By now you’ve probably heard the news that IBM is canning its remote working policy and calling employees back into the office . I’m hoping this isn’t a trend since certain jobs, personalities, and life situations really thrive when workers don’t have to report into an office. And technologies keep improving to enable it. I should know – I’ve been a remote worker for almost 20 years.
For me this comes as “dogfooding” since my job happens to entail analyzing the collaboration and content technology industry. That means technologies like email, content management, portals, instant messaging, collaborative workspaces, wikis, web conferencing … all the stuff that lets employees get their work done and collaborate with others from wherever they happen to be.
I did work in a traditional office for 8 years (most of it in suit and tie). That was at the beginning of my career and when I was that young I really liked the social interaction and needed more hands on help from the veteran employees. But most of my career has been spent as a remote employee. I’ve experienced how that works across a wide variety of conditions, from times when I was on the road 70% to other roles where I barely traveled at all; in the suburbs and in the city; 3 different employers and 4 teams; single, married, and married with kids. It spans technology ranging from a tube monitor with dialup internet to dual monitor with wireless internet.
My first home office was a converted back closet. Over time I worked my way up to a spacious home office with a vaulted ceiling and a row of tall sunny windows with a nice view. I enjoyed that office for about a year before a gorgeous baby girl arrived. I was thrilled to feel the baby kick in my wife’s tummy. Then she arrived and kicked me down to the basement, claiming my office as her bedroom. It was well worth it.
I know that remote work doesn’t fit all people or jobs. In fact, only 16% of working time in mature market countries is spent working from home. That comes from the 2016 Gartner Personal Technologies Study of over 6,400 respondents. A 2015 Gartner survey of 2,000 respondents across the US and Europe, found they did feel a bit more productive in a corporate office than at home (5.80 vs 5.43 on 1-7 scale). The older the respondent, the more productive they felt at home, ranging in a straight line from 5.16 for 18-24 yr olds up to 5.83 for 55-74 yr olds. That probably relates to my experience as well, since I needed the social environment and assistance of an office in my youth.
As an analyst I simply get more time to do my work once commuting time is removed. And it is easier to weave late night calls to Asia or early calls to Europe into my schedule. The company saves money on real estate (in fact I have to make sure I buy a home with one more room than I’d otherwise need). As a human with a life I find it easier to take care of errands, work on the house, appointments, and such.
As a manager, I found my highest appreciation for remote work. I have had to find and hire quite a few employees during my career, some for office jobs and some for remote jobs. In all cases I just wanted to hire the best, most brilliant, experienced, and engaging candidate I could find. When I worked for a traditional, office bound company that meant finding the best employee within a 45 minute drive of headquarters. At a remote working firm, that meant just finding the best employee anywhere in the world. Needless to say, removing the filter of location allows for a much better set of candidates. I’ve hired four great analysts (all still working at Gartner) and none of them are within 200 miles of where I live, so in a traditional office environment none of them would have even been considered.
Looking back (and forward) I’m happy to be a remote worker. I feel it’s very important to have opportunities to meet face to face with my co-workers from time to time, and communicate via phone and video frequently. But the ability to work instead of commute, avoid contributing to traffic, handle work outside of traditional hours, take care of my personal life, and have a more comfortable office than any I’d be provided make working at home a pleasure. With technology such an enabler to this type of work its a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.
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