Not Being There

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The Increasing Trend Toward Working Remotely

There was a very cool film that came out in 1979 called “Being There.” Peter Sellers played Chauncey Gardiner, an unusually simple man who only knew – and could only understand – what he saw on television. For him, the real world and the one on TV were the same. In one scene, he tried to make a young thug vanish by pressing the “off” button his remote control.

Through a series of misadventures, misunderstandings and just being in the right place at the right time, Chauncey winds up in the good graces of America’s wealthiest kingmakers. At the conclusion of the movie, it’s inferred they intend to run him for – and have him win – the Presidency of the United States.

But in today’s working environment, particularly in a period of low unemployment and fierce competition among employers to hire the best candidates, the requirement for “being there” in the office is being reevaluated and relaxed by many companies. And there is now evidence that doing so may deliver significant benefit research is concluding that employees who work from home may be working harder, faster and producing better results than office-based staff.

Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and fellow researchers compared the results of flexible work arrangements at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They found that the 600 employees with unconstrained “work from anywhere” arrangements were more productive than those following a “work-from-home” policy which offered flexibility in the employees’ work schedule – as long as they lived near the office and came to the office once a week. The program transitioned patent examiners to a work-from-anywhere policy over 24 months, shifting new examiners each month based on union-negotiated quotas.

According to an article from the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge website, “While working remotely, productivity increased among all examiners and continued to rise with each step toward the full work-from-anywhere policy, the researchers found. Productivity increased 4.4% when employees moved from working at home on a limited basis to the location of their choice. Based on a patent’s average value, this productivity gain could add $1.3 billion of value to the US economy each year, the researchers estimate.”

Further, since employees could work from anywhere, the option benefited not only the employees but the USTPO itself and even the environment. By moving to homes in more affordable regions, workers’ real incomes were boosted. The USTPO saved $38.2 million in office costs. Frosting on the cake: By slashing an average of 84 million miles in commutes, emissions were reduced by 44k tons.

Of course today’s technology, including mobile devices affording the user exceptional communication abilities, enables employees to converse, see, hear and collaborate from virtually anywhere. And they can work far more flexible hours. Some people are more productive when the office isn’t even open, some at 6 AM, night owls at midnight. Why constrain employee productivity by a clock when yield is the optimal result?

And, as mentioned, such flexibility and liberal attitudes offer employers competitive advantages in today’s tight labor pool. By loosening restrictions on in-office demands, employers extend attractive opportunities to highly-qualified, high-powered candidates who might otherwise have a tough time getting to an office, including individuals covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February that in 2018, the employment-population ratio—the proportion of the population that is employed— was 19.1% among those with a disability.

That’s a lot of exceptional talent available for both full-time and part time positions spanning a great many industries.

Disabled individuals can benefit from adaptive technologies they may already possess in their homes, enabling them to contribute to your organization without requiring capital expense from you. These may include screen reader programs such as JAWS or HAL which allow even totally blind people to use the computer. They convert the text and icons to speech so one can use a computer without needing to see the monitor.

Accessible computer equipment and PC access aids can make it easier for disabled individuals to use word processing programs, use the Internet, and send email, as well as help non-computer users handle many non-computer tasks.

Refreshing your policies regarding “work from anywhere” could not only extend your prospective job pool to capable workers with disabilities but afford opportunities to thousands of individuals who may be perfectly suited to accelerate your growth, and elevate your brand as a leader in supporting diversity and inclusiveness. It’s worth serious consideration.

Also a Stanford economist persuaded the owner of a travel agency in Shanghai — to let half of his employees work from home for nine months. Efficiency for those who were allowed to work from home rose 13.5%.

So what are the reasons for organizations to deny employees the opportunity to work from home?

  • First, employees may prefer to work in the office. If offers the opportunity to be with others. There’s a social aspect to working in groups, even if a lot of time isn’t spent chit-chatting about non-work issues. People who need people…
  • Collaboration may be required. While myriad apps enable remote employees to share materials, hearing and seeing their workmates from around the world, working face-to-face may remove the impersonality of using technology to collaborate. It may depend on the job; writers can write from anywhere and do most of their work independently, while many employers depend on continuous interaction.
  • Supervisors’ trust and confidence in their employees plays a major role. Is the employee new and untested, or have they established both tenure and demonstrated they don’t need constant supervision to deliver the goods? Of course the question arises, if you don’t trust them, why did you hire them? A supervisor who demonstrates or indicates a lack of trust in an employee may lose that employee, regardless of their length of time as a productive worker.
  • Is working remotely incompatible with the position? Employees working in medical facilities, hospitality venues, and countless service operations including police, fire departments and other vital services simply cannot operate without staff on site.

Again, as organizations must now compete for qualified employees, allowing remote situations may provide a competitive advantage in adding that great new candidate to the team. It has been proven to enable greater productivity and a reduction in expenses and even help the environment. Would initiating or expanding your “work from anywhere” policy help draw new talent and retain valued, seasoned and trusted employees?

You may want to give it a think.


Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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