I have been working from home for almost 5 years now since I moved from San Mateo, CA to Albuquerque NM due to my husband’s job. Before that, I was a local employee at Soliant for two years, and I had very little experience as a remote employee; only once in a while I would work from home. For me, the transition wasn’t completely smooth at first, but my experience has been overall very positive. Let’s look at each of the categories below and decide who wins each round: the remote or office employee.
You may think that working from home automatically wins this category, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. My desk at the San Mateo office was wide open, clutter free, and had everything I needed. The chair was ergonomic and so comfortable (read: expensive). I could work on that chair for hours and hours and feel completely fine. My home office desk and chair were not nearly as nice, and I had to share the space with my husband’s clunky desktop computer. So in that respect, the office will most of the time win. (After experiencing some back pain, I recently took the time and money to buy an ergonomic chair and a height adjustable desk, so my home office is pretty comfortable now. But I still think the San Mateo office might have been more comfortable than what I have now.) However there is more to comfort than just the workspace. Working from home means you can wear sweatpants every day. You never have to wait in line for the bathroom. If you need to go do some stretches in the middle of the day, you can do that without the audience of your coworkers. You can set the temperature to what you want it to be. Your kitchen is only steps away.
Side note: It’s worth mentioning that as a remote employee I eat a lot healthier because I don’t go out to eat every lunch.) For me, I would say working from home has a slight edge on comfort, but I think generally the winner of this category varies from person to person.
As an office employee, you can just walk over to someone’s cube and ask a question. Or have someone peak over your shoulder as you demonstrate something on your computer. That kind of immediate help is so valuable. And then there’s the opportunity to have the war room meetings in a conference room in order to hash out project issues. This can save a project! The truth is that nothing beats face to face communication. But with iChat, Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting, and Join.me, you can get pretty darn close. But I got to give this to the office employee, because they have all those tools at their disposal, plus the face to face opportunity.
As a remote employee, I still feel a very strong sense of community with my fellow co-workers on a daily basis. There are some coworkers that I talk to on a daily basis, usually on the phone or through chat. There are some coworkers I text with pretty often. I definitely don’t feel like an “outsider” because I am a remote employee. However, I think my situation is a little different because I used to be a local employee and I have been with Soliant for about 7 years now. I’m sure a brand new employee who starts off as a remote employee would not have the same community feel as I do. But then again I could be wrong, Martha Zink was in that situation and she became part of the Soliant family pretty quickly. Nonetheless, the office employee has an edge here. You get to see your coworkers every day, go out to lunch together, go to holiday parties, etc.
Efficient Use of Time
This is a big one for the employer, and I have to say that hands down the remote employee has a huge edge on this. As a remote employee, you have a non-existent commute, you don’t leave the house for lunch, coffee breaks, and so on (I always work through my lunch. Always.) As nice as it is to be around your employees while working in an office, it’s also easier to get distracted by them. As a remote employee, there is no small talk by the kitchen, there is no: “Hey come over here and check out this hilarious video.” When I was working in the San Mateo office, I had to wear headphones and listen to music every day to drown out others talking and on the phone. At home, I can work in complete silence if I need to (which I often need to for really complicated issues I need to think through). Bathroom breaks take 3 minutes, not 10 minutes.
But the biggest thing for me is the blurred line of “work time” and “home time” as a remote employee. It’s not unusual for me to work til 8pm or 9pm without even really realizing it because I was really focused. It’s not unusual for me to work on the weekends (which for me is usually more fun than watching football or basketball with my husband.) Without a question, I put in a lot more hours as a remote employee than an employee that goes to the office to work. And I don’t feel like it’s a change in my job demand, I think it’s because it’s so much easier to get work done, lose track of time, and stay in the zone. There can be new distractions at home, like the TV or if you have kids in the house while you are working. I’m sure some homes are more distracting than others. Also, I can image that if you are working on a huge project with a lot of developers, then it’s more efficient to work in a large room all together. From my experience in both worlds, my time is much more efficiently used working from home. To me this is the biggest pro to being a remote, and not only because I am essentially making the company more money, but also because I feel very accomplished with my time that I put in and how much I achieve in that time.
I talked to our CEO, Bob Bowers, about the cost of having a remote employee vs. a remote employee. He said that if you consider everything (see list below for what that includes) then a remote employee is cheaper. However, if you are already paying for an office and everything it costs to maintain that, then for each additional employee it is cheaper to be local, assuming you have space. Here are some of the expenses to consider:
- Parking (if applicable)
- Snacks/Drinks (if applicable)
- Security Service
- Copier and Fax Machine (including repairs and supplies)
- Gas/Public Transit (employee expense)
- Flights to the office or visiting clients
- Car rentals for trips
- Phone Line (if applicable)
So the cheapest option is to have no office at all and everyone is working remotely. But if you have an office with room to grow, it’s cheaper for new employees to be local. So I am going to call this one a tie.
This is hard to measure, and it will vary a lot from person to person. I can tell you from my own experience, I am happier working from home. I feel I get more work done, I am comfortable, and my schedule is more flexible. However, I can imagine that different personalities prefer having face to face interaction and feel happier working in a team environment in the same room. So because this is really a personal choice, I am calling this a tie as well.
It looks like the overall score is tie. In my opinion, the best fit is dependant on the employee and the situation. If you work on your own a lot, prefer minimal distractions, and you don’t need face to face time to feel like part of the team, then a remote position may be ideal for you. If you are a manager or have more of a social role, if you have junior staff or interns to mentor, then being an in office is a better use of your time.
The main point I would like to make with this post is that very successful remote employees exist. I know some employers have fears that remote employees might slack off at home. However, if an employee is going to slack on the job, then they will do it in the office or in the home. From my experience, I work more hours as a remote employee. I believe the best position is to have a mixture of remote and local employees. You can accommodate different types of employees and different needs for each one. Please don’t be scared to try having remote employees in the company! I would love to hear your opinion in the comments below.