I recently read an article in the City AM newspaper the other week titled ‘Why remote working may be dying’ was curious why this may be case. It’s something that I would like to do myself so the decline worries me as from the article, it sounds like it could be trending.
With the recent improvements in technology, especially in cloud computing and communications, I would expect remote working would be on the rise as it is easier then ever to work with someone in a different location.
Then it made me wonder how remote working is perceived by employers and employees alike. When someone mentions working from home or remote working, the first conclusion that they come to is that it is the same 9-5 job but being at home instead of the office. The companies that have this view assume that they can give an employee a laptop with VPN and that is remote working sorted.
Remote working is far more then this, it isn’t just working at home and avoiding the commute and be away from office distractions, it is far more then that. It is about having the freedom to work the way you want to and consider to be most productive whether it be at home after lunch or in the office early morning. It doesn’t matter as long as the work is still being done and everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Two companies that come to mind that have done this well are:
- BaseCamp (formally 37Signals) – Small company that has employees all over the world and have written a book titled ‘Remote‘ that contains information regarding implementing remote working.
- BestBuy Corporate – Two people set out to introduce a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) into BestBuy and have written a book title ‘Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it’ about the transition.
Both companies approached implementing remote working in similar ways:
- Made remote working available to everyone
- Culture change so everyone understands what is required to make it work
The latter is the difficult part, as it requires changes in workflow on everyone’s part. The books above will go in huge detail on what this really means, it ultimately means that the the ‘old ways’ of office working are no longer available so last minute questions, having the option to walking up to their desk when something comes up etc are less of of an option then they would be.
It requires more structured planning, effective communication between team members and understanding that everyone is not working by the same clock and with that, it means that everyone has access to the information they need to work without having to wait for it.
So given the extra effort needed, why have remote working at all? It is because it allows employees to be in control of their work and are therefore empowers them to masters of their own destiny. As Dan Pink has mentioned in a TED Talk, this increases their motivation and that alone should be more then enough reason given that 70% of US workers are not engaged in their work.
Mayor (from Yahoo!) and Spicer (from Cass Business School) were quoted in the article:
“At a conference last year, Mayer admitted that people may be more productive when alone, but said that they are far more collaborative and innovative in an office. “Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” Spicer agrees – “remote employees get cut off from vital social networks – you miss the opportunities for spontaneous knowledge exchange.”“
I disagree with this. Ideas and innovation can come from anywhere, in the shower, coffee house, out jogging, on the commute, etc. In my experience, sticking people together and asking to solve a problem or come up with ideas on demand is the least effective method. Cognitive or creative thinking just doesn’t work under the clock.
As for being cut off from social networks, its a company cultural separation issue and one that can be fixed as proven by the previous mentioned companies.
Finally, the last paragraph in the article:
“So the commute looks here to stay. But today’s workers shouldn’t lose heart. Research by the London Business School found that homeworkers received fewer promotions and smaller pay rises. By staying in-house, you should have a headstart.”
I call bullshit. This just shows that companies don’t trust their employees and still believe that they have to be at their desks in order to be working. This outdated thinking needs to change, remote working should be a valid option for people who need a more flexible life/work balance that today’s times are demanding more and more.