The second annual Future Workforce Report from the freelance hiring platform Upwork finds that even though most US managers expect more of their team members to work remotely in the coming years, most also say their organization lacks a specific policy on remote work:
Sixty-four percent of hiring managers feel that their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57 percent) lack a remote work policy. …
Over half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Five times as many hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next ten years than expect less. In the next ten years, hiring managers predict that 38 percent of their full-time, permanent employees will work predominantly remotely.
Among those companies that do have remote work policies, many respondents indicated that these policies are evolving to become more flexible and inclusive, which is helping them attract talent in a tight labor market:
Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company’s work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.
In recent years, a number of large US corporations have ditched their suburban office-park campuses for new headquarters in city centers in response to a growing need to court tech talent and millennial employees who prefer urban lifestyles. Through the lens of McDonald’s recent relocation from suburban Oak Brook, Illinois to Chicago’s trendy West Town neighborhood, the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell explores the impact this transformation is having on the prosperity of suburbia, USA:
McDonald’s may not even be the most noteworthy corporate mover in Illinois. Machinery giant Caterpillar said this year that it was moving its headquarters from Peoria to Deerfield, which is closer to Chicago. It said it would keep about 12,000 manufacturing, engineering and research jobs in its original hometown. But top-paying office jobs — the type that Caterpillar’s higher-ups enjoy — are being lost, and the company is canceling plans for a 3,200-person headquarters aimed at revitalizing Peoria’s downtown.
“It was really hard. I mean, you know that $800 million headquarters translated into hundreds and hundreds of good construction jobs over a number of years,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said. Long term, the corporate moves threaten an orbit of smaller enterprises that fed on their proximity to the big companies, from restaurants and janitorial operations to subcontractors who located nearby. …
Remote work is rapidly on the rise among knowledge workers in the US and other developed economies. The ability of employees to work from anywhere opens up a lot of possibilities for their employers in terms of hiring candidates who don’t live in your city, saving money on office space, and enabling collaboration across vast distances. Some organizations are bucking the trend: IBM, an early pioneer of remote work, recently “co-located” much of its distributed US workforce to six regional headquarters, citing the need for teams to collaborate and communicate more closely day-to-day. Critics of IBM’s move argue that the company is losing more than it stands to gains with this move, by limiting where its employees can live and work and taking away a degree of their autonomy.
Skeptical employers may be forgiven for assuming that the “autonomy” remote employees enjoy translates to freedom to slack off. A recent study, however, suggests that remote workers with greater autonomy are in fact more productive. Ian Buckingham takes note of the findings at People Management:
Nick van der Meulen of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, gathered data from 1,450 employees at four public and private organisations that practise working from home to assess the best ways to maximise performance. Participants were asked a series of questions, which covered the frequency of communication with their manager, the extent to which they work from home, manager trust, job performance and the manager/employee relationship.
Van der Meulen suggests something many of us have realised for some time now: “The boundaries of the office structure have changed and with it management has had to shift its approach. The results of our survey showed that managers need to offer trust and freedom to get the most from their employees in return. Any failure by managers to offer this was found to be highly detrimental.”
The recipe for a successful remote workforce, Buckingham concludes, is “self-determination or autonomy within a framework of clear objectives and expected outcomes, accompanied by excellent communication between employees and managers.”
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Earlier this year, IBM revealed that it was recalling much of its remote workforce across the US to regional headquarters in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, which it described as an effort to improve productivity, teamwork, and morale. The change, which the Wall Street Journal reported went into effect earlier this month, raised some eyebrows as IBM was one of the pioneers of remote work going back as far as the 1980s.
IBM is not the only company to have had second thoughts about remote work recently: Yahoo, Reddit, and Best Buy are among those that have co-located their distributed workforces in recent years. But these organizations seem to be going against the grain of the new work environment, as communications and collaboration technologies are making it easier than ever for professionals to get their work done from anywhere. In the wake of IBM’s decision, some observers are turning a critical eye on co-location as a business strategy.
“At the heart of IBM leadership’s intention here is the desire to change employee behavior,” Jeff Boss, cofounder of Chaos Advantage, writes at Forbes. “But that’s not what’s going to happen with the current approach because restructuring just offers more of the same”:
Digital technologies have become ever more crucial in nearly every sector, and it’s not just “tech companies” that need digital talent in today’s economy. Organizations whose businesses are centered on digital technology may have an edge over others in attracting this kind of talent, but everyone from manufacturers to universities faces the challenge of competing with Silicon Valley for highly in-demand candidates. Publishers, too, have taken steps to attract tech talent by opening offices in tech hubs and offering tech employees autonomy and flexibility, Digiday’s Ross Benes reports:
Since pubs can’t match tech firms dollar for dollar, they attract tech employees by giving them flexible schedules and letting them work remotely. Publishers emphasize that they give their engineers a lot of freedom, but pubs must keep their tech work challenging and rewarding to retain talent. One way to attract tech talent is to open up where people can work. This is part of the reason why Condé Nast, Vox Media and BuzzFeed set up offices in tech hot spot Austin, Texas. Publishers large and small adhere to this strategy.
About 10 percent of The Washington Post’s 200 developers and engineers work remotely in cities like Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and Charleston, South Carolina. Axios, which is based in Washington, D.C., has just a handful of tech people, but a few of them work outside of its headquarters in places like Chicago and San Francisco. Mashable said that at least half of its 20 tech employees work remotely from cities like Portland, Oregon; Denver; and Phoenix.
As our Global Talent Monitor has shown over the past few years, compensation is consistently the top driver of talent attraction worldwide, though work-life balance, location, and job stability are also important factors.
Quartz’s data editor Christopher Groskopf analyzed data from the US census and the American Community Survey to find out how many Americans are doing their work entirely from home these days. Full-time home workers, the Quartz analysis found, now make up a record 2.6 percent of American employees, which Groskopf notes is more than the number who walk and bike to work combined:
The data show that telecommuting has grown faster than any other way of getting to work—up 159% since 2000. By comparison, the number of Americans who bike to work has grown by 86% over the same period, while the number who drive or carpool has grown by only 12%. We’ve excluded both part-time and self-employed workers from these and all results.
Intriguingly, with an average annual income of nearly $80,000, people who work from home earn the highest wages of any major category of commuters tracked by the US census. (Broken down further, remote workers are edged out by those who commute by non-subway trains, taxis, or ferryboats.) This is mostly due to the nearly 550,000 remote workers who are managers—the largest group of home workers in any single job category.
In no profession is work from home more popular, however, than computer programming. In fact, Groskopf adds, “among the most experienced, some are even beginning to demand it“:
Political science professor Robert E. Kelly was clearly flustered last week when his two young children barged into his home office just as he was being interviewed over Skype by the BBC about the political situation in Korea, sending his wife scrambling to get the kids out of the room and rescue his big TV moment. The video of Kelly’s interrupted interview went viral, of course, making him the focus of countless jokes and earning him some mostly good-natured criticism over how he handled the situation. Some suggested a mother would have reacted differently, as in this parody video: