In our information age, together with some wonderful communication technologies, more and more jobs can be done remotely; legal and accounting, sales, web development and maintenance, graphic art, market research, and writing projects to name a few.
This development has accidentally been advanced by the “social distancing” required by Covid-19. But“working from home” was never just a tool of any crisis.It is a dynamic evolution in how we are, and increasingly, will be,working in the 21st century. After the present crisis has passed, the decision to move further forward or try to go back, will be the result of how companies assess its advantages and disadvantages.
When looking at pros & cons, the first question is,“advantages and disadvantages, for whom”? Who is it good for, employers or employees? If there are advantages for both it may be a classic “win-win”, but, it may not.
The pros and cons may not “balance”, the arrangement may be “lopsided” with greater disadvantages for one side or the other.
Happily, in this case there is something to measure it by that balances the scale on both sides. That measure is “productivity”.
My own little history may illustrate. Shortly after my business career began, I purchased a small company that was in decline and was ultimately successful.
During that time, a much larger public company liked the way I was marketing a new line of products and offered to buy me out. So, I sold that part of my business and went to work for them.
I was amazed at the difference in how they worked! As a small businessman when I wanted to put an ad on radio, TV, or newspaper, I wrote it out, called the sales rep, and he or she came by, usually within 24 hours.We scheduled it, they produced it, and within 3-4 days it was “on the air”.
At the big company that same procedure “went down” a little differently. When I had an idea, I scheduled a meeting with my boss, the division president (2 days later if he was in town). If it passed his OK, I scheduled another meeting with the advertising director (1-2 days). After that meeting, he called our local advertising agency and set up a meeting for the following week!
When the time came, we all met in the conference room. After coffee and small talk, we discussed the “project” in detail!
As we concluded, the advertising agency rep said he would get back to us in a week with some “concrete” ideas.
So, without going on about it, it took a month before anything was even ready to “produce”.
Yes, things are better today, and a lot of work is done “in-house” and more efficiently, but the point is, how to measure “productivity”?
If we measure it by the number of hours a person is at the office, that will not be the best strategy, and especially when deciding to allow or even encourage employees to work at home. Productivity is key.
“Pros” for Employees
The “Pros” for an employee “working at home”starts with the time saved in commuting to and from work. One hour round trip per day,after eliminating two vacation weeks, is still 250 hours a year or 31.25 days @ 8 hour each. You can call that another month of “vacation” with lots more time with family and friends.
Incidentals like lunches, wardrobe, cleaning bills, gasoline, car repairs and mileage all add up and can represent a lot of savings.
You can also claim that part of your house as an office, a percentage of utilities, internet services, cell phone, office equipment, software,and other supplies. Your own private bathroom is every bit as good as an “Executive Washroom”.
But a question remains; can an employee be as productive at home?
“Cons” for Employees
There are some people, and perhaps many who do not want their home to become an office. They leave the office and leave its problems and concerns there. This,at least, has been the common wisdom.
Many people like to have the associations that a common workplace provides. They are encouraged and supported in their work by having other people available to consult with on a casual basis.
There is also the lost discipline of getting up at a specific time, getting showered, dressed, having breakfast at a regular time, then having some “drive time” preparation for the workday. At the end of the day there is what we have called “transition time” via the commute home.
“Pros” for Employers
The pro’s for employers are fairly good as well. Office rents in midtown Manhattan average just over $74per square foot. If each of your employees needed an average space of 200 sq. ft (including common areas), that would be $14,800 a year just to rent the space for them to work in.
Parking is always an issue and with many working at home that pressure is lessened. Noise pollution in office areas is also decreased. Break areas and restrooms can also benefit with less traffic.
Busy offices can be quite hectic and being away from it may contribute to some good creative thinking. Silence can be quite fruitful in generating the ideas so necessary for a company to grow and prosper.
“Cons” for Employers
The major disadvantage for an employer may be in the loss of control. Good management needs to have a level of control over the work environment and the employees. Having many employees working from home needs a whole new set of controls. That may be difficult psychologically as well as structurally.
Managers who have always maintained a high level of control, i.e “management by walking around”, will be very frustrated in this relatively new environment.
If the principle of, “what gets measured gets done”, is to be preserved (and it should) how do you continue to measure results?
“Instant access” to employees is another disadvantage especially for those times when it may be necessary. A manager may be in a meeting with a supplier and needs the input of a key employee. For many managers phone calls just do not cut it.
Another general negative may be the impact on commercial real estate development especially in high density work places like New York City.
This is true not just for real estate but as that article points out (the link above), “Entire economies were molded around the vast flow of people to and from (those) offices”
It may be a tired shibboleth to say that the world is changing, that globalization and technology are moving faster than we can easily adjust to, but it is also an important truism that we all must deal with.
Conclusion – What about the Planet?
The issue of working from home is not only an issue for employers and employees. It could be a significant contribution to mitigating climate change. As satellite images dramatically noted, the sky has been bluer above NY and Paris during the pandemic shut down.
With millions of people at home and millions of cars, trains and planes halted, we, perhaps, were seeing a little of the future. We do not need all that shutdown but consider the effect of 20 million less cars on the road. Less traffic, less stress, less pollution, and certainly less unneeded consumption of human energy!There is more time for families, friends, hobbies, and creative pursuits. Of all the pros and cons of working from home these “”pros” may be the best of all.