Can remote work actually get to scale now?

April 8, 2020 by Ted Bauer

Some math and context on remote work

OK, let's start here so we don't get too far off the rails: not every job is capable of remote work. We work within real estate and leasing, right? So our core jobs are remote-friendly, and we've seen that in the past month. But the people who build the apartment complexes you live in? The hammer-swingers? Those are not remote jobs at all. Neither is retail, etc. In the USA, about 29% of workers can work from home. The significant majority, thus, cannot. Understand that first.

We've written before about working remotely, and this will be a bit more of that. Remote work is the tide of history, and we're about to hit some examples on that too. Let's be clear upfront, though: first-world, white-collar work is very tied to technology now. Everyone is always looking for a "tech solution" to solve "pain points" from a "vendor." Those words are probably said 10,000+ times per day in most offices.

What we all seem to miss is this, however: more tech means more flexibility. If Harry and David both need Google Drive to do their work, well, Harry can be in the office -- or on a beach, so long as he can access G-Drive from the beach. (He probably can.) David can be anywhere too. It really doesn't matter. What should matter are the results. So, what I just said is logical, but logic has absolutely no place in how we build workplaces. People want to see their subordinates around them so they can "know what they're doing." In reality, many managers barely speak to or care about their direct reports, yet they still use this argument. It's one of the great ironies of the modern managerial age.

Now throw kids into this pie. You got kids? Aging parents? Well, flexible work arrangements would be a nice thing. You could even argue flex work is vital aspect of modern work. Hell, I'd argue that.

The big picture is this: it makes perfect sense for more employees to embrace remote work -- and especially now if companies are still able to be productive in a time with many white-collar jobs operating from home -- but for a host of BS-y reasons, companies seem to either (a) not get it or (b) create backwards policies around it. And now ... examples!

But of course tech giants will get remote work, right?

Economic Stagnation Trump Let's start with this Fast Company article. Example 1 that everyone knows: Yahoo. They had a remote work / flex work program, rolled it back, stood by the rollback, and were ultimately sold for literal pennies on the dollar. Is that the reason? No. There were other reasons. But killing remote work didn't help them.

Example 2, happening now: IBM. IBM had about 40% of its workforce as remote work a decade ago; some even call them a "pioneer" in the space. In March of 2017, they started rolling it back. They're directing people to HQs now. They went HAM on it: end remote work or leave the damn company. The greatest irony of the IBM remote work debacle is this: IBM itself wrote a white paper in 2014 discussing the benefits of remote work. HA!

Oh, and also in 2017, they hosted a panel about the effectiveness of remote work. But now it's gone, baby!

Saving money

Companies tend to enjoy doing that. And if you have a lot of white-collar, WFH-eligible workers ... you can save money by not leasing or owning office space. Now, admittedly some of the "multiple locations" and "fancy offices" game is for branding purposes, and we get that. Dell shifted over a quarter of its workforce to WFH leading up to 2016, and saved big on real estate costs. So it can benefit the company and the employee, both!

Let's not even get going on the Gig Economy

The Gig Economy has become a real thing of late. You know it's arrived when even The New Yorker is covering it. The Gig Economy is, by definition, remote work

And let's think for a second on how we got to people wanting to do this. Let's say you've got two options, right? In Option A ("the green pill"), you can go into an office everyday, have insanely unclear priorities, possibly not even understand your own job role, and get dressed down by someone every day because hierarchy allows him to do that. 

Or you can work at your own pace, when you're most productive (that's 3am for some people), benefit the company/client/owner, and sometimes go see a movie at 1pm or play with your dog. Or get lit up if you want. Heck, I've done all three.

Now, the elephant in the Gig Economy room is that oftentimes those roles don't have any real insurance or protection, so it can be hard for the workers to make ends meet. This is, admittedly very slowly, starting to change.

But overall, mobile-first, on-demand societies don't want people tethered to desks and airport lounges chasing nickels for the man.

Remote work is where it's at. But will companies ever truly "get" this, or hide behind HR memos about innovative togetherness?

What's your take on remote work?

About the Author

Ted Bauer

Ted Bauer is a writer/editor for White Rock Locators focused on as much cool content about the DFW Metroplex rental scene as he can possibly find week-to-week.