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Not True: Working in the office beats telecommuting

February 5, 2015

This morning I read an article from TechRepublic that justifies why business leaders and employment experts prefer that their workers work onsite.  These were the 10 reasons given:

  1. Working onsite fosters innovation
  2. Onsite workers are easier to manage
  3. Remote working tools are poor
  4. Some employees don’t want to telecommute
  5. Some employees can’t telecommute
  6. Communication is easier in the office
  7. Local workers are easier to trust
  8. Office work is nurturing
  9. Many jobs can’t be done remotely
  10. Flexible hours are popular with businesses (remote work, less so)

My first point, the article assumes that all offices foster innovation, provide the latest or most effective tools, and overall nurtures its workers to bring out the best in them.  This isn’t always the case.  There are many offices where like-minded people flock and leave out those who think differently, where extroverts are favored over introverts, where politics affect promotions, where the tools aren’t always working, and where complacency and mediocrity has been reached because of some favorite “cash cow” or “formula” that no one wants to challenge or management is too lazy to improve because it already works.  In this working environment, the growth of any worker is stunted.

My second point, I think the only benefit for management / company owners is #2: Onsite workers are easier to manage… But then again it’s the quality and attitude of the worker that makes managing/leading them easy, not their proximity.  It really boils down to the character of the worker (or manager/team leader), his ingenuity to get the job done wherever he is with whatever is available (and there are so many tools already available), his ability to communicate and remain organized, and overall, his perseverance, focus, and discipline.

Now I don’t totally disagree with Nick’s premise in his article, because I myself ask “Why all the talk of the death of the office?“.  But I don’t see why the only reason for offices to still exist is that working there trumps working in any other place, since offices serve a different kind of business need or avenue for getting a job done, much like telecommuting serves another business need and avenue for getting another type of job done.  Both ways are equally important and efficient, it’s only a question of business need whether an office is required or telecommuting would suffice.  I would say that from a customer’s perspective, I’d prefer to seek service from a company with a physical address I can visit if all other access fails.  I’d like to, at times, talk face-to-face with someone from the company for any issue I might have—or, perhaps the company needs a venue to accommodate customers face-to-face.  To serve such customers, a physical office is definitely important, with workers who function quickly to fulfill certain tasks at that point of interaction.  On the other hand, a business might find telecommuting to be highly efficient and convenient for workers who live very far away from the office, especially when output can be submitted online.  I live in the Philippines where traffic is horrendous, and the average time for someone taking public transportation is 2 hours going to work and 2 hours going home.  In those 4 hours, say, a developer could already work on so many things and accomplish more, instead of waste his time in daily commute.

There are possibly three reasons why a person would prefer to work in an office (or factory or lab): He doesn’t have the tools / equipment / knowledge base he needs (such as proprietary hardware or software, or sensitive information), maximum security is required for highly critical projects, or third, the person is easily distracted with all other entertainment / leisure activities / domestic problems at home that he could not focus on work.  So here’s the kicker: Unless the issue is serious domestic problems that really disrupt a person’s development (in which case he needs the support of a healthy working environment), a person who is easily distracted by other activities will still have a problem disciplining himself or focus on work even if he is in an office environment.

Which brings me to my last point, for an office to really be effective, it must foster individual excellence in character and skill-set so that one becomes a well-rounded, outstanding individual who is great at what he does whether he is working inside the office or outside of it (at home, in a coffee shop, wherever).  You’ll want that kind of individual to make up an outstanding team and an exceptional company.  But an office that doesn’t have that culture and support system in place only breeds unproductive, whiny, and lazy workers / managers who expect to be paid merely for their attendance.

Fortunately there are workers out there who are already disciplined, capable and determined within themselves, to be more than they can be and really make a contribution in their professional communities.  These are the people who do well regardless if they are in an office environment or on their own.  Finding and keeping them is another story.

Bottom line, know and understand the business need (including what customers look for), set up a great working environment (whether offline or online), and get the right people to make up the team.  That’s what makes a great company and not a physical office.

  1. The Twentysomething Social Recluse permalink

    Really interesting piece! Thanks for sharing.

  2. You’re welcome, Ms. Johnson (am I right? from your gravatar?), and thank you for reading as well! =)

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