The Truth About the Remote-Work Trend

If your boss is resisting the work-from-home trend, here's why.

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Andrew G. Rosen
Common sense and multiple surveys tell us that a majority of workers believe they can do their jobs from home. Even President Obama often extols the virtues of remote work. We know that at-home workers have greater flexibility, in theory, improving their work-life balance. Add in the money employees save on commuting costs and the money companies save on skyrocketing utilities, and it equals a big win for Mother Nature.

But there’s a dirty little secret that corporate America doesn’t want you to know. The reality is, most employers are not supportive of remote working. In an attempt to appear progressive, they pretend that flexible schedules are more of an option than they really are.

Here are the reasons your boss wants to make sure your butt is at the office on a daily basis:

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Control. When you work from home your boss can't call you into his office on a whim. And let’s be honest, many bosses, especially ones who have held positions of power for decades, love to do this. When bosses bloviate, employees get reminded who is running the show.

Appearance. A big building on Main Street and a sizable and visible staff will feed the ego of most head honchos. Empty conference rooms and parking lots will make it hard for business owners to justify holding on to a brick and mortar HQ. Even when a business is born in a basement, you'll notice that one of the first moves the owners make if they’re successful is to secure office space. Yes, the space might be justified—but the perception of the company is also a major factor.

Communication. Yes, things get lost in translation when we communicate remotely, but you can also argue that some people communicate better electronically. Email, phone, and videoconferencing can actually lead to more effective communication.

Security fears. Your company's computer equipment on your network, yikes! But if we can transfer money between bank accounts when traveling overseas, logging into our work email accounts shouldn't pose a major threat.

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It’s just a “trend.” The best business people evolve with the times, but some business owners believe remote work is a trend that will soon pass. Most of us understand that the world is getting smaller by the day, but some high-level business people still need more evidence. In the meantime, they’re rigid with their employees' schedules and risk losing some of the brightest minds.

Remote work is not a one-size fits all proposition; it’s clearly better suited for particular occupations. Which brings us to the legitimate reasons why your boss insists you fill up on $4-a-gallon gas to sit in a cubicle all day:

Not everyone has the discipline necessary to focus on work at home. Many employees will succumb to the pressures of family demands, domestic chores, and errands, rather than focusing on work. How can an employer determine who is capable of working remotely in a successful capacity? We know that if the perk is offered to one person, it needs to be offered to another person in that same position. Since your employer pays you to perform a series of tasks, it’s fair that they require your undivided attention.

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Due to the isolated nature of telecommuting, the possibility of teamwork and interactivity is diminished. Management's ability to organize task forces or other ad hoc solutions to quickly address serious and immediate problems is weaker than before. Sure, you can call a video conference or get the group on Yammer, but it’s not as easy as walking down the hall to assemble the troops.

Remote work has grown exponentially over the past few years, but there's a good chance it hasn't made its way to your company yet. You are not alone, but you might be soon.

What’s your company’s remote work policy? Do you think allowing workers to conduct business from home is a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of Jobacle.com, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.