Why Remote Work is Not a Panacea
For every employee who pines for the opportunity to work remotely, there's another person who finds remote work isolating
Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever for many employees to work remotely. But just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. As with most trends, the pendulum seems to have swung from mandating in-office work towards allowing people to avoid the office entirely. One thing is certain: the pendulum will come to rest where it ultimately belongs, which is the middle—where remote work isn’t hailed as a one-size-fits-all solution that every company must offer for every employee.
Although the voices advocating remote work as “the future” are currently plentiful, corporate giants like Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna, and IBM are bucking the trend and reigning in their remote work policies. Back in 2009, 40 per cent of IBM’s workforce worked remotely. By 2017, they had reversed course and brought many of these employees back into the office.
It’s no surprise that more than 80 per cent of the American workforce would like to telework at least part-time. Working from home allows employees to avoid long commutes and have more flexible schedules. Some studies even suggest that remote work may make employees happier and more likely to stay with their company longer, all of which is great news for businesses.
But these generalistions mask an important truth: employees and their remote work environments are not all equal. Although one employee may end up being more productive by working from their home, a different employee may actually be less productive outside of the office environment due to family distractions. Some employees may be great at managing their own time and focus better while alone, while others may excel when surrounded by their hard-working peers.
To be clear, remote work does have its share of benefits. But there is reason to believe that remote work policies should account for the real differences in each employee’s unique situation.
Remote work advocates will tout applications such as Slack, Google Hangout, and other communication tools as being just as effective as in-person interactions. These tools are useful, but fully digital interactions seldom measure up to the same quality as face-to-face communications.
Are there organizations that can thrive with a completely remote workforce? Yes. Are there companies where all employees should be onsite 100 per cent of the time? Definitely. For the rest, a hybrid approach designed to account for each employee’s unique needs and abilities is the best policy.
Remote work isn’t a panacea and it isn’t right for everyone. For every employee who pines for the opportunity to work remotely, there’s another employee who finds remote work isolating.
When considering a remote work policy for your company, here is a piece of advice: ignore the hype and use common sense to figure out what works best for you and your employees. Getting it right can pay big dividends; getting it wrong can wreak havoc on productivity and require you to reverse course like IBM and others. When the pendulum finally swings back to the center, will your remote work policy already be there?
Brett Derricott is a serial entrepreneur and an active angel investor. Built for Teams is an HR intelligence platform that helps business leaders understand, manage, and grow their human capital.