When employees carry out their duties away from the office, that's remote working — also known as telecommuting and telework. It's not an all-or-nothing definition. Some remote workers, like travelling salespeople and call center workers, are permanently away from their organization. Laptop-wielding middle managers regularly dock with the office mothership. Some employees work remotely only when the office is on fire.
The traditional office is under attack, beaten down by remote video calls, outsourcing, and workers in coffee bars. It's a threat that the CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, famously tried to stamp out by forcing all employees to work onsite. But who wants to work in the old headquarters? "You know what I want to do today? Commute to the office!" Said no one. Ever.
And remote working is on the rise. A US federal government report said that 47% of its employees (that's 1,020,034 people — no, really, more than a million people) were eligible to telework — a big increase over the year before.
So is the office dying? Is the attraction of working from the sofa wearing pyjamas just too strong to resist? Last year, a British industry panel led by national daily The Guardian and conference call company Powwownow conducted a round-table discussion to tackle the issue of remote work. Among their concerns: Can you trust a telecommuter? Does absenteeism trump presenteeism? What's going to happen next? Here are some of their conclusions.
1: Remote workers are less stressed
Daryl Wilkinson, group head of digital development at Nationwide Building Society, said he wanted to encourage remote working to empower his staff and as a demonstration to the rest of the company. "There's less stress in the office and the workplace — people feel empowered to work in a way that suits them and suits the business."
2: Remote workers are well connected
The prevalence of smartphones and social media mean you don't have to be next to someone to communicate effectively. And new business trends like remote administration, cloud-based project management, video conferencing, and BYOD are extending the effectiveness of remote work.
3: Remote workers cost less
Encouraging different ways of working allows companies to reduce their rent and property costs, according to Ian Adams, head of head of strategic marketing development at outsourcing company Mitie.
4: Absenteeism is good
Not the AWOL type of absenteeism — this is "remote from the office" absenteeism. "The ability to work remotely eliminates the necessity for 'presenteeism' — being in the office as much as possible," said Jonathan Swan, policy and research officer for Working Families, a charity specializing in work/life balance.
5: The new agile workplace creates new jobs
New ways of working require new roles in the organization. "We're seeing greater collaboration between HR, IT, property and facilities management and job titles like 'workplace director' making this agile workplace happen," Adams said.
6: Remote working provides choice
According to Robert Gorby, marketing director of Powwownow, remote working provides choice. "Choice is very important. There shouldn't be a technology-driven compulsion to work in a certain way."
7: Companies benefit from happier remote employees
Try squeezing a de-stressing lunchtime doze into your office day. That's right; it's impossible. "It's about working with the grain of people's lives," Swan said.
8: Remote workers are more engaged
Nationwide's Wilkinson said, "When you're tweeting with people in your team close to midnight, it brings home that people are experiencing something beyond 'doing work' — they're engaged in a different way."
9: Remote venues are better than the office
We've all heard about how J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of Harry Potter in her local coffee bar. Now office workers can get some of that action. "Flexible working isn't just office or home — there may be somewhere near home with better facilities," said Celia Donne, global operations director of Regus, an office accommodations provider.
10: Commuting is bad for you
Even before the workday starts, telecommuting employees are better off than their physical commuting colleagues. According to the UK Office of National Statistics, "Commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non- commuters." And less commuting means a smaller carbon footprint, making tree-huggers happier.
The trend continues
The remote work revolution has been rumbling across industries for years now, and it isn't over yet. Flexible working is a done deal, but remote working continues to spread. Andy Lake, editor of flexible work resource Flexibility, said Department for Business surveys showed that more than 90% of companies offered flexible working of some kind, but that this was mostly flexible hours and part-time working rather than telecommuting. Expect more staff to disappear from the old cube farm as more staff convince their bosses to let them work from home.
- Remote workers' output, loneliness, privacy, coverage: Tips on managing these issues
- Telecommuting Policy (Tech Pro Research)
- 10 ways to reduce interruptions and stay focused at work
Do you agree that remote working offers the benefits listed here? Share your opinions and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.
Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the designers and developers who build the top layer that customers use.