Top positive review
There a many compelling reasons not least the wasted time spent on your daily commute
Reviewed in the United States on April 12, 2017
The office was a response to a need.
To get work done we needed groups of people in the same place at the same time. To be at work at the same time, 8:30 to 4:30, people needed to live close to their workplaces. Towns grew into cities and housing grew upward. Those who could not or would not live close to their workplaces spend more time in traffic.
This book raises the issues of whether we all need offices. Why don’t we work from the place most convenient to us that day, at a time most convenient to us that day. The issue of remote and asynchonomous work could not be realistically raised ten years ago, but can certainly be today. We now have all the enabling technology to allow many types of work to be performed remotely. This includes the obvious call centre staff, but also the specialist repairman who can perform his work from afar.
“Office not required,” the subtitle of this book, is not the future, the authors argue, it is the present.
Why would anyone want to work remotely? There a many compelling reasons not least the wasted time spent on your daily commute. Stop and calculate the number of hours each week you spend getting to work. You could also add in the time it takes to get to clients for meetings. Then ask yourself what you would do with the time saved by not travelling.
So, why do we not work remotely? Some types of office work cannot be done remotely, and that is not at issue. The issue is that much work can be done remotely.
Before I pursue the argument for remote work further, let me answer the question of why large, thoughtful companies, are not doing it. The answer is they are. IBM, for example, has had their staff telecommuting since 1995 with a saving on office space of 7.2 million square metres.
The authors offer various reasons for the resistance to remote work.
A common argument is that innovation only happens through the magic of face to face contact. Let us presume for a moment that it is true and that creativity requires a group of people to be in the same place at the same time. How much time is spent creativity solving big problems? Very little, most of our time at work is spent executing the “big problems” and that can be done in so many cases, remotely.
Even if there is a need for people to be together to work on issues, only a few moments on Skype or FaceTime is enough to establish who is present. Thereafter most of the work will be conducted on a shared computer screen where designs, text, or numbers are formulated and manipulated. These modes of collaboration are relatively low tech and inexpensive to use.
Many are afraid that people cannot be trusted to be productive at home. The fact is that people can come to work and not be productive either. The real difference between coming to work and staying at home to work is little more than whether you wear a T-shirt or a dress shirt.
As the authors point out: “If you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager. Remote work is very likely the least of your problems.”
An argument against remote work is the effect it would have on the company culture which would wither away. Remote work is not an “all or nothing” type choice. Staff can be brought together a few times a week or a month to connect and preserve the culture. It is also worth noting that “culture” is not embodied in the company events, but in the manner in which the company works. It manifests in the behaviour of staff to one another, in the manner of treating customers, in the quality of work accepted, and so on. None of these culture building blocks are absent if people work remotely.
The real question any discussion on remote work would need to address is why bother with the question of staff working remotely at all?
I have already mentioned the time wasted on your daily commute to the office, but there also many work related issues.
Where do you go when you want to do serious work? Very few people answer to the office without the qualification – very early in the morning, before anyone gets in, or after everyone leaves, or on weekends.
Offices have become “interruption factories,” observe the authors. When a colleague is only a step away why not ask for information or an opinion or a document, now. If you were working remotely, would you send an email or a sms, or if it is really urgent, make phone for the same request.
Of course, there are interruptions at home or in a coffee shop, but these are interruptions you can control more easily than a manager or colleague.
Remote work allows, in many cases, for better quality work. “Squeezing slightly more words per hour out of a copywriter is not going to make anyone rich. Writing the best ad just very well might,” the authors note.
Not having to live in Johannesburg to work for a firm in Johannesburg could be a huge incentive for someone who enjoys the more gentle life in the Paarl. For the firm it allows the search for talent to extend much wider than the immediate surroundings of the office. There is talent scattered all around the country and the world.
Provided the type of work you do does not require you to be present at the office, there is no longer any compelling reason for being there all the time. The most difficult challenge many only be the mental shift – you are still working even if you don’t have an office.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High -+--- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy