Telecommuting: The Wave of the Future or Thing of the Past?

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Working from home. It’s the great all-American dream. It’s polarizing. It’s everyone’s fantasy. Supposedly.

It’s many things, but this much is clear: It’s increasingly becoming the way of the world as salaries are being slashed, companies are getting creative to incentivize their employees in lieu of more money (Groupon, for example, famously lets many of its staffers telecommute at least once a week) and offices are being reduced to skeleton crews and are becoming more amenable to adding workers not in their own backyard.

There are two major schools of thought on this topic that are being explored by two very different public figures: Jason Fried and Yahoo. The former, the local 37signals co-founder who had a hand in creating many super-influential apps like Basecamp, has a book coming out later this year called Remote: Office Not Required. It’s a treatise exploring why telecommuting is the way of the world and why we should get over our fear that people will be at home procrastinating instead of coming to our offices and working all day. Here’s his blurb for Remote: 

As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can. REMOTE, the new book by 37signals, shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any space, in any place, anytime, anywhere. 

I think it’s time to get over those fears I alluded to — if people want to procrastinate or goof around on the Internet, guess what: They can do it in your office and probably have been anyway. The physical location of an employee is immaterial, and resisting it will make you seem like an out-of-touch grump. Obviously, it won’t always be ideal, but that’s life.

And then there’s Yahoo, whose employees recently leaked an internal memo that said “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home... We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Let’s zoom out here. There are tons of organizations that exist that are far bigger than individual companies, even ones in multiple locations, that employ people who don’t physically report in. Think of the government, which has many moving parts to it and still seems to (reasonably) get stuff done without all being under the same roof simultaneously.

We’re not only an increasingly digital world — we already are. Just hop on the subway or wander around the city streets here: You’ll see most people either texting, listening to music on their phones or doing something else revolving around their phones.

It’s already happening. And I would suggest: If you’re an entrepreneur unsure how you feel about this, just pick one side or another. Waffling around or abruptly changing positions on it will only backfire on you and damage your culture irreparably.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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