Why Working Remote Works in Some Companies and Not in Others


I recently came across this discussion in my LinkedIn newsfeed and I had to click on the link. It was entitled, “The Troubled Future of Remote Working” and highlighted IBM’s recent decision to call its remote workers back into the office. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, maybe we just need to come to the realization that there is a definitive balance between working on location and telecommuting.

Is Working Remotely Really a New Issue?

Telecommuting seems to be a newer option for workers these days, but I can’t help but wonder how revolutionary it really is. Of course the advancement of technology with Internet capabilities has empowered workers to work out-of-office, but is the concept of working from home really that new?

Jack Niles has been credited with coming up with the term “telecommuting” during his 1972 research on telecommuting-transportation trade-offs at the University of Southern California. His telecommuters successfully worked at a satellite office of an insurance company which used the most basic technology. Apple in the 1980’s brought personal computers to the masses and in the 1990’s the Internet became popularized. But I digress. Millions of women in the 80’s sold Avon, Tupperware and other products. Would they be considered remote workers since they worked for a company but not in an office space? What about those who have to travel for business? Does this count as a remote position?

The Success or Failure of Working Remotely

If working remotely has been successful for so long, what happened to cause IBM to pull the plug on their telecommuting community of employees? “There is something about a team being more powerful, more impactful, more creative, and frankly hopefully having more fun when they are shoulder to shoulder,” IBM’s chief marketing officer, Michelle Peluso reportedly said. “Bringing people together creates its own X Factor.”

I think there are two huge factors that can impact whether a telecommute position is a success or failure: 1. the individual employee and 2. Not accessing the right management tools:

The Individual Employee

Some people aren’t meant to work full time from home. Either they can’t stay focused and motivated or they work better as a team with hands on interaction. Others prefer the independence and lack of office distractions. One way isn’t better than the other; there are countless articles on personality types and how different people work better in various types of work environments. We err if we think that everyone is capable of successfully working the same way.

Global Workplace Analytics states that “80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.”

I think we focus too much on the “80% to 90%” and not the “at least part time.” Team building, face-to-face interaction and on-site updates are invaluable to the health and prosperity of a company. However, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing gig. Global Workplace Analytics continues to cite that, “Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office)” and “Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show they are not at their desk 50-60% of the time.”

Ill Equipped Businesses

While a compromise between working from home and in the office seems to benefit all the parties involved, there are certainly times when this option has or will fail. Many times it’s because management hasn’t put the time into discovering what tools are available to make this process a success. For example, communication has to be the number one priority for any employer/employee relationship. Slack, Google+ Hangouts, Asana or Trello might be ways to keep your lines of communication open while keeping accountability for both sides. Maybe as an employer, you’re worried about your employee putting in a full eight hour day. HiveDesk, Roadmap App, Timely or Boomr are worth looking into. If you have a new project or a teleconference and you need to present charts, documents or graphics, you could have your co-workers view your computer screen on their computer with tools like JoinMe, Team Viewer or Free Conference.

Finding Success with Remote Workers

Telecommuting saves time and money for both the employer and employee, but it’s not as easy as just turning on a laptop and plugging away. There is research, preparation and a new mindset that has to be adapted for both employees and employers. But once you set the stage for success, it will be sure to follow.


Eleonora Israele is the Business and Hiring Manager at ClutchEleonora Israele is an analyst at Clutch responsible for business process outsourcing and voice services. Clutch is a Washington, DC-based research, ratings and reviews platform for B2B services and software.