Three years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made the headlines when she banned employees from working remotely. Then, Reddit, and earlier this year, IBM demanded employees “move to headquarters or move on,” forcing remote workers to start showing up at the office. The irony that these are companies built on an internet cloud did not go unnoticed.
Popular justifications for reigning in remote work are efficiency and collaboration. Steve Jobs famously championed the idea that employees from various groups should randomly encounter each other on the way to the bathroom to brainstorm and collaborate. He drove the planning of the new Apple Park headquarters around this concept, with the spaceship-like main building designed to encourage chance employee encounters.
It is practically a religion in Silicon Valley, the concept of collaborating in physical space. Facebook’s HQ boasts the world’s largest open-office workspace with something like 2,800 employees all working in the same open area, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Yet, the company is built on the idea of cloud-based social interaction. Maybe with Facebook’s recent push of Workplace by Facebook, they and other companies can conquer the fear of collaboration in the cloud.
The belief that collaboration on major initiatives should be hatched in the Mothership is yet another example of a short-sighted U.S. centric vision of a global future. International executives, have adopted myopic visions of the world after even short stays in their U.S. headquarters. This limited view on collaboration could sink U.S.-based companies in the global marketplace. Living outside of the U.S. has taught me that even though wealthy Silicon Valley investors travel the globe looking for disruptive innovation, they have a superficial understanding of how the rest of the world lives. See Why Does Everyone Have to Move to the Mothership.
Will those companies that master global collaboration rule the next technological age?
There are companies that require all or most employees to work remotely, like Basecamp, Canonical, Mozilla and MySQL, according to ComputerWorld, “Why Total Bans On Remote Work Don’t Remotely Work.” Success is not impossible.
So, the top 10 reasons why remote work is here to stay:
1. Less employee turnover.
According to a Stanford University study of a China based firm, offering remote work options reduced employee turnover, and “job attrition rates fell by over 50 percent.” The company, listed on NASDAQ with 16,000 employees, described the work-from-home, arrangement as “highly profitable” for the company.
2. A boost in worker productivity.
Both companies and at-home employees have found remote work to be a boon to productivity. Nonproductive distractions are minimized, and according to an infographic from web-based payroll provider, SurePayroll, 86% of those surveyed said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.” What’s more, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity.
3. Lower stress and higher morale.
Anyone who has sat in traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle, or stood for an hour on the train to London from one of the more affordable parts of town, wouldn’t be surprised that 82 % of remote workers report a lower stress level. The same study by a leading software services provider found that 80% of workers reported higher morale when working from home, while 69% reported lower absenteeism.
4. It drives employee efficiency.
Having fewer distractions can lead to higher efficiency. A report from ConnectSolutions concluded that some 30% said that telecommuting allowed them to accomplish more in less time, while 24% said they were able to accomplish more in about the same amount of time.
5. Lower overhead and real estate costs.
Real estate and overhead can be a significant cost of production. According to a Forbes magazine report, companies have reported significant decreases in costs due to remote work. Aetna (where some 14,500 of 35,000 employees don’t have an “in-office” desk) shed 2.7 million square feet of office space, saving $78 million. American Express reported annual savings of $10 million to $15 million thanks to its remote work options. In expensive markets like London, Paris, San Francisco, having remote work policies can cut down on the need for large office complexes or campuses.
6. It boosts employee engagement.
As reported in Harvard Business Review’s Will the Gig Economy Make the Office Obsolete? study after study after study demonstrate that independent, remote workers are more productive, satisfied, and engaged than their office-bound colleagues. Recent surveys of 8,000 workers by McKinsey’s Global Institute and nearly 900 independent workers by Future Workplace and Field Nation find that remote workers report higher levels of satisfaction and greater productivity.
7. It leaves a lighter environmental footprint.
According to an article in LiveWire, you can save the planet through remote work policies. Even just one-day of telecommuting saves up to 423,000 tons of greenhouse gas, according to the Telework Research Network. That’s the equivalent of taking 77,000 cars off the road for a year.
8. It’s what your talent pool wants.
We’ve all read about how millennials demand remote work options. In fact, 68% of job seekers who are Millennials said an option to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in specific employers. But, it’s not just millennials who need flexible options. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, over 50 workers are remaining in the workforce, and they want flexibility. An AARP survey found that 74% of older Americans want work flexibility and 34% would like to work from home.
9. It’s a global phenomenon.
In a global economy, companies are serving Chinese customers in India and launching global initiatives simultaneously on multiple continents. The location of workers is increasingly less relevant to anything, except costs.
10. It’s the future of work.
Worldwide, more than 50% of people who telecommute part-time said they wanted to increase remote hours. In a global survey, 79% of knowledge workers said they work from home, and 60% of remote workers said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.
The World Economic Forum’s forecast of employment trends called flexible work, including virtual teams, “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace.
One of the best reasons to support remote work can be found in the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. The author’s thesis is that a corporate culture of constant interruption and distraction results in “shallow work.” Remote work facilitates the “deep work” companies employees must do to think outside of the box, even if company headquarters is in an octagon.
When Dell recently surveyed its 110,000 employees about their work habits, they discovered that 58% were already working remotely at least one day a week, while only 17% were formally authorized to work wherever they preferred.
The trend is unstoppable.
While certain kinds of employees and certain kinds of work need in-office collaboration, at least sometimes, and more and more kinds can be done remotely, and benefit from periods of solitary work.
What Dell and others have learned is that employees, along with their managers, will self-select work modes depending on the circumstances. Empowered managers are in a better position to make those decisions than corporate headquarters.
Get a Head start on Collaboration in the Cloud
One of the collaboration tools being embraced by small and large companies is SLACK. You don’t have to be in a company to get familiar with SLACK. There are groups you can interact with now.
Slack mastermind groups
Public Slack groups are a great place for entrepreneurs and remote workers to pass around ideas.