Is Remote Work Really the Future?

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There seems to be consensus among experts that the offices of the future will be employees’ homes and the coffee shops surrounding them rather than traditional offices. Alternative workspaces like WeWork are also growing by the day, providing employees and employers a more flexible workplace. In fact, according to a survey of executives, entrepreneurs and academics at London Business School’s Global Leadership Summit, by 2020, half of the workforce will be remote.

As a proponent of remote work, I sure like the sound of surveys like this; I’m just not so sure I agree.

Thought leaders likely came to this conclusion because there are clear benefits to working remotely. From a company’s perspective, remote work means less overhead. It no longer needs to pay to literally and figuratively keep the lights on at the office for its hundreds of employees; the workers take care of their own lights. Additionally, the net cast by hiring managers can be far broader since they are no longer limited to only candidates within a reasonable commute or those willing to relocate.

Looking at it from the employee’s perspective, a remote work arrangement seems to make sense on face value, as well. Remote positions provide the flexibility to live and travel wherever there’s an internet connection. Many people toss hours of their day into the trash can that is a commute. Working from home eliminates this waste.

Security Concerns of Working from Home

Despite these seemingly obvious benefits, I still suspect we won’t see such an extreme transition to remote work. There are some clear and present dangers of permitting remote work: the major one is cybersecurity.

In James Barrat’s book, “Our Final Invention,” he mentioned that Symantec, the biggest player in cybersecurity, discovers 280 million pieces of malware per year. There’s now more malware on the internet than there is good software. Barrat also notes that cybercrime is now a trillion-dollar industry and more lucrative than the drug trade. Given these concerns, it’s fair for businesses to be concerned about having employees across the globe accessing the internet from dozens of different networks.

We shouldn’t forget, though, that many companies may not take security risks seriously. It’s one of those “I never thought it’d actually happen to me” issues. However, if proper measures are taken, security risks can be mitigated.

Another barricade to remote work we should consider is collaboration and the tools which enable it. Meetings tend to go smoother when everybody is in the same room, and while screen-sharing tools are helpful, they can be clunky and difficult to use. If the tools available simply aren’t good enough to facilitate effective collaboration between remote workers, management teams will be reluctant to let their workers stay home.

The Cultural Benefits of Offices

The real reason I’m skeptical about the work-from-home revolution is culture. Look at some of the most popular companies: Places like Facebook and Google (companies that the majority of people would be thrilled to work at) build campuses that put most universities to shame. These places, and those of other titans like them, have better amenities than any apartment complex. These companies want their employees to spend as much time on campus as possible.

Then there’s the startup culture. I’ve worked at two startups, and one thing they both have in common is a management team that highly values company culture. It’s a recruiting tool, and an effective one, since most startups simply can’t afford to match wages of the behemoth companies they hope to one day become. There’s nothing wrong with this philosophy, either. I enjoy the startup environment, I just also happen to see it as an impediment to a remote-work revolution.

Young people in particular flock towards startups, largely because of the culture. What better way to transition from college to the working world than working in an office with a keg? This culture is becoming more and more pervasive, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But what’s the one thing a startup needs to facilitate this culture? Employees actually in the office.

So until there’s a value shift, I don’t see a future where the home office becomes the most important room in your house.  

What do you think, will 50 percent of the workforce be remote by 2020?

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