December 7, 2010 — Almost every weekday morning, messages with the subject “W@H” sprinkle my work email. In Catalyst-speak, this means “working from home today.” While emails like these might spike the blood pressure of managers at other organizations, for me, every “W@H” email is an indicator of just how streamlined and agile our workforce is.
Working from home works—it’s a win-win for employees and companies.
OK, full disclosure: I’m an early adopter. Working from home (and on the road) in 1993, I quickly learned that when the job keeps you on the go, you can keep working. Even back then, I was able to connect seamlessly to my company’s network and keep track of my calendar, emails, files, and databases. Technology has progressed since—sharing voice messages, video, and data has never been cheaper and faster. The technology is here, but many companies are not.
There is still a mindset that dictates shared space, four walls, in-person meetings, and all the trappings of face-time-driven, mid-century corporate America. Especially in this global economy, why does this still exist?
Some companies have learned the hard way—during snowstorms or other disasters—just how crippling a rigid office-based organization can be. Even without these unexpected events, the reality of an everyday commute should inspire change toward flexibility. In the United States, employees spend an average of 49 minutes getting to and from work each day. Talk about a waste of productivity—and personal time. The total amount of time spent commuting each year is longer than most people’s annual vacation!
The emphasis at Catalyst is not on face-time, but results and getting work done effectively and efficiently. Offering the option to ditch the daily commute is good for a company’s bottom line too—many organizations have saved millions by rethinking and reducing their office space. And Catalyst research suggests that working from home can boost motivation. More satisfied employees translates into lower turnover and, potentially, higher customer satisfaction. Driving less also lowers stress, improves health, and helps the environment.
Some countries are realizing the value of W@H. On November 24, 2010, Canadians celebrated their first National Work From Home Day. As my colleague Deborah Gillis said on her blog to mark the occasion: “When our team is productive—conducting research, planning events, and serving our members across the country—it really doesn’t matter whether we’re working from a house in the suburbs, or the office an hour’s drive away.”
I couldn’t agree more. The only question is: why promote just one day a year to work from home? In today’s 24/7 global economy, the virtual worker has become a business necessity—not just a nicety. Companies that fail to update their work model will be left behind.