Had a discussion yesterday with a client in a large (30K person) organization about the work at home trend. Smaller companies (such as Gartner) have gone site-less (most analysts work out of their home). Larger companies consider work-at-home policy to be, generally, “work from home if you want, but don’t make it a habit”.
Work-at-home <WAH> (or even more correctly: work anywhere <WAW>) will be the new indentured servitude issue of the 21st century – mainly because employees can have trouble with setting boundaries, especially under pressure (economic, workforce, competitive). Nonetheless, WAH/WAW is a tsunami trend in many industries.
The “If you can’t touch them you can’t manage them” crowd is losing, especially with the intrusion of technology, video, audio, and social computing into all our lives.
In this client’s case, he has to deal with two pressures: his staff is remote (all over the world). Working predominantly in the office and connecting mostly with his staff located physically nearby can be construed as an unfair advantage to local staff. Working remotely, and managing his remote staff as “one of them”, levels the playing field; everyone likes that. Effectiveness around doing the job (given the tools available) is not a question. He’s effective, on-site or off.
Yet he still goes on-site predominantly. Up the chain, the personal relationships between managers and mid to senior level executives gets enhanced by face-to-face and serendipitous encounters. Extremely valuable when working out difficult issues. So if he is not in the office, he feels left out of the “managing up” part of the job – even though remotely he does fine “managing down”.
This too shall pass. Most countries (especially the US) will see expansion and growth through globalization (the “old world is flat”), and along with externalization trends – remote management will be the norm, even up the management stack. It’s a trend that is coming from both sides – Boards and CxOs spend more time outside the office then in, spread over multiple geographies – it’s just that in the past it would be handled with private jets and labor-intensive tight scheduling.
This conversation made me more convinced that mobility – which has already had a major influence in corporate life – is just beginning to change our business culture and organization.
We live in interesting times.
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