Today, we’re going to cover something of an unusual topic – at least from an event management perspective. We’re going to talk about remote work. Outsourcing.
See, the workplace has changed a great deal in the past decade. It wasn’t particularly long ago that going to work involved physical travel. It meant coworkers and uniforms; offices and cubicles. That’s no longer the case.
Today’s employees can work remotely with unprecedented ease. Thanks to the Internet, clocking in is as simple as finding the nearest computer. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that in light of this – and the recent troubles with the economy – outsourcing is on the rise, with the United States market for outsourced labor growing to $10.6 billion in 2014.
The question I’m going to address today is simple. Should your business join the growing tide of employers who’ve chosen to embrace remote work? Should you let staff work solely from the comfort of their own homes?
What are the advantages – and disadvantages – of such an approach?
Why Remote Work Is Great
Employees Have Complete Control
One of the strongest arguments in favor of remote work concerns control. Working from a home office means you’re the one who makes the final call about…well, pretty much everything. Generally speaking, you define your working hours, what projects you tackle first, how much time you devote to each project, and everything else right down to how you dress. What this means is that you can work at your own pace, rather than operating on someone else’s hour.
Not only that, you can shape and reshape your workplace however you see fit – everything from ambient noise to décor can be redesigned at your discretion. For someone like me, who’s at his best in an unstructured environment, this is pretty much a perfect fit.
Naturally, that goes a long way towards making employees more productive – people enjoy feeling as though they’re in control of their lives (if they’ve the discipline to be in control, that is).
Less Time In Transit, More Time For Work
Consider the following two scenarios:
An alarm goes off at 7 AM, and Craig drags himself bleary-eyed out of bed. After brewing a quick pot of coffee, he hops in the shower, gets dressed, and trundles his way to the train station for another day at the office. The commute is around forty minutes each way – but at least the pay is good.
Lucille’s alarm goes off at 9 AM, and she hops out of bed to take a shower. After eating a hearty breakfast, she sits down at the computer to check her email. Time to get to work!
Working from home means you needn’t worry about the costs – both time and money – associated with commuting to work. All you really need to concern yourself with is whether or not your employees have a working Internet connection. Awesome, right?
No Workplace Drama
I’ll be frank – I’ve yet to meet a decent manager who actually excels at dealing with workplace drama (though I have dealt with a few toxic individuals who thrived on it). Thing is, when you have a bunch of people working side by side for extended periods of time, you’re eventually going to have to deal with it.
Maybe the customers were horrendous to deal with one day, or one of your colleagues damaged morale by playing favorites. Maybe the atmosphere was physically detrimental to employee health, or your co-workers were simply terrible to deal with. Maybe there’s just that one employee who always has some crisis on the go; an overdramatic fool who sows nothing but negativity.
Regardless of the reasons behind the toxicity, it has an adverse effect on pretty much everything, from teamwork to creativity to motivation. Working from home means never having to deal with such negativity – there aren’t really coworkers to speak of, after all.
You Might Be More Productive
All of the above factors translate to one thing: improved productivity. Well, sort of. Sometimes.
It kind of depends on who each employee is as a person, and how they operate unsupervised.
As you may recall, back in 2013, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer made the highly controversial decision to ban remote work at her company. In light of the buzz generated by Mayer, Stanford University and Ctrip – China’s largest travel agent – decided to run a study on remote work. They wanted to determine once and for all if all the positive attention working from home receives is really true – does it actually improve productivity?
Is working from your home really better than working from your office?
According to Stanford researcher Nicholas Bloom, there are a few factors to consider here:
- Social life. Does an employee have an established network of friends and acquaintances, or is everything sort of based in the office?
- Level of discipline. Will the employee actually be able to focus on work, or are they likelier to while away hours watching cat videos?
- Type of work: According to Bloom, more robotic work likely offers greater benefits when done from home.
- Enjoyment of Office Life: Some people prefer the structure and social nature of working in an office.
Why The Office Might Be A Better Fit
It Gets Lonely
One of the biggest complaints I’ve got about working from home is the fact that I don’t have any coworkers. I’ve roommates, sure – but both of them do shift work, so I don’t see either terribly often. For most of the day, it’s just me, alone with my thoughts. And while I’m usually fine with that (it’s easy to distract myself with some new project), there’s the odd moment here and there where I sort of wish I had someone to chat with or bounce ideas off of.
I’m certainly not alone in this.
“When I tell people that I work from home every single day, I almost always get asked about loneliness,” writes Sqwiggle’s Sarah Gabot. “People are curious about the loneliness factor that goes along with working from home.”
“That idea isn’t exactly out in left field,” she continues. “Unlike working in a traditional office setting, you can’t just spin your chair around and start talking to someone. You’re not even around that many strangers because you’re no longer commuting.”
There are ways to combat this loneliness, of course – Gabot goes over a few of them in her piece – but the fact remains that working from home is always going to feel a little more isolated than an office setting. If an employee is the sort of person who needs others around them to thrive, then forcing them into remote work is a sure-fire way to force them into the ranks of a competitor.
Scheduling Is Hard
You’d be surprised how much we rely on others to schedule things for us. You really would. We rely on managers to tell us when to show up for meetings. We rely on our superiors to set deadlines for projects we’re working on. We rely on the workplace to tell us when we need to be working and when we need to stop working.
To an extent, this is easy enough to mitigate – use hours tracking software, keep in constant contact with employees, and set concrete deadlines. At the same time, there’s really no way of ensuring an employee sticks entirely to a schedule. After all, what’s to stop someone from finishing their work early and then loafing around for several hours while on their company payroll?
The Internet Is A Distracting Place
Most of my work is done online. That means that at any given moment, I’m only a few clicks away from Buzzfeed, Reddit, Tumblr, or any of a wide range of other sites that serve little purpose aside from wasting time. If an employee is easily distracted, don’t send them home to work.
I’m not just speaking from my own personal experience here, either. In the Stanford study I mentioned earlier, more than half of the employees given the opportunity to work at home returned to the office after six months. Many of them found it too distracting to work outside a structured environment.
Everyone works differently – that’s an irrefutable fact. For some people, working from home is a dream come true. The ability to sit down in one’s underwear, hammer out a project, and still get paid is magnificent, after all.
For others, however, the social opportunities the office affords – coupled with the inherent structure of the traditional workplace – is far more suitable. Neither side is really right or wrong. It’s all in how they work.
As an employer, it’s best to offer a choice. Give each employee the option to work remotely. The ones who are best-suited for it will take you up on the offer – and your business will be all the better for it.