Working from home might be the wave of the future.
Over the past several decades technology has transformed the way we work. Who, under the age of 40, can even imagine an office job without a computer? What did people even do for their jobs before the advent of Microsoft Word and email?
Now a new transformation is under way. What the personal computer did to how we work, the internet is doing to where we work. Portable technology, seamless communication and an environment where everyone spends their day online, it's all pulling in the same direction: not that many people actually need to be in the office anymore.
The truth is that, for an increasingly wide range of workers, time in the office is more about face time than productivity. Almost everything you do on a computer, you can do from anywhere… and office workers do almost everything these days on the computer.
And the culture is starting to catch up. As offices and workers increasingly get comfortable with the idea of seeing their colleagues exclusively through an inbox, working from home will become a new normal. Here are 10 things that will probably drive that change in the near future.
Office space is expensive, especially for companies that work in major markets like New York City or Chicago. In Washington D.C., for example, the average company will spend more than $10,000 per year per employee on rent. In San Francisco that number climbs to $13,000, and it's a whopping $14,800 in New York, and those numbers are just the averages.
Office space gets only more expensive for anyone who wants a nice place to work, or one in a trendy part of town (the kind of place young professionals will want to walk or bike to).
The solution? Push employees out the door. From private companies to even the federal government, an increasingly large number of employers are saving money by cutting down on square footage and having people work from home.
Bear with us here, because this one is actually true.
Yes, these days large-target hacks dominate the headlines. It seems like you can't go a full week without reading about some new, seemingly-impenetrable organization falling prey to a team of disaffected techies.
At the same time, though, the technology and sophistication of countermeasures keep getting better. Companies are increasingly adopting best practices such as dual-factor authentication, and security firms have improved cutting-edge technology such as biometrics and AI-driven countermeasures to the point of widespread utility. Some 15 years ago, James Bond might have taken the field with a fingerprint scanner. Today, bars will take payment in the form of cash, credit or thumbprint.
All of which is critical to the work-from-home revolution. Handling critical, sensitive or confidential work from home requires the confidence that those online systems won't be hacked. Today's cybersecurity framework increasingly provides that.
In 2016 43% of employed Americans report having spent some or all of their time working remotely according to a report from Gallup. More than a third of employees would change jobs specifically to get "the ability to work where they want at least part of the time" according to the same report.
Working from home isn't just some pipe dream that's on the way. It's already here.
Companies have had the technology to allow working from home for years, ever since the first smart phones started sucking down e-mail at all hours of the day and night. What's different today as opposed to ten years ago is the culture. Employees see this as an increasingly normal way to work, and bosses are less concerned about productivity among a scattered workforce.
In large part, that's driven by professionals across the country who are already doing this.
Love it or hate it, most office workers live their lives on e-mail. According to one survey by Adobe, people will spend more than four hours per day on their inboxes. It overwhelmingly drives what we do in the office and how we work.
In part that's because email has generated a truly staggering amount of busy work, encouraging people to send messages for the same of sending messages. However at the same time that's because e-mail has taken over the space previously occupied by so many other moving pieces in the office.
Meetings, memos, internal reports, phone calls, documentation of best processes, all of these things and more can be done over email, which means they can be done from anywhere.
Anyone who has worked in an office (or at least seen The Office) can picture it: the white board covered in boxes that connect with squiggly lines of many colors. Names assigned to tasks, post-it notes fluttering everywhere, the general sense that someone said "we should 'A Beautiful Mind' this…" yes, it's project management.
And today it's generally done online.
The key to the remote work revolution is uploading tasks that once required face-to-face meetings. Project management, with its brainstorming and charts, has always been a major stumbling block there.
Not any longer. Highly graphical suites such as Trello and Base Camp allow teams to plan out their work and assign tasks without ever sipping the same stale coffee, freeing people up to plan that next app over some substantially upgraded beans.
Every generation puts its own stamp on the workplace. We hate to break it to Fox News, but when it comes to Millennials that's neither entitlement nor arrogance. It's simply life. As each generation comes into its own, workers who want to hire need to compete over what those employees want.
Now that Millennials have become the largest generation in the workforce, that means employers who want to hire successfully will need to offer what the under-37-set wants.
So what do Millennials want? In a word, flexibility. One of the key demands from younger workers is work/life flexibility, and they're willing to change jobs to get it. So all those laptops down at the coffee shop? Some might have unfinished, time traveling zombie novels, but don't be surprised to see phrases like "quarterly earnings" or "to all clients" either.
As discussed above, many companies are looking to save money these days. Saving money on office space is a good place to start.
Saving money on labor is even better.
In an effort to cut down on payroll costs, companies have begun leaning heavily on the freelance and contractor workforce, leading to an explosion in self-employment. Exact numbers are tricky, but according to some (disputed) estimates as many as 55 million Americans do some or all of their work as freelancers. We do know that the scope of contract work is so big that a full third of all Americans either are self-employed or work for someone who is.
Remote working is good for recruitment, and not just because it's an attractive perk. It also blows the doors wide open on an employer's recruitment hunt.
The trouble with recruitment for a traditional office job is, and has always been, geographical limits on the talent pool. You can only hire the people who live within commuting distance of your office. If the right candidate doesn't live within that fairly narrow footprint, you either have to make do or pony up the (potentially huge) sums to find and relocate someone.
Remote working fixes that. As this idea takes hold, companies will increasingly be able to search for candidates no matter where they live. If the best person for an Atlanta-based job happens to live in Dubuque, who cares? Fly them down for a meeting, set them up with a VPN password and let the good work roll.
By now the growth of the knowledge economy shouldn't surprise anyone. Although manufacturing is far stronger than some politicians would have you believe, overall the new jobs and money favor knowledge workers.
These are jobs that people generally do from a computer and, as we've previously discussed, jobs that can be done from a computer can increasingly be done from anywhere.
Remote work simply isn't an option for many types of jobs. A factory worker can't go to work without his steel and machines, and a server can't exactly take customers' orders via Skype. That's all true, but as more and more new jobs require little more than a laptop and an education, remote work will become an option for ever more people in the economy.
We have touched on this theme repeatedly on this list because it is simply the most important force shaping this trend.
The technology is there to allow employees to work from home, but realistically that has been true for years.
The incentives are there for employers to get their work force out of the office, but that's nothing new either.
The economy has been trending towards knowledge work for decades, millennials started coming of age in 1999 and nationwide talent hunts have always been a pain in the neck.
Every item on this list, really, represents something evolutionary in how we see and think about the workforce. The real revolution is in office attitudes. Employees increasingly see themselves as independent even within the larger culture, and employers are increasingly confident that their team will get the job done without in-person monitoring.
That, more than anything else, is why pretty soon we all might be working from home.
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