Location-independent work is a popular trend – not just among employees, but also for many companies. This is because it not only creates greater freedom for individuals, but also offers entirely new recruiting possibilities for companies. However, the model has weaknesses, as well as strengths. An analysis.
The Skype call is starting in a few minutes. Paul is logged in already. He has set up his laptop on the veranda of his seaside holiday home – this is where he is programming the new company website. Jennifer is calling in from the co-working space in New York. Five time zones apart, but no problem. The working model behind it: remote work. Working from anywhere. While it was once a given that employees had a fixed desk at the company office, today it is increasingly a case of: the end result has to be right – where it is generated is irrelevant.
For some freelancers, these freedoms have long since become part of the daily agenda – admittedly always at a certain price, because: where there is no obligation to be present, there is often also no protection. There are unpaid acquisition phases between projects and there is rarely a guarantee of subsequent work in future. The remote work model now promises those same freedoms for permanent employees, who also benefit from all the advantages of a work contract at the same time. This is primarily made possible by rapid technological development: broadband connections and powerful laptops, tablets and smartphones are a matter of course nowadays, as are special software for Web conferences and secure data transfer.
The advantages for employees are clear. Why take a holiday to finally make that trip to Asia? As long as the hotel has a stable Internet connection, the database can be updated just as easily by the pool. Customer emails can be answered on the beach and coordination with colleagues can be arranged without difficulty via Skype. On the other hand, there can be far more practical reasons that lead to individual colleagues working remotely – for example relatives who require care or partners who live abroad. So there are many different motivations behind remote work. One thing is clear: employees expect certain benefits from the increased flexibility and freedom. Scientific studies are not yet available, but surveys show that the advantages do arise: for example, a survey of 1,400 users of the ‘Flexjobs.com’ portal revealed that making working life more flexible had led to increased personal satisfaction and even improved perceived health in the majority of cases.
For a long time, the public debate around making working life more flexible has been focused on this aspect: the benefits for employees. However, more and more companies are also recognising the advantages of having remote workers – and these benefits are certainly noticeable. Of course: for many businesspeople, a key question is whether the development brings a financial pay-off. The answer is a definitive yes. Just imagine if half of your employees no longer needed a space at the office. You would make direct savings on all the costs for your office infrastructure. But for many companies, a completely different factor is decisive: their location disadvantage up to now. Small and medium-sized businesses located outside of major urban conurbations increasingly complain about a lack of skilled staff and decreasing numbers of applicants. Remote work virtually functions as a recruitment miracle in such cases: if a change in job is possible without changing location from Berlin to Boston, SMEs will also become more attractive to skilled staff.
The reasons to expand the use of location-independent work are therefore clear. However, doing away with traditional office life is not only associated with positive consequences, as removing a fixed workspace also means getting rid of an established office neighbour, lunch partner and, in some cases, marriage counsellor. Moreover, not everyone sees themselves as an extroverted globetrotter who can make new friends anywhere in the world within minutes. On the contrary: many people appreciate their place of work as a familiar, secure environment where they meet people they know well. This shows that this working model is not perfectly suited to every employee. And employers are also confronted by some problems by the transition. For managers in particular, it becomes more difficult to observe and ultimately evaluate their employees. On the other side, there is the question of how much of a connection employees can form with their company if they only know their colleagues from group chats and have only seen the headquarters in photos.
So it is clear: making workspaces more flexible brings many advantages – on both sides. Companies based in less attractive locations in particular can profit from this. At the same time, the social factor should not be ignored. Employees still need to be involved in and connected to the company, otherwise the employer will soon become an easily exchangeable element and high staff turnover will be unavoidable.