I’ve worked for a lot of remote clients over the years, reaching back to when I was a web designer during the Dot Com era. From the company in California for whom I designed and built a website during the late 90s, to the start-up in Montreal that I worked with last year, my professional engagements have been as often remote as on-site. I’ve been freelance one way or another for over ten years so working from home is second nature.
In the last decade, many of the problems with remote working have been solved. It is now trivial to do video conferencing: All you need is a decent internet connection and Skype. Transferring large files is easy using services like DropBox or DropSend. IRC (internet relay chat), which was once a staple communications channel, has been replaced by instant messenger and Yammer. The emailing round of documents for discussion has been replaced by wikis like Socialtext or PBWorks. If you’re willing to be inventive, working remotely isn’t technically difficult.
This certainly seems to be experience that the editorial staff of Inc.com had when they decided to all work from home whilst putting together the most recent issue. Technologically, telecommuting is pretty simple and there’s no reason why more companies couldn’t just decide to get on with it. The social aspects of distributed working are a little bit thornier: it suits some personalities more than others and you do have to think very hard about how your emotional needs get met. I’ve always been pretty happy being on my own all day and getting my social fix online, or at meetings and evening events, but some people need a bit more face-to-face interaction to be happy. But homeworking needn’t be all or nothing. There’s no reason why more people can’t do two or three days at home and the rest of the week in the office.
The benefits may well outweigh the downside too. Inc.com gathered these stats from Kate Lister from the Telework Research Network, who asked what the numbers would be if 40% of the American workforce worked from home half the time:
- $200 billion: productivity gains by American companies
- $190 billion: savings from reduced real estate expenses, electricity bills, absenteeism, and employee turnover
- 100 hours: per person not spent commuting
- 50 million tons; of greenhouse gas emissions cut
- 276 million barrels: of oil saved, or roughly 32 percent of oil imports from the Middle East
- 1,500 lives: not lost in car accidents
- $700 billion: total estimated savings to American businesses
The social enterprise isn’t just about helping people realise the benefits of social media in the workplace, but is also about the vast possibilities in flexible working that social tools offer. And from what Inc.com has experienced, it seems that there’s no reason not to dive in and give it a go.