In the past week, I have been in Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, and Ohio. As I write this post, I am on a flight back to Houston where I have an office waiting. A question to ask given how mobile I am is why is that office needed? For the many very mobile employees — a number of whom are on this plane with me — their employers may be asking themselves why are they paying rent for what may be an outdated working environment? I know that for some professional businesses such as law firms, that office is a status symbol — but is that meaningful in today’s electronic world? Yes, for those employees who are not exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA or the break laws of states such as California, there are legal complications for employers who try to manage remote working non-exempt employees. It seems, however, that with greater ability to connect and monitor, we are on the verge of figuring those issues out. For the exempt employees in the workforce whose work primarily involves them interacting with their laptop and cell phone, meeting with clients usually outside their employer’s office, is it time go another way?
There are, of course, complications beyond legal concerns. Much of yesterday afternoon I spent discussing with board directors how to establish and maintain a corporate culture that actually fulfills the catchphrases of modern corporations such as “our employees are our most valuable asset.” If you never see your employees, how do you maintain that culture? I have long been a proponent of the “management by walking around” approach. It has always struck me that I have no idea how to really show an employee that I am interested in their career if I do not take the time to leave that office of mine and go to the office of those employees. Unfortunately, in my experience, many managers have forgotten this point. They only communicate with their employees by email, or even worse, by text, and only have the occasional phone call with them. Would allowing employees to work remotely really change the culture in such businesses? Probably not, but is that a good thing? Again, probably not.
There may be an opportunity to design remote working arrangements in a way which actually improves a corporate culture that now exists only in the catchphrases on a company website. What if we all had an office day each week for each remote working employee. On that day, managers and employees could meet to discuss, face to face, their ongoing work. If the employee or manager had to be on the road that day, time would be made for that employee to interact with fellow employees and managers by one of the various video connections available to us all. From what I have seen, this schedule may result in more personal interaction among employees and managers than what happens now when they all come to work in the same office building each day. It would also allow a business to decrease its office space and corresponding rent.
I know these ideas are being considered and some of you may actually have implemented them. I would like to hear how it is going if you have. Meanwhile, I will be back working in that antiquated status symbol, at least until I head to New Mexico and Tennessee next week.