Your Place or Mine? Remote Workplaces Can Pose a Dilemma

Remote work

Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, August 28, edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.

A few months ago, the results of a poll concerning remote work made headlines because of its somewhat surprising results.

Blind, an app that provides a platform for anonymous career-related posts, conducted a survey of 3,000 employees of companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Goldman Sachs, asking if they would prefer to permanently work from home rather than get a $30,000-per-year raise.

Surprisingly and overwhelmingly, 64% of those polled responded that they would prefer to keep working at home. Out of the 45 companies sampled, only two – JPMorgan and Qualcomm – had a higher percentage of their employees choose the $30,000 raise.

Some suggestions have been made for the reasons for such results, such as the relatively high pay of those polled; the time and cost of commuting; and other costs associated with work in the office such as wardrobe and food.

However, I think there are many important issues that come into play when deciding on your preference for working in the office vs. working at home. Also, in addition to individual preferences for remote work, businesses must decide if it will allow certain positions to be performed remotely.

So, in today’s column, I want to look at the question, “Work remotely or not?”

From a business perspective, a couple of considerations come to mind immediately. The first factor a business should consider when determining whether a position can be performed remotely is how the location of the position affects the firm’s ability to execute its strategy.

In particular, if an important aspect of a firm’s strategy is being “high-touch” with personal service, it might not be prudent to allow someone to work remotely if they are responsible for delivering that service. However, there might even be exceptions to that general rule.

Let me explain using examples. My older daughter works for a major professional sports franchise and her position involves assisting a number of the team’s season ticket holders; clearly, a high-touch, customer service position. While some of her customer assistance work can be done remotely by phone and/or email – purchasing of extra tickets, parking assistance, etc. – much of the work is done face-to-face.

The team is selling the “game experience” as part of its strategy, and part of my daughter’s job is to ensure nothing impedes that experience, so she is often available to the season ticketholders and often goes to their seats to visit with them during the game and/or bring them memorabilia. While she could probably do much of her job remotely during the offseason, it would be impossible for her to be effective in-season.

On the other hand, my younger daughter’s internship this summer was working for a third-party logistics firm where she arranged “carrier sales” – trucking of products – for her company’s clients. Although her job was high-touch (i.e., constant contact with both her clients and carriers), it could be done remotely, mostly by phone and text, but occasionally email. So, clearly, a business needs to examine a job closely to determine whether it can be effectively performed remotely.

A second factor a firm must consider is the labor availability for a position. If a firm is having difficulty finding local labor to fill its position and the work can be done successfully remotely, then it certainly behooves the firm to allow the person in the position to work remotely.

A remote position will almost certainly increase the potential pool of qualified workers and, depending on where that person lives, might also lead to a lower required salary. Clearly, from labor accessibility and cost standpoints, if you can make a position remote, you should.

However, there are a couple of significant downsides to having a more remote workforce.

First is the loss of knowledge transfer that occurs in a common workplace. When people work in close proximity of one another, they tend to share best practices and help each other when one runs into difficulties. In addition, the lack of a common workplace can also dampen worker morale and company identity, likely leading to less retention. Knowledge transfer and morale are hard to quantify, but their loss is clearly a negative impact of remote work.

For the individual considering a remote position, I recommend that you keep in mind the following:

  • Quality of life/cost of living: Are you happy with the place you have chosen to live? Is it costly to live there? Are you living there primarily/only because of your job? Do you have a long, stressful commute? If your skill set lends itself to work that does not require physical presence, now may be the best time to seek remote work to live where you want.
  • Aspirations/visibility/”office politics”: By choosing to work remotely, you may be limiting how far you might rise in an organization. By not being at the physical workplace, you may find it difficult to advance because of your lack of visibility to upper management and your lack of understanding of “office politics.” While your goal may not be to become the CEO, working remotely may limit your ability to compete for other positions and raises.
  • Distractions/”trappings” of home: Do you work well at home? Are you easily distracted with things at home that will cause you to not work effectively? While it is very helpful to be able to provide childcare while also working, it might not allow you to get your work done. Other household projects, chores or entertainment can take you away when working. How well can you separate work from home?

Clearly, these are not all the things you should ponder when considering remote work, but they will provide a good start when you ask your employer or employee, “Your place or mine?”

Written by
Dean Richard Franza

Dr. Richard M. Franza is Dean of the James M. Hull College of Business and Professor of Management. Dr. Franza's primary areas of expertise are Operations Management (OM), Management of Technology (MOT), and Project Management.

View all articles
Leave a reply

Written by Dean Richard Franza

Follow us

The James M. Hull College of Business is accredited by AACSB International and offers outstanding, highly-engaged business education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.