If you’ve ever tried to work from home, perhaps you’ve heard this old chestnut: “Oh, you’re working from home today? Great, you can look after the baby / dog / lawn guy arriving at 11.” Working from home is so often misunderstood, not only by family members, but by co-workers and employers.
The concept was made famous is 1979 by IBM who, according to The Atlantic Monthly, “installed boxy, green-screened terminals in the homes of five employees, allowing them to work from home.” By 1983, IBM had 2,000 employees working from home, which grew to over 150,000, or 40% of their workforce by 2009.
Study after study reveals that at-home workers are more productive and work more hours than those gathered around ye olde water cooler. Quartz.com reports that “Employees who have the opportunity to work from home or another remote location are, according to studies, happier, more productive and more loyal to their organization.”
Yet in 2017, IBM yanked their employees back into the office. Yahoo had already done the same in 2013. Aetna and Best Buy followed suit. One of the reasons for this u-turn, as The Atlantic Monthly learned, was a lack of “collaborative efficiency”.
Blame email. While it brilliantly allows us to communicate throughout the world instantaneously, email also slows us down. Composing, reading and replying to emails can suck up hours of one’s day, whereas colleagues at a communal worktable have the ability to introduce a concept, solve problems, get answers, make decisions and keep working, with just a few seconds of verbal exchange, some head nodding, maybe an eyebrow raise.
Fortunately, not all companies followed IBM. Today, nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadian employees work outside the office for half the week or more. Regus Canada found that remote working is most common among managers in the professional, scientific and technical services industries. “Far from being dominated by millennials, half of telecommuters are aged 45 or over. These respondents also tended to be better educated and earned an average of $4,000 a year more than employees who didn’t work remotely.” Furthermore, a study by Global Workplace Analytics estimated that employers can save $11,000 a year with remote working.
So the key is to not throw the working baby back into the office bathwater, but rather, to make collaboration easier and more frequent. Embracing better technology that allows for more intuitive, expressive and speedier communication between co-workers, which yes, might mean more chat groups, video calls and definitely more emojis. 😄
If your firm doesn’t employ a human resources team, it’s worth finding an HR consultant to help you sort out the right internal communication tools and establish a culture that prioritizes “performance over presence,” to quote Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek.
Particularly in this era of coronaviruses and pandemics, employees working from home – in effect self-quarantined from one another – seems like a pretty great idea.