Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is Office-Based Working More Productive Than Remote Working?

There has been an ongoing debate about whether companies should allow their employees to work remotely or insist that they are office-based ever since Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced early in 2013 that she was revoking the company's remote working policy.

Although she has declined to comment on the decision the argument reportedly is that the company needs employees to be able to communicate and collaborate quickly by working side by side, but also because ideas often come about via casual conversations between colleagues at the coffee machine or in discussions over a meal break.

There is also a perception that a problem with having employees working remotely from home is that there is a loss of speed and of quality in some of their activities.

From the employee's perspective it is also argued that those who work remotely are often treated as "second tier" compared with those colleagues who are in the office every day. This is a cultural issue, however, with only anecdotal evidence although there are some surveys that have shown that more than half of the bosses asked disapproved of remote working.

The changed nature of the office environment has also had its effects in that large, open-plan office space can make people feel perpetually under scrutiny and anxious. This, too, can be counterproductive to doing a good job. There has been some research that has found that the open plan office makes people feel sick, nervous and unhappy.

Another factor that has contributed to the debate has been the impact that IT and in particular email has had on the nature of work. Although it makes the remote working model much easier to manage it has also been said that the need to attend to a relentless flood of email each day is stifling productivity and creativity. There is also a view that attending to large quantities of email communication has resulted in less actual communication and discussion between colleagues.

It is argued that people working remotely worry about how they are being viewed by colleagues in the workplace and this leads to behaviour such as emailing earlier and more frequently in order to demonstrate that they are working even if they are not in the office.

It also increasingly impinges on leisure and social time in that people increasingly feel obliged to check their email for urgent work related communications.

Among the positive aspects of remote working are that it cuts down on travelling time and also that it allows people to focus and concentrate when they need quiet and few distractions. This can actually improve productivity and efficiency considerably.

Where remote working is possible some companies also benefits from lower overheads because they do not need to pay for and maintain large office buildings.

Perhaps the answer is that while it is obvious that some types of operations require people to be present on site many do not. It is perfectly possible at least some of the time, for a manager or executive to have a PA or secretary who works remotely.

Businesses need to consider which style - or even a combination of both - works best for their activities and crucially they need to think through exactly how it will be managed and what is expected of employees as well as operating a remote working policy fairly so that it is not seen as a privilege for the few.

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