Opinion - CNBC Work

The work bonus that is way more important than money

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork
Key Points
  • Nearly two-thirds of companies today are offering flex time, recognizing that the happiness of their employees and the success of their organizations are intricately tied.
  • Above a certain amount of money — $105,000 in the U.S., according to Gallup — more income doesn't create more happiness.
  • According to a recent Stanford study, resignations fell by 50 percent when employees were allowed to work from home.
Kevin Winter | Getty Images

It's 2019. Team collaboration tools like Slack, DropBox and Google Docs are unifying communication. VR headsets and videoconferencing tools are allowing staff to work together face-to-face from virtually anywhere.

So why are working moms and dads still having to decide between taking care of their children and earning an income? Why are we dealing with crazy commutes and 9-to-5 jobs and needing to live where the jobs are?

There's a better way—and more companies are starting to realize they need to jump on board or admit defeat.

As unemployment continues to hit record lows, companies are grasping at ways to hire and retain top talent. And what they are hearing from candidates is that a flexible working arrangement is their top priority. In fact, many people are willing to be paid less if they can have the freedom to work when and where they want, at hours more suited to their natural rhythm.

According to an analysis by Gallup, above a certain amount of money — $105,000 in North America — more income doesn't create more happiness. What does have a significant effect on well-being, however, is time, and more free time is linked to greater life satisfaction.

The good news: Businesses are starting to recognize that the happiness of their employees and the success of their organizations are intricately tied. After all, happy employees "show superior performance and productivity," according to psychological research.

Today, reveals Upwork's 2018 Future Workforce Report, nearly two-thirds of companies employ remote workers, believing that flexibility has helped to extend their talent pool: More than half of hiring managers at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year, according to the report.

This comes not only in the form of flexible hours. Companies like Salesforce, Netflix and Autodesk also offer paid time off to volunteer, as well as unlimited paid time off and sabbaticals.

Remote workers work more, not less

In the early 2010s, a Shanghai-based 16,000-person travel firm called Ctrip was facing twin threats: the cost of real estate was rising, forcing the company to think about reducing its footprint; at the same time, it was experiencing extremely high attrition rates.

It had to do something, so the Nasdaq-listed company set up an experiment, randomly assigning its employees either to work from home or in the office for a nine-month period. Then it compared the two groups.

The results? Remote work raised productivity.

According to the study—"Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment"—Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Nicholas Bloom concludes that remote work increased employee performance by 13 percent. Here's why.

First, stay-at-home employees spent more time working. They took fewer breaks and sick days, for example.

And second, stay-at-home employees got more done per minute. Offices can be noisy and distracting. Bloom thinks the atmosphere at people's homes allowed them to focus more on their work than in the office.

Upwork CEO on IPO: The market is ready for us
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But the benefits of remote work extend beyond productivity to snagging and retaining top talent. According to the Stanford study, resignations fell by 50 percent when employees were allowed to work from home.

"While flexibility isn't a reality for all workers, many want it to be," states the Gallup report, which finds "that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee's decision to take or leave a job. Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays."

How remote workers can help save the Earth

Beyond its other benefits, remote work is the right thing for companies to do as corporate citizens. It can reduce your company's carbon footprint. While using home offices can increase residential energy use, working from home has a significant effect on reducing total energy consumed by dramatically reducing the amount of petroleum used. One less commuter on the road per day adds up.

These benefits haven't eluded Dell or Xerox, both of which have embraced remote work and touted their environmental stewardship.

Dell, where more than a quarter of its employees now work from home, says it has saved more than $12 million per year in real estate costs. And the company says that remote work has effectively taken 7,400 cars off the road each year and meant 35,000 fewer metric tons of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere.

For its part, Xerox says its remote-work policy has reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 40,894 metric tons.