Reasonably remote

Calling remote workers back to the office has just as many drawbacks, if not more, as letting them work from home in the first place.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

As I write this in early November, my LinkedIn feed is swelling with takes on “new” reports that bosses are rethinking work-from-home policies.

Once upon a time most bosses were highly skeptical of telecommuting, reasoning that employees would spend more time goofing off than working. When studies proved workers could be more productive when allowed to work remotely, companies changed their tune and began offering telecommuting as a recruitment and retention perk. Now some of the earliest telecommuting adopters are changing their tune and calling workers back to the office. IBM Corp. is just one example, as noted in reports this past spring about a company-wide move to relocate remote workers back to one of six regional IBM offices.

This reminds me so much of the old butter vs. margarine debate. Everyone used to eat butter, until we were told margarine was a healthier alternative. Then after people switched to margarine food scientists did an about face and said perhaps butter wasn’t as bad as we thought. Truthfully, no one can really decide if butter or margarine is that much better or worse than the other. The solution: just eat whichever you prefer and don’t worry so much about it.

I’d say this latest kerfuffle over telecommuting has largely the same solution. Telecommuting is not perfect, but neither is forcing workers back to the office. I’m lucky to have a flexible remote work policy at In Business that lets me work from home many Fridays.

In my experience, working from home actually lends itself to greater productivity. I live in Janesville, so my daily commute to IB’s Monona office totals about 80 minutes. On days I work from home that results in an extra hour I’m able to devote to work because I’m not stuck in the car. I love it — I’m sending emails to sources before they even get to their place of work, and checking off some routine tasks early before the rush of the day sets in and bigger priorities take over.

Remote work also eliminates a lot of distractions. I don’t mind when co-workers are having conversations nearby, and if I really need things quiet to focus on writing I can always close my office door. However, other distractions that cut right through my concentration — people moving about, phones ringing, deliveries being made — simply aren’t present at home during the day where it’s just me, my laptop, and at worst one cat or another looking for a belly rub.

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Remote work also lets me be just a little bit more present as a father. I can actually drop my kids off at daycare and school when I don’t have a long early commute staring me in the face, and that’s a few more minutes a day with my family that I really cherish.

If you’re in a position where remote work has been permitted but now company leadership is considering taking that perk away, I’m sure it’s beyond frustrating. IBM workers surely didn’t enjoy being told to move back closer to physical offices or find a new job. So, what can you do about it?

Start with selling your boss on why working from home is actually a bigger boost to your productivity. Explain how time that would otherwise be spent commuting can now be spent working. Let your boss know that while you like the ability to collaborate with your co-workers, that open floor plan at the office is also a big distraction when you’re trying to focus on detailed work. Instead point to any number of instant messaging, chat, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing programs and apps that you can use to stay in touch with your team in real time when it’s necessary.

Finally, give a little back. If you’re a frequent remote worker but still live within an hour of the office, offer to spend an extra day in the office for the flexibility to work from home when you most need that uninterrupted time. Even the least social among us — myself included — can benefit from a little face time with the office team.

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