In Favor of Working Remotely

I was a property management accountant until I was let go three weeks ago. My job consisted of pulling numbers from a variety of sources and compiling them for reporting. The office strived to be paperless and therefore, much of the information needed would be communicated electronically.

There was an expectation to work remotely when not in the office. However, the culture practiced seemed to contradict these theoretical methods of productivity.

There was a focus on attendance that rivaled that of a third-grade class. It is common to make appointments during traditional work hours and allowances should have been made, considering there were alternatives to being present in the brick and mortar office. And yet, it was frowned upon to take time away from warming a chair to care for oneself.

If employees arrived early or stayed late, it was of little value to the management. Chairs filled during traditional work hours equaled productivity. It was all a very strange culture they were feeding.

But it wasn’t just this firm. It seems many brick and mortar offices have management teams who are strict with attendance policies – even those with remote access, and those whose business does not stem on face to face interaction with clients or customers.

In school, I was told that if a student was not present to get the lesson, it was unreasonable that I would have the information to pass the testing to prove that I received the lesson intended. I was also told that in the ‘real world’, poor attendance would not be tolerated. It was implied that if work was not completed, then compensation would not be received. But that was pre-internet.

And admittedly, there were jobs that could be done by courier and telephone that did not require a body in a chair at a brick and mortar office rented by an employer. But now with the connectivity of the internet and applications on our phones and voice-over internet phones that we can manipulate calls to the office from anywhere on the planet, why is it so important that some employers still need a body in a chair?

I’ve been looking into jobs that seem to be facilitated completely in a remote atmosphere and it occurs that being in an office with other employees no more encourages productivity than being at home.

Work is communicated electronically through email or through networked software. Deadlines are as hard or flexible as they need to be. Expectations, if communicated effectively, can be achieved from any environment, provided an employee has the tools.

I have spoken to someone who has telecommuted for over ten years. He works with computer programing and the task is done completely from any location he happens to be. He works constantly and frequently puts in more than the typical forty-hour American work week. He has a task and sees it through to completion. That being said, there are times in the middle of the day where you can find him on a break at a coffee shop or walking to a library to log in remotely because he needed a breather from his home office. Still though, the amount of time working exceeds the expectations for hours while meeting the expectations for project.

I digress. As an accountant, there is an expectation for work to be completed. One may call each task a project, and there were often days I logged in remotely, or took reports home to complete on spreadsheets so that I could email the work back to myself to meet deadlines. I was viewed as working the expected forty hours, even if some weeks exceeded sixty.

Another telecommute situation to which I have become privy has a gentleman working in a remote capacity part of the week and then taking a train to an office with big windows and a beautiful view twice a week. Is he more productive on the days he sits amongst others? Considering he has daily expectations with little paper he needs to lay his hands upon for signature, I would think so. He has had this routine for years and when he is clocked in on the computer, he is actively working. This particular job has an active role for specific hours. He does not take a break or change his view on the days he works from home. Still, he has expectations laid before him and meets them in order to get compensated as expected.

And a third situation brought to my attention is more complex than I could ever reason, but it works. A woman in America organizes and communicates support for women in other countries. She is fluent in quite a few languages and works for a non-profit with global contacts. She receives queries from a brick and mortar office where those in need are face to face with counselors. The American woman researches programs and facilities and often makes appointments and facilitates the care for those in need. After considering the best facilities and services, she sends the information to the counselor who gives the information to their clients. The compensation is per case in this situation. There is an expectation to get the information returned as soon as possible as it is critical for the counselors to facilitate assistance in their corners of the world. The number of hours is not always commensurate with the pay as some days may be non-stop and others may have no tasks to complete.

And again, I reflect on my own situation. Being in the commercial real estate industry, I was made aware of the expense to build and maintain offices. I knew the amount of money that was spent on renovations, not only to make them atmosphere comfortable, but to accommodate technology needed for the jobs performed. Tenants ranged from ghosts to medial facilities. The ghosts would rent a small space and never move in. They needed an address in a certain location for whatever purpose they had. Medical facilities obviously cannot have work done remotely but needed an exorbitant amount of construction to house machines with structural requirements the general public cannot fathom. In short, it costs a lot of money to bring employees together to get work done.

In my specific office, there seemed to be a mentality that employees were stealing labor dollars from the company. If we weren’t in our chairs, we were goofing off somewhere. But that is an absurd idea considering deadlines and expectations are set forth in the employment contract and evaluated at interims set forth by the management team. For my specific job, if the work was not completed for one cycle, the next cycle could not be completed. Performance would be hindered by the neglect suggested in management’s outrage of an empty chair.

The fact is, work ethic is not necessarily equal to attendance. And attendance in this global electronically connected world does not equal physically present. If a remote situation can be facilitated through technology, then it can be moderated by the same management team. And in many cases, a remote team may spend more time at task in order to produce expected results.

Photo Credit: Bruce Mars @andreapiacquadio_

Esther Buck

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