10 Mar The Perfect Storm for Remote Work
“She’s coming on boys. She’s coming on real strong.” Those foreboding words were delivered by George Clooney in the 2000 biographical disaster film, The Perfect Storm . The Hollywood heartthrob and Casamigos tequila pitchman could very well have been talking about the convergence of 3 workplace trends propelling the popularity of remote work years before the current spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Dive in for more detail on the benefits of remote work that have transformed it from an employee perk to a business imperative.
Trend #1: Open Floor Plans
The first workplace trend is anchored by the proliferation of open office plans. Approximately 70% of offices now feature some sort of open floor plan. These workspaces have parted ways with high cubicle walls in favor of communal tables, open workstations, and “hoteling,” where employees can work at any available desk. Studies have shown such arrangements often lead to increases in employee sick days, along with questionable benefits to collaboration, productivity and morale, especially when office architects fail to provide noise cancelling solutions and activity-based spaces. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given cubicle partitions – the physical barriers shielding healthy employees from sick employees – have fallen like a beige fabric-covered Berlin Wall. Add in contagions clinging to keyboards, cabinets, coffee makers, and copy machines, and you’ve got a workplace petri dish. Don’t even get me started on the state of workplace bathrooms!
Trend #2: Hustle Culture
This leads to the second workplace trend of “hustle culture” promoted by evangelists like Gary Vaynerchuck, who preach their “rise & grind” ethos to millennials striving for career success. This single-minded focus on outworking others often results in increased stress and sleep deprivation, leading Reddit Co-Founder, Alexis Ohanian, to brand it as “hustle porn.” As an entrepreneur for 10-years, I’ve lived the hustle lifestyle and can attest it’s the fastest path to burnout and bad health.
Trend #3: Freelancers
The third trend deals with the rise of freelance workers and contractors, who receive limited or no paid sick days from their employers. More than 35% of Americans freelanced in 2018, which is an increase of 7% since 2013. By comparison, the percentage of non-freelancers only grew by 2%. As expected, the majority of freelancers (47%) are millennials, and these gig economy employees are often reticent to take sick days, knowing they’ll have to forego income. In fact, more than 25% of the American workforce doesn’t get any sick leave, which accounts for more than 50% of part-time workers and roughly 40% of service workers. Approximately 30% of private U.S. employees get no medical benefits via their employers, according to government data.
The result is a flock of full-time and freelance workers grinding away in open offices where a hacking cough travels faster than word of free donuts in the conference room.
REMOTE WORK ON THE RISE
It’s no wonder remote work is starting to look “wicked good,” as Clooney’s fellow fisherman, Mark Wahlberg, might’ve said. A 2018 study from Upwork found 63% of companies now have remote workers, with a majority of surveyed hiring managers stating they believe offices will become temporary anchor points rather than daily travel destinations. Much to Marissa Mayer’s chagrin (the ex-Yahoo CEO banned remote work), a recent State of Remote Work Report showed 90% of remote workers plan to keep working remotely for the rest of their career.
BENEFITS OF REMOTE WORK
A Microsoft whitepaper, Work without Walls, ranked the top 10 benefits from an employee perspective:
(1) Work/life balance: increased time at home improves overall quality of life.
(2) Save gas: reduced mileage is associated with fewer commute days.
(3) Avoid traffic: reduced driving during rush hour to urban and suburban offices.
(4) More productivity: increased ability to deliver on work objectives.
(5) Less distractions: reduced interruptions from co-workers and office chatter.
(6) Eliminate long commutes: reduced trips from home to office where the average American commute is 27-minutes one way.
(7) Quieter atmosphere: reduced noise in home vs. the clamor of open floor plans.
(8) Less stressful environment: increased comfort of home surroundings vs. office.
(9) More time with family: increased family time during mornings and evenings.
(10) Environmentally friendly: decreased pollution from commute, dry cleaning, etc.
It’s hard for management to argue with these benefits, especially when Gallup research cites employees are 43% less likely to experience burnout when provided a choice with regards to how, when and where they complete work tasks. It should also be noted that many employees increase their overall work hours when remote, in appreciation of their employer’s flexibility and in acknowledgement of the time they’ve saved without a commute. In addition, employers with remote or telework programs often find they can recruit from a larger talent pool and increase employee diversity while lowering overhead costs and improving productivity. What’s not to like?!
OFFICE VS. HOME OFFICE
As with nearly all things, the question of office vs remote work can best be answered by “and” instead of “or.” During the past 8-years, I’ve found my OFC team functions best in terms of creativity and productivity by splitting the week between office and home. Our in-office time is concentrated at the beginning of the week when we kick-off new projects, set strategy, and bond as a team over lunch, coffee breaks, ping pong, and walks with our office mascot (my dog, Kayla : ) Our remote time begins mid-week where the balance of work often shifts in favor of production activity requiring intense levels of concentration and independence. Through it all, we stay connected with a variety of communication and collaboration apps like Basecamp, Google’s G-Suite, and Zoom.
Stay tuned for the second part of this remote work voyage next week, when I focus on the changes in culture, technology and communication required to mobilize a disbursed workforce. Until then, batten down the hatches as things are about to get very interesting.
Jordan Berman is the Founder & CEO of OFC (ofc.tv), a creative agency and video production
studio that injects storytelling into employee communications and training to earn attention
and inspire action. OFC lives by the words, TYPICAL IS INVISIBLE™, and resides at the
intersection of pop culture and office culture to build multimedia campaigns that create buzz,
drive engagement and maximize results one cubicle at a time. Clients include PepsiCo, AT&T,
Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Motorola Solutions. Jordan previously held senior marketing
positions at MTV, Showtime, AT&T, Black & Decker, and the DDB agency. He has a BS in
Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell and an MBA from NYU.