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Five reasons why your home will be the office of the future

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I have a question for you: do you work some or all of your time from home?

If I had asked this question ten, maybe even five, years ago, I'm pretty sure the 'Yes' ratio would have been a lot smaller. Growth in people working from home is gaining pace, and I believe we are on the cusp of some major changes in working location norms over the next ten or twenty years.

We may well end up in a place where it's more unusual to work in corporate offices, and working at home will be the most common model. For example, not too long ago I received outreach from a recruiter in a small but very well reputed firm enquiring of my interest in a role there. When I asked about working location I was surprised by the response - the firm was entirely virtual.

Here's five reasons why I think tomorrow the office will become yesterday's news.

1. Work is becoming more virtual

Wayne Cascio, writing for SIOP, states that 'for many employers the virtual workplace, in which employees operate remotely from each other and from managers, is a reality now, and all indications are that it will become even more prevalent in the future'. In situations where work is location agnostic, the only incentive to base staff in a specified location is their access to the technology they need to do their jobs productively.

2. Work technology is becoming more democratized

When I started working at my current employer, email was only available on your computer. The office was the only place you could get true broadband internet speeds. Voicemail and telephone was the only way to communicate urgently because there were no handhelds. Videoconferencing was a rare and exotic medium of communication, and VOIP was still 10 years away.

Now I get speeds at home that are up to 20 times the speed of the office, which allows me to operate my virtual office phone and join video conferences seamlessly. Email and messages are transferred on the move. I'm not saying it's like this for everyone, but for a growing number of people the technological incentive of the office is gone - you can get everything you need at home!

3. Real estate costs demand greater efficiency of space (Well, kind of!)

Knight Frank reports that office rental costs have soared in many major cities like Beijing, San Francisco, Melbourne and Sydney. No doubt this forces some serious thinking about space allocation and how to minimize total square meters. When it comes to home working, why should policy get in the way of substantial cost savings?

Despite the challenging economics, however, the same report notes that 'the trend is towards a workplace that increases staff satisfaction, with features that make the whole work experience more pleasurable, from games rooms to free food and yoga areas. Fit-out is changing to match how people work, with informal meeting areas displacing desks.' For many, in environments such as these, privacy to discuss confidential business or to have time for thought becomes hard to find. Some will find the peace they need at home. 

4. Home working can positively influence diversity, satisfaction and retention

Employees who have the option of working from home are likely to be happier in their work. As a benefit, home working flexibility is a source of competitive advantage for employers, making it less likely that employees will leave for fear that they will not have the same flexibility elsewhere.

This benefit can be of particular value to high risk diversity groups such as women with young families, giving them a more viable way to continue to achieve a work-life balance during an often challenging and demanding time in their home life. It might make for more attractive economics also (e.g., lower childcare costs).

5. More time, better used at home

Not only does home working cut out commuting time, often more than 2 hours a day for people living outside major cities, but there is increasing evidence that time is spent more productively at home.

study by Canada Life in 2014 showed that employees believed themselves to be more productive at home, with a productivity rating of 7.7 out of 10 versus 6.5 out of 10 for office workers. There were also fewer sick days taken by those working at home (1.8 in the previous year versus 3.1 for office workers).

I'm not saying that working at home is always the best thing - there are clearly challenges in doing so. If you have others at home with you such as young children, it can be hard to manage boundaries (remember this?). It can also be isolating from your colleagues and work community if you do not have regular in person connection. But that aside, there is still a lot of untapped value for both employers and employees in home working arrangements. Have you tapped into it yet?

I lead McKinsey's internal People Analytics and Measurement function. Originally I was a Pure Mathematician, then I became a Psychometrician. I am passionate about applying the rigor of both those disciplines to complex people questions. I'm also a coding geek and a massive fan of Japanese RPGs.

All opinions expressed are my own and not to be associated with my employer or any other organization I am associated with.

Keith McNulty

Leader in People Analytics and People Measurement, Expert Psychometrician and Advanced Analytics Practitioner in HR

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