The Wherever Workforce

At Pacific Standard, Alana Massey argues that more people should be working from home, and that employers should embrace that change:

Last year, a Stanford University study of Chinese travel agency CTrip took 503 call center employees and divided them in half, one group working from home four days a week with one day in the office and the other half remaining in the call center as a control group for nine months. The group that worked at home demonstrated a 13 percent increase in performance and a nine percent increase in overall time spent on their work calls, due in large part to the reduction in time needed to take breaks and a decrease in sick days. Yet the study also found that those working from home were less likely to be promoted than their in-office counterparts, indicating that management continues to value hours clocked at one’s desk over actual worker output.

Worker output will likely remain the primary concern of companies when it comes to whether or not they’ll allow partial or full-time work from home, but it has cost-saving environmental implications as well. … The Stanford study also indicated that CTrip saved around $1,900 per employee over the course of the nine-month study due to reduced needs for office space and lower rates of attrition.

There’s also the fact that most employees can’t stand commuting. In my own work, I’ve found that commute time is the top “personal” driver of disengagement. I think a lot more work could be done remotely, especially as work-life integration overtakes work-life balance as the conventional approach. You just need to learn to maximize your in office time for network and team building.

Telecommuting also offers a way to work around a major challenge in the labor market.

The skills gap may be one reason for the stagnating wages and underemployment of the American middle class, but other labor market trends like urbanization and lower talent mobility also come to bear on this problem. Last week, an executive said to me: “You’d think you could find someone willing to be an engineer on a North Carolina beach, but no one wants to go there.” Wall Street banks may be able to entice employees to move to their lower-cost locations in Utah, Florida, Tennessee, or Texas, but not every organization has that much choice in where to do business—and after all, communications technology is what enables Goldman Sachs to operate out of Salt Lake City in the first place.

Jobs are just more complicated now — you need the right skills in the right location where your spouse can find a job and (potentially) your parents are nearby to help with the kid, and, oh, it would be nice if you could afford to actually buy a nice house there. That’s how six candidates per position turns into zero. Telecommuting is a good option for mitigating this problem. If some of your employees can work from anywhere most of the time, there may be no need for them to come into the office every day, or even live in the same town as your business.