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Is the Remote Office Better?

It’s difficult to be neutral.

By Dennis Jones

Working Remotely

Here in Silicon Valley, we’re pretty used to encomia to the so-called Gig Economy, whether from journalists, influencers or CEOs touting a freelancer-driven economy as the future of the American workplace. With full-time workers, companies usually offer a series of benefits, in return for control over how long and how workers execute their daily functions. On the other hand, consultants, contractors and freelancers go where they please, working in a remote office, often from home, a coffee shop or trending co-working spaces, for shorter-term stints. They give up stability and security but ostensibly gain control in return.

As non-traditional workers, they also find that their value is not measured by traditional metrics, like workplace attendance. Their employers mostly don’t require attendance. Instead, they’re razor-focused on abstracting value from their temporary workers. So why should it matter from where gig workers are actually working, if the end-result is productivity? Maybe, there’s a larger lesson to be learned from this gig economy model for traditional employers. If gig workers are more efficient in a remote office, then maybe all workers would be, especially if we factor in recent survey data showing independent, remote workers are more productive, more satisfied and ultimately more engaged than office-bound workers. Maybe, the remote office is simply better. Case in point: Diane Mulcahy, Babson MBA Professor and author of The Gig Economy, writes the following in Harvard Business Review:

“Not one study suggests that working in an office eight hours a day, five days a week maximizes employee productivity, satisfaction, or performance. In fact, any data that exists on work in an office reveals that most employees aren’t engaged, waste a lot of time in the office not working, and that employee underperformance persists despite the omnipresence of management.”

Mulcahy also discusses the upkeep costs required to run the traditional office, not even mentioning the sprawling tech campuses that dot the Valley:

“Even worse, the direct costs of maintaining the traditional office-based workplace are high. CBRE estimates that the typical company in the U.S. spends upward of $12,000 per employee per year for office space. It’s hard to find a return-on-investment case for office space, and much harder still to find any company that makes a compelling one.”

That last point goes to a fundamental argument Mulcahy makes and that all employers should heed. If human capital is both a company’s most valuable and most expensive asset, why are we not enabling that human capital to be at their most efficient and productive, wherever that may be?