In his article Why Remote Work Can not Be Stopped the journalist Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal presents a comparative analysis between companies that have closed down their remote work programs and the inexorable tendency to work from anywhere.
The author makes the following points:
Dell Computers interviewed its 110,000 employees about their work habits and found that while only 17% were formally allowed to work from wherever they wanted, in practice, 58% were already working remotely at least one day a week. This data was viewed as positive by HR director Steve Price who in 2013 set the goal that half of his employees would work remotely. However, he projected the target would only be hit in 2020 and to his surprise, this was achieved much sooner.
In contrast, companies like IBM, Yahoo, Bank of America and Aetna have decided to shut down their remote work programs. It is contrary to the current tendency to work from anywhere, encouraged by more effective tools of communication.
This path of no return was shown in a 2016 survey run by the Gallup Institute that found that 43% of all US workers reported working from home at least a few days of the year. In 2012 this number was only 39%.
The survey also revealed that 20% of Americans work exclusively from a home-based office. In 2012, only 15% worked from home, showing considerable growth in just four years.
Among the companies that allow remote work at least part of the time are Amazon, American Express, UnitedHealth and Salesforce.com.
Companies cite real estate cost savings, among other benefits in enabling home offices, such as employee satisfaction and attraction and retention of talent.
The reality is that most companies are still learning which activities can be performed remotely more effectively.
The director of Dell says that the transition to remote work is not easy and that is why it is imperative that virtual teams are equipped with the tools to perform their activities remotely.
To understand these issues, it is worth analyzing companies like Automattic (which produces the WordPress platform) where almost all its 558 employees are remote. Despite its growing size, the company headquarter is only 1300 square foot and located in a charming neighborhood in San Francisco, California. This is because on a typical workday only five people show up at the office. The journalist jokes that in the company headquarters there are more ping-pong tables than people working.
With teams working in different time zones, the company uses Slack for remote communication, Zoom for weekly videoconferences and its proprietary communication system to document projects and assist in the decision-making process.
The creator of Longreads, acquired by Automattic, notes that when everyone uses these tools people don't feel left out. "Everyone has the feeling that they are together in the boardroom."
Julia Amosova, an engineer at Automattic, believes that a team spread over several locations can bring other advantages. Communication through online tools guarantees radical transparency for everyone in the company, something that is not so common in companies that carry out face-to-face meetings behind closed doors.
But being a 100% remote company is an option reserved only for software companies. Dell, which manufactures hardware, comments that some areas of the company are not fit for remote work, such as engineering, leadership, small business and development, sales, and consumer care. Other areas of the company work very well remotely, such as HR, legal, marketing, data analysis, and other support functions.
The article states that the tools of remote communication function as accidental meeting points between employees comparable an office setting and that they help start conversations and the exchange of information, just like areas near a water fountain or bathroom, for example.
Slack is an excellent example of this. It was created with features that make communication more accessible, more efficient and even more fun, with the possible integration of other software programs used in the company, chatbots and sending animated gifs.
But what's even more important than the tools is the processes, according to Jason Fried, co-founder, and CEO of the Basecamp - a platform for remote collaboration and project management. According to him, everyone on the team must be aligned and motivated to participate in the process. Otherwise, there is the possibility that some key information will be lost.
According to Price, the director of HR at Dell, the company must be committed to this digital transformation. It also needs to be ready to invest and execute it with quality and continue to adhere to high standards. Otherwise moral issues, problems of commitment and lack of engagement weakening company culture will arise.