1 Million for Work Flexibility director Emma Plumb recently wrote a piece on LinkedIn called “Fixing Uber’s Failings with a Lesson from Its Successes” that generated a boisterous conversation on work flexibility, tech, gender equity, and business design. In this “Busting the Myths” series, we respond to some of the concerns voiced by readers in the comments section about the practicality of work flexibility.
“Maybe you are right that technology should make it possible for remote work especially for families, and maybe that is the next trillion dollar startup (I think Amazon is up to 600 million). Maybe it is possible to be efficient and hard working remotely. Maybe it is the future. But is it really what you want? Is it really, really what people want? Is that really, really what people need? Maybe not. People need human connection, communication, presence, talk. The company might just be more efficient or make more money being all together.
“And then there’s all the unintended consequences… are you prepared to compete globally with people whose cost of living are half or a quarter yours? Are you prepared to compete with countries whose regular work hours are 10 or 12 or 14 instead of 8? Once you bring down one barrier all the rest go too. I am 100% all-for globalization and all for worldwide competition and trade. But I am not sure everyone realizes what “work from home” really means.”
The comment above mentions several points. Let’s address each one individually.
1. “Maybe you are right that technology should make it possible for remote work especially for families.”
Technology certainly makes telecommuting and remote work possible. But flexible work isn’t just for working parents. Anyone can benefit from telecommuting, such as caregivers, military spouses, people living in rural areas, disabled workers, people who are going back to school—the list goes on and on. Having the mindset that flexible work is beneficial particularly for families perpetuates the belief that work flex should be a perk, and not just another aspect of the job.
2. “Maybe it is possible to be efficient and hard working remotely.”
Many studies have shown that between remote workers and office workers, it’s the remote workers who are far more productive, hands-down. Not only are they eliminating commuting time from their daily schedule, but they are also not facing incessant interruptions from coworkers, office politics, and other distractions that are common in the workplace.
Furthermore, studies have also reported that remote workers are not only more productive, but they also work harder. In fact, they tend to work more hours weekly than their in-office peers.
3. “But is it really what you want? Is it really, really what people want? Is that really, really what people need?”
Yes! Yes, it is what people need. With more people struggling to find work-life balance due to inflexible jobs, work flexibility is exactly what workers want and need. That’s why many employees and job seekers alike value a job’s flexibility over its salary, oftentimes declining a job offer if the position isn’t flexible.
That doesn’t meant that everyone wants to work remotely all of the time. It does mean that the majority of us need options for juggling work and life, and that means having the ability work from home when it makes sense.
4. “People need human connection, communication, presence, talk. The company might just be more efficient or make more money being all together.”
There’s a myth that people who work from home are introverted loners who shy away from the world. That’s just not true! Many people who work remotely (or who desire to) do so because they want to be more productive, and they are trying to balance other areas of their lives with their professional one.
Fact is, working remotely doesn’t mean working in a bubble. There is often constant communication between remote workers and their colleagues, as well as management and their bosses. There has to be. Without being in an office day in and day out, remote workers have to be proactive about their communication in order to keep each other updated, stay on top of their workload, and perform their jobs well. Plus, with so many collaboration tools that remote workers use (including video conferencing, messaging, phone, and other apps), remote workers might not miss being in a conventional office since they can communicate via other methods.
That said, people do need human connection. Remote work isn’t for everyone. There are people who don’t mind commuting into an office, and need the physical structure of the workplace in order to get their work done. There are some workers who thrive being on-site, working side-by-side with their fellow colleagues and get their best ideas by being together.
There is nothing wrong with that. Although companies should have flexible work policies in place, that doesn’t mean that every single worker on the planet will use them. Many jobs do need to be done on-site; there’s no getting around that. The point is that people should have the ability to choose the type of work schedule that fits their lives, and their job, best. Whether that’s a full-time telecommuting position, a part-time job, a freelance gig, or even job sharing or working a compressed workweek, the flexibility should be there so that workers can give the best of themselves to their companies without having to sacrifice their personal lives (or their well-being) for it.
5. “Are you prepared to compete globally with people whose cost of living are half or a quarter yours?”
Due in large part to tax considerations, many remote jobs have a location requirement, meaning that even though a worker might be able to work from home, they still need to be in the same country, state, or even city as the company’s headquarters. The percentage of remote jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world is small, so those wishing to telecommute aren’t necessarily in competition with other remote workers around the world.
6. “But I am not sure everyone realizes what ‘work from home’ really means.”
Work from home means different things to different people. For working parents, it means being able to balance a career and kids virtually seamlessly. For disabled workers, working from home gives them an opportunity to earn an income despite their limitations. For military spouses, working from home allows them to work no matter where their partner is stationed. For those looking to improve their lives (by getting that certification or going back to school), working from home gives them time in their schedule to make that a reality.
Working from home might look different depending on who you ask, but in the end, it all means one thing—being able to control your work schedule to have the career (and the life) that you really want.
photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com