The Battle Between Remote and On-Site
Flexible work is on the rise. The digital age and its new tools of communication have dramatically shaped the world of work. The traditional notion of “going into the office” is no longer a compulsory to the job. Nowadays, colleagues can be spread across all areas of the world, as the modern office has gone online.
As workplace cultures continue to evolve, the debate around remote and on-site work has grown alongside it. Which method is preferred? Which method is most effective? A 2012 poll by Ipsos/Reuters revealed that 1 in 5 membersof the global workforce were working remotely. This movement of the modern workforce is only expected to continue over time, with a 6.5%increase of remote workers in 2015 alone.
Countless new platforms have been designed specifically to facilitate this — Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts — to name a few. While technological advances have made remote work increasingly easy and feasible, most companies still find that having employees on-site is more compelling.
The Case for Remote
Flexibility: The main appeal to working remotely is its inherent flexibility. The world is your office. Whether you prefer working in dead silence, having the radio on loud to your favourite music or sitting in a busy café, as a remote worker you can tailor your work environment to exactly how you like it. Flexibility is an added plus for those with other responsibilities outside of work. This is a huge advantage for parents, for example, who can cater to child duties if the need arises and make up for it later on.
Productivity: Working remotely can boost productivity. Ever hear people say they get their best ideas when taking the dog for a walk? By not being tethered to a desk, we’re more likely to engage the sensory parts of our brain by having an occasional change of scenery. Whether it’s simply moving from room to room in your house, being able to change your environment helps stimulate the brain. Working remotely also means people have the option to work at the time of day their brain is most alert. Although remote employees often still have set working hours, there is more flexibility in time management throughout the day. This is advantageous for both early birds and nightowls, who can work at their own pace and at their own time.
Efficiency: Working remotely saves both employer and employee money and time. Who wouldn’t want to start their day with a cup of coffee in the garden and avoid all rush hour hell? By the time most people are finally sitting at their desk you could either have had an extra hour of sleep or done a solid hour of work. From the perspective of a company, not having to pay for office space can dramatically reduce overhead expenses. Employers can hire those who are truly the best fit for a job, focusing on qualification, rather than location.
The Case for On-Site
Community: Working together, in person, establishes a sense of community. It strengthens teamwork and adds a social element to work life. Professor Richard Arvey from the National University of Singapore Business School argues that human beings necessitate human contact. According to Arvey, “face-to-face meetings” are crucial for co-workers to develop valuable relationships amongst themselves as well as develop a better understanding of their own role within a team.
From the perspective of the company, employers fear that working remotely will cause a sense of isolation and consequently have a negative impact on overall efficiency. This fear was confirmed when Yahoo!, leaders in digital communication, imposed a complete ban on remote work. According to the memo sent out by Yahoo!’s Chief of HR, this move was made in order to strengthen collaboration, which could only be achieved “when working side-by-side”.
A strong sense of “team” and “in it together” is particularly key for start-ups, where extra effort and enthusiasm are needed in order to realise ideas into a reality. Ad hoc brainstorming sessions, bouncing ideas off of others and learning from your team members is naturally much easier in person than over email.
Work / Life Balance: Studies have shown that remote workers find it more difficult to separate work time and personal time. People find it difficult to ‘switch off’ from work when their office and home are one in the same. One such study was conducted by Boston College’s Centre for Work and Family, which found that 46% of remote employees worked while on holiday, in comparison to only 34% of traditional office employees. A work / life balance is not only crucial to overall job satisfaction, but also key to keeping us sane.
Professional Growth: A benefit of working within physical proximity to your bosses are the unintended consequences it can have on your career. It is much easier to inadvertently impress or surprise your superiors when working in the same environment. The results from a study by MIT Sloan Management Review support this idea, revealing that ‘present’ employees tend to be picked for promotions. It is therefore a common fear amongst remote employees that by working outside of the workplace, they weaken their visibility within a team and unintentionally hinder their own career opportunities.
A Question of Personality?
The reasons behind the growing popularity of remote work are plenty. As are the reasons for sticking to traditional methods. Does choosing a side therefore just depend on the individual? Can you manage time and work well independently? Or do you need the social buzz of others around you to drive a good work ethic? Whichever way, technological advances pervading the workplace now mean we’ve got the freedom to choose for ourselves.