REDMOND, Wash. – May 18, 2011 – “I’m wearing pajamas. What is everyone else wearing?” That’s what James Sinclair asked during the first morning conference call after he officially shuttered his company’s physical office and transitioned to a remote work environment.
That was two years ago, and Sinclair and his employees at OnSite Consulting, a Los Angeles-based hospitality consulting firm, never looked back. Sinclair says remote working has led not only to significant cost savings but also increased productivity and customer and employee satisfaction.
Sinclair said he’s thrilled to see his staff thriving outside the office, which is how he’s always preferred to work. “I’ve never wanted four walls to constrict my ability or my productivity,” he said. “So I’ve always used technology to let me work wherever I am, whether that’s at home, in the office, on an airplane, or in L.A. traffic.”
The employees of OnSite Consulting have a lot of company in the virtual office. According to a recent Microsoft survey of more than 4,500 U.S. information workers, more than half said their companies have a formal telework policy. (The survey also found that Sinclair isn’t alone in adopting a more casual dress code when telecommuting; a fifth of respondents in Atlanta, for example, said they’ve conducted a business call in their underwear.)
The ongoing rise of telework reflects the new realities of today’s mobile information age, said Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. Enterprise and Partner Group. “Telework is no longer a company perk for employees but a business imperative,” he said. “Ten years ago, it was seen more as an employee benefit. Today, businesses around the world are seeing telework as a necessity.”
This type of remote working – dubbed “work without walls” – allows for greater productivity, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction, Markezich said. Remote working technologies enable people to conduct business from anywhere in the world at any time, putting employees in front of their clients and customers, and accelerating the pace at which business results are achieved.
Markezich said a host of benefits are now widely acknowledged to be good reasons to adopt telework initiatives and supporting technologies. Employers can tap into a larger talent pool, improve productivity, increase employee diversity and lower overhead costs. On the employee front, it enables a more flexible work-life balance and reduces the stress of long commutes, for example. The survey echoed this, as it found the No. 1 reason to telework is to avoid transportation challenges, such as the escalating price of gas and long commutes. Striking a better balance between work and home priorities was No. 2, followed by the need to complete unfinished work.
Sinclair confirmed that telework has been a win-win for employees and his business. He said having his employees work on-site with client restaurants and hotels has empowered them to achieve much more than when they were in their cubicles. “I’ve got clerical staff earning twice as much as they did two years ago because I can offer on-the-job training,” he said. “I might not be able to let them take a month off for a Harvard executive education class, but I can offer hands-on that is twice as valuable as that. We’re geared solely toward results now, and as a company we’ve become so much better.”
Still, the survey found a disconnect between employers and employees in terms of just how often those four walls should come down. On average employees said nine days per month would be the right amount of time to telecommute; employers thought it would be about four. That’s a cultural legacy, Markezich said. “So much of business was built around the workplace,” he said. “But over the past few years technology has made it so people can be more productive spending part of their time working remotely.”
Microsoft products such as Lync, Office 365, SharePoint and Windows Phone have helped build a more productive remote work environment, he said. “Those business collaboration solutions make it easier for teams to work together, with significant cost savings on-premise and in the cloud, and with the best productivity experience across PC, phone and browser,” Markezich said.
Companies big and small will continue to take advantage of technology to transform the way they do business. In Paducah, Kentucky, Jared Morgan recently watched the Ohio River creep ever higher up the town’s floodwall. Morgan is an insurance agent and the unofficial CIO for Bradshaw & Weil, a small insurance agency that has been on Paducah’s Main Street for 167 years. Last week, Morgan and his colleagues pondered what to do if the river breached the floodwall and poured down Main Street.
“As an insurance agency, we had clients turning in flood claims left and right,” he said. “If we are out of commission for any time, we’re not fulfilling our basic promise to our clients. You can imagine our relief when we looked at the bare minimum we need to do our job.”
With Microsoft Office 365, the company’s critical data resides in the cloud. Fortunately the floodwall contained the river. But if it hadn’t, all the employees of Bradshaw & Weil would have needed to keep working were their computers and an Internet connection.
Morgan said remote working technologies such as cloud solutions have been a boon for a company well over a century old.
“We’re not Microsoft. We’re a small business in the heartland that’s about as old school as you can get in our industry,” he said. “But we’re implementing all these technologies that mean we don’t have to deal with the headaches of servers and hardware. We don’t have any desire to deal with that stuff ever again.”