Over the past two decades, our access to the Internet and the popularity of mobile devices has drastically changed the way we work. Our workplace culture, driven by physical offices, evolved out of a need to collaborate and communicate with one another, and to gain access to physical resources we didn’t have at home.
Now, with apps and devices that allow us to collaborate and communicate anywhere at any time, and with most of our resources being digital rather than physical (from word processors to calendars to project management platforms), are offices really necessary anymore?
Tech companies like Buffer are making headlines by going fully remote, but is this a feasible model to try and emulate?
The Death of the 9-5
Dialpad notes that as we start ditching conventional “office” technologies like desktop phones in favor of more sophisticated, capable devices, our “nine-five” culture starts to disappear. The eight-hour workday was a breakthrough in its time, setting a standard of working hours and collecting people together around the same time, but with advanced technology to assist our jobs and delayed-response communication like email, it’s no longer strictly necessary. Some people work better getting up earlier or starting later, and few people need to physically be near others to get their work done.
Remote Work Possibilities and Advantages
Working from home, or at least remotely, away from the office, has some serious advantages:
- Higher productivity. By most reports, remote workers tend to be more productive than their office-bound counterparts. There are a few complications to note, however; it could be that remote employees work harder to prove their personal aptitude in a home environment. These studies also, obviously, can’t focus on jobs that can’t be easily done from home (more on that in a moment).
- Higher morale. Most people prefer to do at least some of their work outside the office. Avoiding the traffic of rush hour, wearing pajamas, being closer to family, and having more flexibility with work can all lead to higher levels of enjoyment, which then leads to higher retention.
- Opportunities. Opting for a remote work model means that you’ll have a wider pool of potential applicants to consider—you can hire people from all over the world, versus just in your city or region.
Costs and Damages
Working from home can also reduce your operating expenses, and control some of the damage you and your employees may otherwise cause.
- Office expenses. How much does it cost you to rent office space? Unless you’re a small business on the outskirts of a city, the answer is probably thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a month, easily. All that goes away with a remote model.
- Employee time. Employees waste less time on commuting, so they can spend more time working—or even more time sleeping, which will makes them mentally healthier and more alert.
- Environmental damage. Vehicles emit about 24 pounds of greenhouse gases for every gallon of fuel they consume. Cumulatively, your workers’ commutes are contributing to almost one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Of course, at this point, it’s clear that remote-work models have advantages, and businesses have already been reaping the benefits of them. We certainly have enough technology to make it possible for some roles to transition to an office-free environment, but there are a handful of exceptions that make it impossible for some businesses to go fully remote:
- New customers. Some offices serve as a form of advertising, attracting walk-in traffic or catching customers’ eyes. This is difficult to replace.
- Client impressions and interactions. If you’re in the business of securing large deals with picky, and possibly conservative clients, you’ll need an impressive office to win them over.
- Physical necessity. In some cases, there may be technology or resources that can’t be remotely accessed, such as machining equipment or physical retail goods. In these cases, there’s a legitimate necessity in maintaining a physical presence.
Otherwise, almost all forms of communication, collaboration, organization and information can now be attained anywhere, at any time.
Why We Can’t Let Go Yet
So is 2017 going to be the year when we say goodbye to offices forever? Probably not. But according to Global Workplace Analytics, working from home is a trend on the rise with no signs of stopping.
Even though most of our daily tasks and responsibilities can be done remotely, we haven’t crossed a threshold that allows all of our jobs to be done anywhere. Even if they could, social and cultural transitions happen very gradually, and it would still be many years before offices are phased out completely.
For better or worse, we are on that road—but it will still be a few more years before we get there.
Edited by Alicia Young