Is remote work, too remote?

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So it’s a little soggy out in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, VA decided to cancel school. The Federal government is also opening late and its flu season, which means a lot of people are out of the office today. I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife drew the short straw this morning which means that while she will be trying to work from her home office with three kids doing some serious stress testing of their toys, our walls, and her sanity, all less than 10 feet away. This got me thinking about working from home, the pressures of family and work life, and how an organization should deal with these issues. On the one hand we have never been as prepared as a society to enable working from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. I am living proof of that having held conference calls, webinars, etc from hospitals, on vacations, and from my home office.

The question then becomes how connected is too connected and how close a tether to the “real” office do you need to retain to be effective. Openly, I do not fall in the camp of those who believe the end of the communal office is near. I truly believe that working together physically improves collaboration and teamwork. I love video conferencing because it is closer to real physical meetings, but it still isn’t the same as being right next to someone. There is a certain element of teamwork and collaboration that I just don’t feel is possible from a remote location. It’s one of the reasons why I can’t ever foresee my company going towards a remote workforce in a big way, despite the huge advantages from a cost standpoint. I just don’t believe you can hang on to the esprit de corps and sense of community that comes from sharing a physical space. I don’t mind having people work from home in order to get projects that require uninterrupted concentration complete, or when the cable guy is coming to the house, etc. I just don’t see it as a sustainable everyday model.

Of course most of my view into this is shaped either by view of the work my company does, which is consultative, or the work of our clients, which varies from large private sector to large public sector. I can certainly see advantages for some of our clients, particularly those with small-scale presences in many locations to remote work. It makes sense in these types of cases to set up your teams to work primarily from their home office or to leverage shared space, etc. Obviously, for retail, manufacturing, etc the need to be onsite is different than in the knowledge work community. How does your organization manage remote work? Is this the right approach? What are the pitfalls/benefits you have found?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

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5 thoughts on “Is remote work, too remote?

  1. I loved the moon picture. Good thoughts. Especially about trying to concentrate while your kids are at full throttle. Assuming that this much distraction isn’t normal, there are some impressive numbers relative to working from home. Some were gathered by Kate Lister and Tom Harnish in a paper “The State of Telework in the U.S.” over 20-some pages, but the big take away for me was that there are currently about 2.9 million “telecommuters” (working from home) in the U.S. that save an estimated 390 million gallons of gas and prevent the release of 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gases yearly. They went on to estimate that there are 50 million people employed in the U.S. that want to work from home and hold jobs that are telework compatible. If this many people worked from home an average of 2.4 days a week (the current national average of those who do), the reduction of greenhouse gases would be 51 million tons and would save $900 billion a year and be equivalent to reducing the Persian Gulf oil imports by 46%. Even if this estimate is a bit high, when you start thinking about it, the numbers have to be huge.

    Another point the telecommuter paper made was that about 300,000 non-profit employees called home their primary place of work in 2009, and posted the largest growth of the various employer categories during the post 2008 recession. Probably because of losing both patrons and grants they responded by turning to the more efficient and effective work at home arrangements. For those with lower incomes being allowed to write off a home office on their federal taxes, along with the savings in fuel and travel time to work and back amount to a great pay raise.
    cliff

    • It’s funny I hadn’t really thought of it from that angle. Thanks for the good info. I’ll probably copy this comment across to govloop if you don’t mind.

  2. Pingback: Remote - Why we decided to go virtual | Focused on Performance

  3. Amy S. – Love, love, LOVE the pictures! Amazing backgrounds/settings (great variety) and spectacular wardrobe changes as well ; ) Can’t wait for the wedding photos!!January 30, 2011 – 5:32 pm

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