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Why Some Big Companies Are Calling Their Remote Workers Back into the Office
Don’t get too comfortable in your home office.
Amongst the trends likely to grow in the business place of 2018, remote working seems a concept becoming ever more established and prevalent across the majority of sectors. With the technology available today, in some cases it’s often feasible (and even convenient) for employees to work from home. But is this actually beneficial to long-term company culture, workflow, and career advancement? We discuss how it may not be a model that works for everyone.
A global phenomenon
…37% of respondents now work remotely in some capacity.
This is a decision that can deeply impact everything about an organisation, from office culture to workflow and team makeup and relationships, it’s one that more and more employees (and employers) are being faced with. Its also a global phenomenon which is growing. A forecast of employment trends by the World Economic Forum called flexible work, including virtual teams, “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace, while a Gallup poll found that 37 percent of respondents now work remotely in some capacity.
Whilst in the current environment there is a trend towards a more mobile and remote workforce, with more and more companies adopting work-from-home policies, employees have grown to expect a measure of control over when and where they work — and they appear to be getting it. That said, there is also a strong case to be made for companies setting the preference of employees working from the office most of the time.
An erosion of corporate culture?
There is the risk when you spread your workers out too far and wide, you start to get an erosion of corporate culture. While there is a certain degree of autonomy in working remotely which can be attractive to an employee, considering the effect that such a remote working situation would have on the business and the company culture should be of primary concern. Companies such as IBM, Honeywell, Yahoo, Best Buy, Hewlett-Packard and Bank of America have all made moves over the last number of years to pull back on the reins and bring back their workforce in-house. They cited the need to improve teamwork, idea-sharing, innovation, speed, agility and especially corporate culture, as the primary reasons for this move.
A strong workplace culture is an organisation’s primary competitive advantage in a competitive market because you need enthusiastic, excited employees to build great products, manage and train your workforce and delight your clients. When a high percentage of your employees work remotely, you lose the ability to build that culture.
Famously, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer restricted the practice of working remotely and was criticised heavily for it. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that she did it to boost morale and innovation. For Yahoo to reemerge as a leader, she believed that employees had to come together in a central location, and “…some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.” she stated.
Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings –Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
Collaboration—the missing piece
There are many good reasons why having your employees working in the office is more advantageous and preferable than it would be to maintain a remote workforce. When considering the pros and cons of having an employee work from home you have to take account of what role the employee plays within the overall team and how their absence from the office might affect the performance of the company. It also should bear in mind changes to a particular role and industry.
As an example, the marketing function has largely shifted to digital marketing and one in which the need to work in an agile way becomes more apparent. Marketing is no longer a ‘waterfall’ type work process, where work is handed from one person to another. Modern marketing requires that people on a team be able to iterate programs in real-time based on live feedback. This requires a higher level of collaboration between teams and one where when all workers are on site and ready to work, it is much easier to correlate work between employees and maximise output.
Whilst solutions like Slack and Trello make remote working and online collaboration much easier, it’s difficult when you scale up and have remote teams surpassing 1,000 plus members.
Is the road to the top is paved with being there?
…opportunities for promotion are less if you’re less visible in the office interacting and networking with senior management
For employees, there is also some drawbacks worth noting to working from home from a longer-term career-growth perspective. Less face-time with management could potentially be a liability. If you’re out of sight, you’re potentially also out of mind. As you climb the career ladder your opportunities for promotion are less if you’re less visible in the office interacting and networking with senior management.
Organisations rarely promote people into leadership roles who haven’t been consistently seen and measured. This largely comes down to familiarity and trust. There is a huge amount of value to passing people randomly in the hallway, by “the watercooler,” or at a social event. These kinds of relationships are critical and are just not replicable via remote work structures. The road to the top, to a certain extent, is paved with being there, being present and accountable.
Something to keep in mind…
When making the decision to enable a remote working team, leaders need to take into consideration some of the real problems that remote work presents. A one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to remote working is unlikely to succeed. Remote working is fine for some of the people some of the time, but for many, it has its flaws and while I may not go so far as to say its the most backward progressive policy that has ever been invented, it certainly brings with it a number of long-term challenges from both sides which should be taken into consideration.
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