Remember when there seemed to be a new article every day preaching that the end of commuting was nigh, and that we’d all be “teleworkers.” This new way of working would solve all sorts of social ills. Traffic jams would be a thing of the past as workers replaced their daily commute with a leisurely walk down the hall to their home office. In this tele-utopia, the air would be cleaner, the workforce would be stress free, and productivity would soar.
Still waiting for that? Me too!
So what happened? Why hasn’t the remote worker scenario played out as predicted? Is it just like those flying cars we were promised? Shouldn’t the economic slowdown of recent years — with its layoffs and high gas prices — triggered an upswing in remote workers?
Turns out I have some experience with this. For years I was an airline commuter, flying to my office in Silicon Valley on Monday, and back home again on Thursday. The rest of the time, I was a remote worker. The number of days “in the office” fluctuated over time, but there was always a split between on-premise days, and remote days, depending on what my responsibilities were at the time. And even though I was at a company that supported teleworking through its own products, it was sometimes difficult to keep the remote work regimen going.
I remember a time when we were going through budget cut-backs, and only essential travel was being approved (read only sales people making calls). I worked from my home office full-time for months, and understood what the invisible man must have felt like whenever he took that potion. It felt like I was disappearing, and had to work hard to remind my coworkers I was still out there.
So why is remote working even a thing, anyway?
There’s plenty of research in support of remote working. RingCenteral recently posted an infographic showing some of the many benefits. Things like working remotely can increase productivity up to 40%, and the fact that people spending less time commuting spend 60% more time working.
But many still don’t believe you can work at home. After all, everyone knows remote worker really means you’re just sitting on the couch all day watching soap operas, right?
Nope. I can tell you that I produced more work while away from the office than I did while I was there. It does take some discipline, but so does working in the office. After all, since the advent of the Internet, we all have access to pretty much every distraction under the sun whenever we’re sitting behind our computer screens — even when we are in the office. But we still get our work done. If we don’t get get fired.
A recent study by ConnectedSolutions looked into the behavior of remote workers. They found that respondents got 40% more sleep, 32% more exercise, and 33% spend more time with their family.
Ok, so they’re more rested, more fit, and happier in their home life, but what about productivity? What about being part of the team? The ConnectedSolutions study revealed that remote workers feel more connected to their co-workers, and that their productivity actually increases with more remote time.
So why isn’t everybody doing this? While it sounds like the classic “win-win” scenario, there are some down sides — real and perceived — to remote working.
Recently, Yahoo’s new leader, Marissa Mayer, made news when she ordered a roll back of Yahoo’s remote worker policy. The memo announcing the change in policy said, “Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.” I think Mayer believes that Yahoo’s remote workforce wasn’t as productive as the traditional one, and that making everybody commute through Silicon Valley’s notoriously bad traffic would boost their productivity. Or maybe she just wanted a convenient way to reduce the workforce without paying large severance packages. Hard to say, really.
But leaving Yahoo’s change of policy aside, there are other reasons cited for the lack of remote worker policy adoption. A survey released last month by Kona, indicates that something much less business-like is behind most of the pushback against remote working. Co-worker jealousy! Yup, jealousy. Fully 57% of non-remote employee respondents cited the basic vice of jealousy of their remote co-workers as factor against the practice.
What should you do?
Despite the slow pace of adoption, remote working is still on the rise. As a business owner, what should you do when one of your employees comes to you with a request to work from home some of the time. It’s going to happen, so you may as well think through it now.
One New York company, Fog Creek, recently removed the requirement that all employees work from the office, and decided to put a remote worker policy in place to keep things from going awry. They’ve posted the policy on their blog, and they’ve taken a practical, reasoned approach to the issue. I think you’ll find it a good place to start as you move your own business towards embracing remote-workers.
If you’re not running your own business, but rather work for one that allows for remote workers, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s still a new phenomenon for many. Don’t assume everyone’s cool with it. Trust me, everyone isn’t. To help you get along and avoid getting into trouble, you may want to read this article from Time on how to work from home without getting fired.
Share your story
What has your experience with remote work been. Have you had remote employees work for you? Have you been a remote worker yourself? I’d love to hear how it worked for you — good or bad.