(This post was first published on the GoToMeeting blog here)
I remember listening to a scientist a long time ago who was making the point that while we make astounding advances in certain areas of science, other areas remain frustratingly the same. Take for example, the way in which blood is extracted in medicine. The humble needle is still the primary tool – a tool, which hasn’t changed significantly in a considerable period of time. This point came to mind the other day when I listened to a conversation on the radio about working from home. It appears that attitudes to remote working have not evolved significantly while work practices and other attitudes relating to our work lives have changed greatly.
The presenter of the radio programme made the obligatory reference to the dangers of the lazy, crafty remote employee who naturally has endless “duvet days” and regularly “nips out to run errands”. Of course office based workers never do this! This attitude amazes me as much as it frustrates me.
As someone who works remotely, I want to challenge the way in which working from home is discussed and presented in the media, online and beyond. I want to highlight the positive impact remote working can have for the employers, employees, the environment and society at large. Below are some of the benefits broken down by the beneficiary:
- Remove location as a barrier to hiring the best talent. Where physical location of your office can sometimes isolate you from the very best talent, remote working can spread your potential net wider.
- Create loyalty amongst employees through demonstrating a high level of trust in them by providing remote working as a viable option.
- Create employees who are more self-sufficient. As walking over to someone’s desk for help is not an option for remote employees, they have to work harder to create the networks they need to succeed. In many cases, this can make employees more self-sufficient.
- In some cases with remote working, employers can realise savings on potentially expensive desk/office space.
- Remote workers can bring a different perspective to challenges. As remote workers are not involved in those little conversations that happen around the office, remote workers can sometimes offer a fresh and new perspective on problems.
- Greater job satisfaction due to a healthier work-life balance which allows for the lines between the two to bend more naturally around each other. Also due to knowing that your employer has trust in your ability and integrity.
- Greater productivity due to less external ‘noise’ during a working day – less distractions basically.
- So this one is a no-brainer. Less people travelling to offices means less carbon emissions.
Society at Large
- Speaking from an Irish perspective, we have a country where the bulk of the population is concentrated on the Eastern seaboard around Dublin. De-population of the rest of the country is a very real problem. This follows for many other countries across Europe. Take the UK for example – London and the southeast is the economic centre for the UK with other regions struggling to maintain population levels. These areas are, in many cases, places of astounding natural beauty and great places to live, yet there are few employment opportunities that would make living in those locations a real option. But what if people who worked for companies in Dublin or London had the option to locate wherever they wanted and started to populate some of rural Ireland and the UK? Taking working from home seriously could help to address one of Ireland’s more challenging social problems, as well as helping to even out the population distribution across the UK.
So that is my pitch – my plea is simple, take remote working seriously. No, it is not always possible or advisable but where you have roles where the physical location of the employee does not have a material impact on their ability to deliver – don’t rule it out! The face-to-face interaction that offices provide is something that we cannot reproduce but maybe Pareto’s principle applies and twenty per cent of the face time can deliver eighty per cent of the benefit.
I would love to hear your thoughts! These are just my own opinions – for all my arguments, there is a counter argument – I just think we need to move the conversation forward. Help me to do it!