Why are work-from-anywhere policies so confusing to executives at companies?

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I don’t think I really need to belabor the points of this post, so I’ll keep it relatively short. There’s some good stats and data on the importance of remote work, work-from-anywhere work, etc. in this post, but do you even really need statistics? I’d argue no. I can give you the general list of why it makes sense in a few bullet points →

  • People are living longer, which means a bigger window where you’d classify your parents as “aging.”
  • Child care is expensive.
  • With the exception of podcasts, commutes generally suck.
  • Offices are actually huge drains on productivity because people are always “finding” or “pinging” you on various bullshit here and there.
  • If the HQ of your company is in New York (expensive), you could live in Des Moines (less so) and maybe they could even save on your salary a bit
  • People are actually way more productive when working at home
  • A totally-virtual company would save a ton on real estate costs

OK, so … if all that is true (and most of it is), then why are only 43% of companies — not even 1 in 2 — offering “some” remote work? And why is only 5.2% of America working fully from home?

The arguments people use against remote work

Typically these are the big ones →

  • “I need my people together.”
  • “It’s important to the culture that everyone be here in San Diego.”
  • “Working from home means they are watching TV and listening to true crime podcasts.”
  • “It will be hard to reach them.”
  • “How will they know our processes if they’re not on-site?”

Almost every single one of these things is complete and utter bullshit. It’s just Industrial Age thinking that hasn’t been reapplied to Knowledge Age thinking. If you manage a Burger King, yes, you need people there. Same with most brick-and-mortar. Does a SaaS company, or even an agency, need its people on-site? No, not really. They can come together a few times per year for big strategic discussions or “party time excellent” stuff, but day-to-day do people need to be sitting in adjacent cubicles? Absolutely not. It’s outdated thinking basically rooted in managers and executives wanting some form of “control” over these people.

And … the trust issue

Work should ideally be about trust, on both sides:

  • Employee: “I trust that these people will continue to pay me and offer benefits so long as there are not downturns.”
  • Employer: “I trust that this person will get the work done that we need done to grow as a company.”

Of course, this equation almost never works properly. Most employers barely understand what everyone in the building is doing — and that’s gotten worse with more and more tech — and most employees are chasing a check, i.e. they’re not there for “the mission” or “the purpose,” since “Our widgets unite the world as one community” isn’t that inspiring when the CEO barely knows your name but can tell you his margin down to the 16th decimal place.

But when you hire someone, you inherently are trusting them. And then literally that trust is blown up in five seconds by “You must follow these processes” and “Sit in this chair in this specific location.” Like, hey buddy, I thought you trusted me? So if I’m on top of a mountain in Idaho and I’m getting work done, that’s not good enough? And hey, you got an out clause too — if I’m not getting work done, you can fire me. Right?

Trust in the workplace is not a rosy picture, and that’s the real reason work-from-home, work-from-anywhere stuff doesn’t really, well, “work” or scale. It’s because no one trusts that you’ll actually do your stuff if they can’t see you — even though the grand irony is that often when they are seeing you, you’re on Facebook. Ha.

What else might you add about the work-from-anywhere culture and what it would take to scale it?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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