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Remote Work: 3 Reasons I Am Not Bullish

At StartupNation, one of the topics we are obsessed with is business communication.  How businesses communicate with clients or their employees, what technology they use, strategies that work or don’t work… the topic is broad but exceptionally important.  This blog post is the beginning of a series that we will be doing on business communication, so stay tuned.

It has been a very chic business concept for companies to release their employees from the supposed chains of their offices.  Work from home, work from the road, work from the top of a mountain – technology makes it irrelevant.  I am not so sure.  Rather than calling this movement the creation of an “Office 2.0,” office brain drain is a more apt description for remote work because the intellectual capital of your business is scattered.  With any venture, the whole is far greater than the sum of the individual scattered parts.  I am skeptical of a complete shift away from the physical office for three reasons:

1. Office Culture

Tools like Skype, remote conferencing, video calls, and even our smartphones have made the notion of commuting to a physical office seem less and less necessary.  However, I think businesses are starting to observe the fallout from this type of thinking.  The biggest move away from the trend in “remote commuting” was Marissa Myer, CEO of Yahoo!, banning remote work and calling her employees back to the office.  Her view is that many of the best ideas come when employees meet in corridors, share lunch, or get together for an impromptu brainstorming meeting.  She also claims that workers are less productive at home, where there are numerous other distractions, though this is hard to measure.

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“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side… We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” –Melissa Myer

Intuitively, Mrs. Myer’s argument makes sense and real human-to-human interaction is hard to mimic. At StartupNation, much of our team is remote and we have all wondered out loud whether this is the best path to continue down for the rest of 2013.  Imagine the difference in pitching a startup to a VC: “Our rockstar team will be scheming together in our office, building this company” versus “Our rockstar team is scattered around the world, but we will only be an email or phone call away from one another.”  Having your own desk and your own office phone system, like the multi-featured Syn248 business phone system from AT&T, as part of a larger business organism are office details that are here to stay.

2. Time Management

When you work remotely, when does your workday start and end?  You may wake up early, work, then exercise, work some more, get lunch with friends, pick up your kids from school, add a little more work, dinner, work, bed – or some variation on that theme.  While flexibility is touted as the most valuable benefit of remote work, I know many people who see it as a curse.  Without some tangible demarcation between work time and personal time, they lose the ability to truly relax because, in a sense, they are always at their “office.”  Add the fact that your cell phone is your work phone and now you’re chained to your job.  A return to the office means workers can give out an office phone number, rather than their personal cell number, and keep work at work.  It also means that when you are at work, you focus on work and when you’re not you don’t.  Often, this means greater focus resulting in higher productivity in both your personal and professional lives.

3. Go Local

A huge upside of remote work is opening up the availability in a company’s recruiting talent pool.  Instead of looking in just your local area, you can essentially recruit from anywhere.  So while this benefit is hard to ignore and businesses with different branch locations will always have employees across geographies, fostering the personal connection is getting easier.  A great article in The Atlantic reminds us that, despite our feelings to the contrary, airline prices have been dropping all along.  Despite all this, though, going local is a popular theme these days both in what vegetables you buy and who you hire.  Cheap airline tickets will never fully supplement the benefits of having your key employees within arms reach.  Expect to see a swing back towards home-grown talent.

Does this mean that we have to return to the cubicle culture?  Absolutely not.  Open office layouts, casual dress codes, areas to relax and socialize and even grab a game of ping-pong are all positives.  However, what is the point of having a swanky office if there is no one there to populate it?

About the Author: Rich Sloan

Rich Sloan is chief startupologist and co-founder of StartupNation and host of StartupNation podcasts. He is also co-author of the acclaimed how-to book, StartupNation: America's Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business. Rich encourages you to [...]

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