The Power of Working in Place

Sep 11, 2017

More professionals worked from home this year than last, and more companies offered their employees the opportunity to work from home at least one day of the week. Some prominent companies, though, like IBM and Best Buy, and in the more distant past, Yahoo, have terminated the option for remote working, citing their disbelief in its ability to improve employee engagement, productivity, business innovation, and corporate success. Frankly, these companies’ faith in the benefits they expect from terminating remote working is deeply misplaced—working from home is not the enemy of a company seeking to thrive and innovate. Like any other significant aspect of an employee’s work, remote working has the potential to support employee engagement, efficiency, and contribution to their company’s overall growth and success.

A recent study by Gallup has debunked some of the biggest concerns employers have about remote workers and which they contend will improve when everyone is under one office roof, shoulder to shoulder. The numbers speak for themselves—remote workers are:

  • 27% more likely than nonremote employees to strongly agree they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right
  • 31% more likely than nonremote employees to strongly agree they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day
  • 17% more likely than nonremote employees to strongly agree they have a clear job description

So, what’s driving some businesses to continue thumbing their nose at remote work? In large part, it has to do with the inherent belief that remote working is somehow “less” work than the work that is done in the office. Author, journalist, and linguist Michael Erard, co-founder of Work In Place, who (you guessed it) works quite successfully from his home, perfectly describes this attitude toward working remotely:

Why use adjectives suggesting that employees are less available, less capable or less real — in fact, just plain lesser? Yes, my wife and I work differently from someone who commutes to a headquarters, but we make just as much of a contribution.”

It might seem like linguistic nitpicking to criticize the fact that so many terms to describe working “outside the office” hinge on the implication that office work is the standard, best practice, but really it does betray our culture’s dominant belief that working beyond office walls is inferior, a kind of work that must constantly prove its mettle and worth. To combat that, Erard coined the term “work in place” to connote “work undertaken according to where you are in your life: caring for aging parents, raising a young family, supporting a partner, healing after an illness. In all the circumstances, the work is work. You don’t have to qualify it. It doesn’t diminish the work or the person doing it.”

Erard’s “work in place” is a wonderful notion that clearly resonates with our vision at WAHVE, but we also believe that it’s a proven recipe for success. As Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace management at Gallup explains, employers with successful remote working are “intentional about putting resources around it,” ranging from distributing technology kits to equip remote workers for their home office to training managers specifically on how to “be clear about job descriptions to building in systems that improve collaboration between those outside the office.” Speaking to the New York Times, Harter also said he “wasn’t shocked to see a strong link between employee enthusiasm and working from home,” citing the best predictor for employee engagement as “when workers say they have a significant amount of time where they get absorbed in their work and time passes quickly,” he said. “And when you work remotely, you certainly have more of a chance to get absorbed in your work.”

It’s no coincidence that our remote work taskforce is comprised of successful wahves who are equipped with the materials, training, and support they need to thrive as “workers in place,” empowered to get into their work meaningfully and efficiently, and to contribute to their client’s success and growth.


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