. “For many companies, there is still a command-and-control mentality,” he said. “It’s based on the notion that if you can’t see the employee at work or can’t walk down the hall and stick your head into the office, then you don’t have a sense of just how productive they are.”
There are other concerns, he said. Companies may worry “about how they administer a policy like this in a fair way across the board for employees.”

Plus, there are cost concerns related to purchasing laptops and other tools — tools which may double-up existing equipment in the office. “In order for this practice to be productive, there may be some expenses that companies don’t want,” he said.

But companies do reap benefits from employing workers who are satisfied and committed to the company.

“We have a significant amount of experience and research that’s shown a link between employee engagement and a whole host of very desirable outcomes, including an employee’s willingness to expend discretionary effort to get the job done and their intention to stay with their employer,” Wiley said.

If such practices do improve retention, “that’s going to accrue to the financial benefit of the company,” he said.

Plus, Wiley said, “There’s a substantial amount of research that shows that higher levels of employee engagement are predictive of higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty and improvement in market share,” he said. “Making progress on employee engagement is associated with making progress on key business measures also.”

And this survey’s message to workers? “There are employers out there who do provide this flexibility,” he said. “The benefit to workers is fairly obvious: It’s about having more control over how and when you accomplish your work. When we have more control, for most people that’s a huge plus,” Wiley said.

In other research, he said, “when we ask people what are the most important things they want from the company for which they work in addition to their compensation, people want appreciation and respect. They want to be appreciated for the work they contribute, they want to be recognized for that, they want to be treated respectfully,” he said. “This desire escapes the attention of many managers and employers in general.”

Andrea Coombes is MarketWatch’s assistant personal finance editor, based in San Francisco.

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