When I first moved to Iceland at the dawn of the 2000s, the only job I could find was one that did not have an actual office. All the employees worked from home and on occasion, if needed, went to clients’ offices. Even after I briefly moved to Seattle, I continued this work because the time difference actually worked to our advantage (end of European business day meant an easy handover to me on the Pacific coast – and I would have something ready by the next European morning). With all the benefits and convenience technology enabled, this kind of work was easy. I couldn’t be blamed for thinking that this way of working would become commonplace, adopted everywhere, within a decade or so. Sure, some kinds of work are not suited for distance work – but many are obvious fits (like content development, writing, programming, etc.). Even some fields that are less obvious, with some adaptation, can also be good fits for part-time remote work because they force companies and employees to learn flexibility and to work in different ways.
Today I work in the most staid, traditional environment I have ever worked in, and it’s quite suffocating for those reasons. The idea is hammered into our heads – daily – that we need to embrace innovation and new ways of working into every single aspect of our work. A lot of lip service is paid to “changing how we work” but where is the evidence of this?
An article about remote work and corporate staffing cited a Genesis Research Associates study that states 76 percent of respondents to a survey within more than 7,000 companies plan remote hiring as part of their long-term staffing strategies (as opposed to short-term, temporary solutions). If this is so, who are these companies and where is the actual evidence of this?
To me, the obvious move would be to restructure our thinking about being in an office, spending too much time in meetings and not trying to find more streamlined ways to do these things and thus save time. I have looked at my own job and realize that I could do 90 percent of it from home. There are some meetings and some discussions that are valuable to have face to face, but I am finding that the insistence on meeting face to face is more about laziness, i.e. people can just explain in a half-assed way what they want, and I will get it. If I am outside the office, they could do that in a phone call, but the better thing to do – since we always talk about this as well – is to enforce a policy that if you are going to ask for content creation, you need to know in detail what you are asking for… so people need to write a complete brief outlining their requirements. I don’t need to sit in meetings for that (unless I am actually contributing to the development of the brief itself).
My point is – in 15 years, I have basically traveled backwards. I have much less freedom and far more micromanaging/expectation that I be seen at my desk than ever before. In terms of how I envisioned the future of work, this is not it. And I find myself asking every day: WHY?
No article in 2013 dealt with the issue of remote work and working from home without mentioning Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer and her controversial decision to forbid working at home. Some companies followed suit, others came out explaining why they allow either part- or full-time work (some companies are mostly virtual and always have been).
Mayer justified her decision in a variety of ways, stating, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”
Plenty of tech companies have criticized this all-or-nothing hardline approach. Banning telecommuting entirely seems short-sighted and totally inflexible, particularly to backpedal when it has been something that employees had an option to do in the past. It’s possible that creativity and innovation come from working together, but anyone who ever works in roles that require concentration and focus will probably agree that being able to work from home and tune out all the extraneous noise is priceless.
None of this is to say that enterprising individuals don’t have quite a lot of options available to them – some online platforms have sprung up and are quite successful at bringing together work, demand for talent/labor and technology. Elance and oDesk (which recently merged) are good examples of this – on-demand talent, a marketplace allowing people to bid on jobs and work flexibly. But you’ve got to be on your game and monitoring what’s available all the time, which is fine if you’re relying solely on this. But if you are not actively using Elance all the time, it’s not like you are building up a profile that future employers can look to.
The point of this is just to say – you could always find clients willing to do freelance, distance arrangements because it’s cheaper – no salary or benefits, no equipment, no office space – really nothing except a one-off payment and maybe a bit of their time to educate you about their expectations and deliverables.
Finding a full-time, regular job at a regular company that operates as flexibly is a different matter. But why? What is holding everyone back?
The future of work, which I thought would be remote, is remote – in that it feels like it is never going to happen.