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The rise of the remote workplace: PDF Print E-mail
By Adam McKibbin   
Monday, 28 January 2013 14:53

why it matters and where it’s headed

We recently took a look at the increasing trend of businesses crushing their cubicles and designing more collaborative working environments. Some companies are going a step further: telling employees to find a way to work that makes them most productive, even if that means not setting foot in the office most days. A Stanford survey found that over 10% of American workers now regularly work from home. As soon as 2016, an estimated 63 million Americans will be telecommuting.
Gone are the days when “remote worker” only meant jetlagged salespeople and “work from home” implied menial data entry jobs. Today, most telecommuters are salaried and college-educated. At my last company, lots of people took an occasional home day, while others had a specific office-vs-home ratio built into their contracts. Most of my own direct reports never came into an office. Flexibility inspires productivity – and loyalty. I’ve experienced that on both sides. Frankly, employers who are worried that unmonitored work time will lead to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo marathons may want to reconsider their personnel choices. The tangible benefits of a modern, mobile workplace are hard to downplay, and they are the sort of benefits that suggest businesses will becoming more flexible in the years ahead – or suffering the consequences.
It’s easy to do the math: fewer employees in an office all day every day results in less overhead – while cutting commuting time and cost for the worker. By 2020, Citrix projects that there will be six desks for every ten workers in the U.S. As for that IT budget: many employees will work on their own devices – often multiple devices – and receive at least partial reimbursement from the company.
Boost your productivity
Early research shows that remote workers are as productive – if not more productive – than their office-bound counterparts. That goes for management as well as lower-level, task-oriented employees (like call centers). From my own experience managing a remote team, I would always set clear objectives and deadlines – but I didn’t care whether the work was done at noon or midnight, or while sitting in a cubicle or sitting on the dock of the bay. Just get it done and do it well.
9 to 5 is passé
Most everyone you know is probably already working remotely. Businesses increasingly take it for granted that employees will be plugged in throughout the day; the smart ones are taking advantage of that flexibility and putting a premium on goals and accomplishments rather than “time spent at desk.”
Attract star talent – and keep them around
Flexibility is an increasingly important factor for job seekers, and companies that cultivate flexible work situations experience predictably less attrition. The perks are important, but so is the philosophy behind the perks; empowerment and trust will go a long way, as will a demonstration that the organization isn’t shackled to outdated business practices.
Give Mother Earth and Uncle Sam a break
Aside from any globetrotters on your team who work remotely because they are always on the road, a decentralized workplace will make a positive impact on the environment. It’s estimated that we could reduce greenhouse gases by 51% and cut Persian Gulf oil imports by 46% – and that’s just if everyone with a remote-friendly job (roughly 45% of us) worked from home half the time.
The challenges
Last year, Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlanticthat “Telecommuting is a choice to be alone.” While perhaps technically true, I don’t agree with the spirit of that anymore. In many cases, it’s a choice to work together in a different way. Nobody is suggesting an Into the Wild approach to the workday.
The rapid evolution of collaboration platforms is soothing many of the major pain points for remote teams: unavailable centralized data, crossed communication wires, lack of transparency, lack of secure remote access. There’s no excuse to hit those hurdles anymore – and the key to remote collaboration is to make sure those problems don’t exist for you and your team.

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