With remote work options, what is the role of the office?


Business leaders have been debating the importance of allowing employees to work remotely in the wake of high-profile decisions at companies such as Yahoo and Best Buy to restrict telecommuting. Despite reservations in some quarters about the practice, interest in allowing remote work is actually on the rise, as organizations leverage cloud computing solutions and unified communication and collaboration tools to keep employees connected. As debates about the role of the office continue, many experts are advocating for an approach that favours moderation and looks to help the home and office environments complement each other.


According to a recent Cisco survey of IT decision makers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 76 percent of companiesanticipate moving to a more flexible structure that enables remote work within the next two to three years. The top benefits of such a move were found to be improved employee productivity (cited by 44 percent of enterprise respondents), reduced cost (48 percent)  and increased engagement (40 percent). At the same time, the challenges of managing devices and paying for collaboration technologies are seen as barriers to adoption.


These findings follow in the wake of a recent study by IDC Canada, which found that more than two-thirds of Canadian workers already do some work outside of the office, and 73 percent are expected to do so by 2016, the Globe and Mail reported. The benefits include increased flexibility, enhanced productivity and a reduction in the costs and time associated with commuting, according to IDC senior analyst Krista Napier.


“Allowing employees to work from home or be designated remote or mobile can improve productivity, particularly at the beginning and end of the traditional working day,” she told the Globe and Mail.


Balancing remote and in-office work

Although tools such as VoIP, videoconferencing, social media, instant messaging and other unified communications functions are closing the divide between remote workers and their colleagues, many businesses and workers still see the office as an important environment to maintain. Some types of interaction and decision making may work best in person, so it is up to businesses to develop a blend that works for them, Scott Schieman, a sociology professor studying work, stress and health at the University of Toronto, told the Globe and Mail.


“It comes down to everything in moderation,” he said. “Rather than have somebody always work from home, have some arrangement where there’s an effort to understand and negate any of the downsides.”


Commenting on his company’s report, Ian Foddering, U.K. and Ireland CTO of Cisco, expressed a similar opinion. Remote working should not replace going into the office entirely, he said. However, with today’s range of unified communications tools, companies may be missing out on productivity and flexibility benefits by going too far in the other direction.


“I think it’s supplementary and the two go hand in hand. For a lot of organisations there will be a combination of the two,” Foddering told ZDNet. “I certainly don’t believe that in today’s technical world that there is any need for the vast majority of organisations (where the job allows it) for people to have to come into an office every single day.”