About 25% of all US employees work remotely and according to a Gallup study the most engaged employees work remotely 60 to 80% of the time. That doesn’t surprise me. I’m all for working remotely. Some people work better in teams, others work better on their own. Whichever gets the job done. Technology companies today dream up all kinds of ways to set humanity free from the office constantly.
What’s interesting is they don’t practice what they preach. A recent Financial Times article cautions to pay attention to what companies do rather than what they say. Think of the tech hotspots of the world – from the Silicon Valley in the US to the Silicon Roundabout in London. It seems that tech giants still value the power of physical agglomeration.
IBM, who are known for their remote working policies, have called workers back to physical locations. They argue that while remote work increases productivity, face-to-face work is better for innovation and generating ideas. Agreed. Often we are most creative when we bounce ideas off each other and can feed of each other’s energies. Studies confirm that physical proximity benefits effective communication and fosters better understanding between co-workers and improves collaboration. In addition employees spark ideas through chance encounters and unplanned interaction. Steve Jobs once famously proposed building all of the bathrooms in Pixar’s offices in only one part of the building to encourage unplanned meetings. And tech companies all around the world embrace this so called “water cooler effect” and many offer perks for employees living close to hubs. In London one employer is taking it further and offers millennials financial assistance so that they can rent homes in the capital (and close to the office).
All up, I believe that people should be free to choose what works best for them, but face time needs to be part of the equation. In my experience, people who work remotely often work harder and are more productive than those sitting in offices. It’s an important conversation managers should have with their staff – what works best for both sides?