According to a recent Gallup poll cited by the New York Times, “43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely.” That, of course, does not mean that all people who do some remote work are working from home all the time. Or that remote work is even the right choice for all people or for all industries.
What it does mean is that remote work is becoming a growing trend, and there’s a reason for that. Besides for the obvious benefit to people like myself, such as the flexibility to work from wherever you want (in my case, Granada, Spain) and the ability to set your own schedule (within reason) there are some overlooked benefits and drawbacks as well which we’ll take a look at below.
Freedom is a great thing. In fact, freedom is such a great thing that many employees are choosing it as a perk they want to see their companies offer.
It works out that employers save quite a bit this way too. Fast Company recently cited a study of the Chinese travel center Ctrip by Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University. He found that Ctrip was able to save $1,900 per employee over a nine month period, and also reported increased levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.
Of course, it’s easier to be productive when nobody is watching over your back constantly, and when the work that you are doing is more results-based and project-based it makes sense. That won’t work for every industry, but if you’re in an industry that values autonomy and individual contributions over collective action and thought, you’ll likely find yourself being more productive in a familiar and comfortable setting.
The flipside of working at home (or at least outside the office) is you actually have to work at home. This is harder for some than it is for others. In fact, every time I’m in my childhood home, my Jewish mother opines about how difficult it would be for her, “there’s just too many distractions.” Even the New Yorker recognized the difficulty of focusing while working home. In a recent humor column, a distraught home-based employee calls into 9-11 to report that “I . . . uh . . . I work from home.”
The key is to have somewhat of a routine. This doesn’t have to be such a rigid routine, like waking up at 6:45am and getting to the gym before 8am. No, all a routine needs to be is working from the same spot (ideally away from distractions like Netflix or video games) and using ‘keystone habits,’ which are correlated with other good habits. These don’t necessarily have a cause and effect relationship, but they are the kind of habits you need to build in order to work successfully. That still doesn’t mean you can’t write in your underwear though (which I never do).
Ultimately, there’s no best way to work remotely, but being put into a box never worked for anyone, especially if they are in a more strategic or creative industry. For some of us, our best thoughts come in the shower, at the gym or while running errands. Corporate culture, after all, never really changed with the adding of ping-pong tables or nap nooks.
But what works for one person may not work for another. The values that remote work culture mostly promotes are access and attitude on the behalf of employers to employees, and that can be accomplished both remotely and in an office by having all members of a company be present and available to each other and forming a less rigid hierarchical structure.