Virtualization has been a proven game changer for all of us, in practically every aspect of our lives. Just think of all the tasks that once required us to be on-hand and on-site to perform — opening a bank account, paying a bill, applying for a job, completing our taxes, taking a class.
Today we use virtual capabilities for storing documents, booking travel, making household purchases, and even taking video game playing to the next level.
With all of this in mind and on the forefront, perhaps it’s no surprise that virtualization continues to alter the reality of work. Gallup reported last year that the typical professional who telecommutes does so two days a month.
Overall, nearly 40 percent of workers have telecommuted — a figure four times greater than in 1995. And recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers showing that about a quarter of all professionals perform some or all of their work from home.
I’m a member of an organization with a 100 percent remote workforce. As such, I’ve gotten an up-close-and-personal look at how home-based professionals perform, produce, and propel an organization forward.
While there are many pro-company reasons to build a virtual workforce — productivity, cost savings, engagement, and retention among them — employees, too, benefit in priceless ways as well.
As I began thinking about these positives, here’s what came to mind:
I recently heard on the news that a considerable percentage of American workers use paid time off for mundane, essential tasks like routine doctors’ visits. The argument was that their workdays are so maxed out, and employers remain so rigid, that workers are unable or fear taking time out of their workdays for even staying on top of their medical well-being.
Home-based workers typically benefit from more fluidity in their workdays. They are better able to self-manage their schedules, even if it means squeezing in time for a necessary visit for a dental cleaning or annual physical.
From the break of dawn to the beginning of dusk, so many professionals are running on fumes. They race to get ready in the morning, muster sluggish commutes, maintain focus throughout the work day and come home stressed and zapped.
Operating at such a breakneck pace, some workers find their social lives suffering. Virtual employees, however, are positioned to strike a better balance between their professional and social lives. This keeps friendships and hobbies off the backburner.
Marriage has been linked to various health benefits, from improved social connections and safer decision-making to greater survival after heart bypasses and general increases in longevity. But the caveat is that the marriage must be a happy, fulfilling one.
And it’s more difficult to achieve that bliss for the overworked and imbalanced. Remote employees, who enjoy some degree of latitude in their work location and sometimes their work hours, can better accommodate a lifestyle conducive to positive intimate relationships.
If employers knew that by requiring a face-time culture, they may be giving their workers a prescription for headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety, chest pain and upset stomach, would they reconsider?
After all, these are just a few of the symptoms of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. The daily stressors necessary to negotiate a schedule that requires an office presence can be immense. Sadly, the American Psychological Association has found that more than one-third of U.S. employees experience work-related stress regularly. We can surmise that the majority of these affected workers do not currently work on a virtual basis.
When people work from home, they have greater and more consistent access to healthier food in their kitchens. Home-based employees feel less of the lure of a quick trip to a fast food joint, and they don’t endure the social pressure to eat at the greasy spoon with colleagues several days a week.
Plus, they are more apt to experience better nutrition by virtue of actually having time to eat breakfast and lunch — not skipping meals or subsisting on vending machine fare — on account of their flexibility.
Just think of all the objects people touch at work that have been handled by others. There are doorknobs, elevator buttons, office supplies, computer keyboards, coffee pots, telephones and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80 percent of all infections are spread by hand contact and by touching contaminated surfaces.
Add to this those ill coworkers who don’t take time off to recover, and you have a recipe for potential sickness. Those who work from home come into contact with fewer unfamiliar germs that could knock them off their feet and take them off their A game.
As companies look toward ways to augment medical coverage with wellness programs, I am optimistic that we will see more organizations make the connection between flexible work and its holistic benefits to staff. Additionally, as technology continues to transform how and where we can work, the business and practical case for the virtualization of many knowledge-based professions becomes inarguable.