In my last two posts I touched on a topic that could use some more elaboration: remote work.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of remote work, here's a brief outline:
Remote work is often encountered in technology oriented business (at least judging from my limited experience), though it is certainly not constrained to this industry. Using modern technology, many businesses can now offer their employees the ability to work away from their default work environments. Be this default environment an office, cubicle, plant, lab, etc., new technologies now allow certain businesses to provide their employees with the opportunity to perform their job functions from a non-traditional setting. For a traveling employee, this might mean working from a hotel room, a coffee shop, an office in a different location, or even from the extreme comfort of an airplane (given the airplane is so gracious as to provide a wireless in-flight internet connection). Additionally, through the remote work option, businesses can also provide employees with the privilege of working from home.
Now any skeptic reading this is probably thinking that this is something people have been doing for awhile. This is true, there are plenty of people out there running a business from their home office, and many of these people have been doing this for some time. Of course this sort of example extends beyond the self-employed, but that's not really the point. The point is that not until recently has remote work become so prevalant in larger enterprises, enterprises with employment numbers ranging from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands. This relatively new phenomena is one that is rapidly spreading across the globe.
This being said, one must now ask the question: is the increasing popularity of remote work a good thing or a bad thing? Well something some of us may have picked up from that Albert Einstein guy is that often there is never a single, concrete answer to complex questions in physics. And like so many questions in physics, the answer to the question above changes relative to the observer.
What the heck am I talking about? Ok let me explain what I mean by this.
First I think we can put aside considering the benefits (and here when I say benefits, I'm referring to benefits from the company's perspective) of enabling traveling employees to work remotely. For traveling employees, at least from a company's point of view, it's hard to argue against the positives of remote work. So now consider only employees that leverage remote work capabilities to operate from their home. At first impression, doesn't that seem like a recipe for disaster? Wouldn't allowing employees to work from home open up the flood gates for a major loss in employee productivity? Again, the answer to this question is relative to the observer. To continue with this discussion, let's now ask ourselves a couple of questions:
Q: Does working from home rather than the office weaken employee productivity?
A1: Well, yeah (right?), employees could become distracted by their home environment (TV, radio, etc).
A2: But wait, no, many employees are more productive when they work from home. If someone enjoys their work more when working from a home office, then chances are that if given the opportunity to work from home, that employees' quality of work will improve. Also consider if someone has an engagement requiring him or her to stay at home for the day. By working remotely, that person can just work from home instead of taking taking time off. If someone can work remote rather than not work at all, then that's a clear benefit to the business.
Q: In a team setting, will the overall productivity of the team weaken if each member of the team is given the opportunity to work from home?
A1: It would seem so. Communication between employees is often more efficient if this communication is done face-to-face, which is not an option when employees are working together in a virtual environment.
A2: Then again, when building a business team, virtual work environments eliminate geographical location criteria. So because of this new opportunity, the geography barrier can be ignored when constructing a team. This allows the team building process to focus more on how well skill sets of teammates will mesh, rather than focusing on whether or not the employees can both come into the same office. If your team in Raleigh needs someone that speaks French, then you can bring in a worker from France, rather than searching for someone in Raleigh to fill the spot (and unless I'm badly misinformed, I would assume that the French speaking hiring pool is a bit larger in France than in Raleigh NC).
So in summation - could working from home hamper worker productivity? Yes. Could working from home enhance worker productivity? Yes. Did my ramblings establish anything here? Hah - probably not, but hopefully at the very least it has given all you students and recent graduates out there an insider's look at the dynamics of remote work.Thus to conclude this post let me ask myself one more question: do I support the remote work option? Um duh, yeah, nothing beats working in pajamas. Kidding! Or am I?