Picture this: Working full-time with benefits from your home or local park or favorite mountaintop.
Sounds like nirvana to anyone who slogs through grinding daily commutes, finds getting work done at the office difficult, or just needs more flexibility to take care of family needs.
So-called remote working, however, has become a reality for many people.
While only about 4.5% of full-time workers telecommute every day, a growing number of companies have gone all-in on working remotely, according to Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.
That is to say, there is no company office or headquarters. Instead, staff members work from … well, any place they like. They may live in the same area or they may live in different time zones.
Even some corporations now have whole departments that work remotely.
Technology, of course, is essential to making it all succeed. But remote jobs aren’t just for tech geeks.
Accountants, lawyers, grassroots groups, travel specialists, educators, marketers, consultants, writers and others are among those who hold full-time, white-collar jobs with benefits at companies that have embraced the perks and perils of remote work.
The business case for not having an office
Those who run remote-work companies say letting everyone work where they want helps them recruit the best talent from anywhere in the country, if not the world.
It can be a cost saver, too, since there’s much less overhead. No headquarters, no rent.
Plus, it can be a lot easier to clearly assess employee performance.
“In an office it’s easy to look busy at a desk and be a nice person. Online, you have to get your work done,” said Aaron Bright, CEO of Hippo Education, which produces educational videos and podcasts for doctors.
But remote working can be a challenge for even the most productive employees if the company isn’t run well. Managers need to support workers by clearly communicating expectations, offering regular feedback and giving clear guidelines about deadlines, said Sutton Fell, who also founded remote.co, which advises businesses on remote working.
The pluses of working wherever
For employees, the biggest upside is greater flexibility. You may still log long hours but you have more leeway as to when you put them in. Some of Sutton Fell’s employees, for instance, might take a few hours off in the middle of the day.
Bright says he doesn’t track his workers’ hours. And he doesn’t care if they prefer to work early in the morning or late at night.
That said, he admits the company struggled at first with the fact that employees lived in time zones as much as four hours apart. Now he sees it as a plus, since there’s usually always someone doing something beyond “normal” business hours.
Sutton Fell nevertheless recommends that firms establish at least a few common hours every day when all staff are available.
Likewise, she advises having company retreats a few times a year so that everyone can spend time together in the same place.
When working remotely doesn’t work well
Not everyone is suited for remote work. You may want to call your boss and ask for your cubicle back if you:
Lack discipline: For many workers, it helps to keep regular hours on most days even if those hours aren’t the traditional 9-to-5. And it’s important to only do work during those hours and not be pulled away by the dog or the kids or your Tarot cards.
Don’t have a dedicated work space: Your home should still offer respite from the world. So don’t spoil your favorite napping couch by working on it. At least set aside a desk and file drawers, or better yet an entire room with a door that you can shut at the end of the day.
Want company: Working from home can be very isolating. Using a computer for all your communications with co-workers isn’t the same as having a face-to-face conversation. And stepping out for lunch with a colleague won’t be an option unless you live near each other.
Can’t think until everything’s squeaky clean: Some people can’t focus when there’s a mess. So if you tend to drop everything to vacuum, straighten and scrub whenever you catch sight of a dust bunny, working at home just might make you nuts.