The following is a guest post from occasional contributor, Kosmo. I hope to be back with another article later this week.
A while ago, I wrote about the new normal for office workers. As we start 2024, many companies have rolled out return-to-office plans that require employees to return to the office either part-time or full-time. What advantages does an employee see with in-office and WFH options?
It can be easier to communicate in person than online. Non-verbal communication doesn’t come across quite as clearly via video conference. Additionally, there are a lot of ad hoc conversations that evolve into actual vital discussions. Sometimes, you may even overhear a conversation between co-workers and realize that it impacts your work. While the formal meetings can be migrated to a videoconferencing option, the less formal conversations get lost.
While most people are fairly diligent employers, there are some slackers. Some people will take advantage of the fact that the boss can’t physically see what they are doing. They’ll read books, watch TV, or even leave the house and go on shopping trips when they are supposed to be at work.
Remote work advantages
When there is a remote work option, companies can expand the geographic reach of their recruiting efforts. While some potential employees may be willing to locate, some are not. This can be particularly true for mid-career employees. The employee’s spouse will often have a job in the city where they live, and their kids will already be enrolled in the local schools. It’s a major life change to uproot the entire family.
If a job requires an employee to be in the office five days per week, many people won’t be willing to commute more than an hour each way. Some won’t want to commute more than about a half hour.
With a hybrid schedule, people are willing to commute from a bit further away because the commute is less frequent. A fully remote work situation makes the distance from the office irrelevant.
In the past eighteen months, I have recruited two high-performing former co-workers to join me at my current company. One lives about seventy miles from the office, and the other is about ninety miles away. Without flexible working arrangements, both would have declined the opportunity.
Although some office conversations are beneficial, many of them are not. Some offices are downright noisy and make it difficult to focus. Many employees are much more productive working from home because they can completely control their environment and focus on the task at hand.
Frequently, employees working from home can be more flexible with meetings at the beginning or end of the day. If someone is commuting an hour and has a previous engagement in ninety minutes, getting them to stay late may be difficult if a meeting runs over. On the other hand, if they work from home, they won’t have that sixty-minute commute eating away at that ninety minutes, so they may be willing to stay until the meeting ends.
In a remote work environment, there’s also more time for sleep. If you remove a one-hour morning commute, that means that you can sleep in an hour later. Well-rested employees are more productive.
Lower facilities costs
You don’t need as much office space if you have remote or hybrid workers. A friend of mine worked for a company whose lease expired during COVID. They opted not to renew the lease and have everyone working permanently from home. I’m sure they still have a building somewhere, but they eliminated virtually all their facilities costs.
I have quite a bit of experience with remote work. I’ll share a bit about my work history and my thoughts.
I have been in the professional workforce since 1997. For the first five years, I was in the same physical office as my team and my manager. Then, I received permission to work remotely, and for the next fifteen years, I was only in the main office for a few weeks per year. For most of those years, I worked out of a small office alongside people in entirely different roles than me. The other workers in the office were office mates but not really co-workers – we literally never collaborated on work projects. It was simply a convenient location for the company to place me.
Toward the end of this time, the office closed, and I transitioned to working from home. I spent a couple of years working full-time from my basement.
My next job took me back into the office for a couple of years – and then COVID hit. Then, everyone was working from home. At the height of COVID, I changed jobs. I began the new job working from home.
Eventually, things returned to “normal”, and people at the new workplace returned to the office. When I was hired, I had an agreement to work from home three days per week and from the office the other two days. I continue to work on this hybrid schedule. Most hybrid employees work from the office on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. I go into the office on Tuesday and Wednesday so that I’m able to interact with both hybrid groups.
Overall, out of the 26 1/2 years I have been in the workforce, I have spent about 8 1/2 years in the same physical location as my manager.
I have experience in all environments – entirely in the office, fully remote, and hybrid.
Regarding oversight – if a manager uses the “look over your shoulder” method of determining productivity, then it’s definitely easier for slackers when they are remote. However, if you are judging productivity based on the employee’s output, then it becomes pretty easy to determine if someone isn’t pulling their weight.
I currently work alongside people in the office every day, a couple of times per week, and rarely/never in the office. Even when people are in the office, we quite often use video conferences instead of physical meetings anyway. There’s no noticeable difference in the productivity of those different groups.
Personally, I’ve found that I’m more productive when I’m working from home. I put on my headphones, listen to some music, and focus on the work. This doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are tempted by daytime TV and get easily distracted. Others simply work better in an office environment because they crave the energy in an office. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Another factor that comes into play is the power dynamic between the employer and the employer. My company has six people in my role. Four of us commute at least forty-five miles, and two have commutes of more than an hour. If the company suddenly decided to have everyone return to the office five days a week, we would almost certainly lose several members of the group, including me. That would be devastating for a group of our size, and the company is aware of that. However, companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have a different power dynamic. They have people practically begging to work for them, making replacing employees much easier. Those companies would be able to survive a small or medium-sized exodus.
What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with remote work from either the employee or employer side? What is your prediction for the future of remote work?