Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Virtual Commuters

For nearly a quarter century, I did the commuter thing to work.

Depending on where my office at the time was located, my routine consisted of a 15-minute drive to the train station where I would catch the 7:15 express into New York City and then either a long walk or a subway ride sardined with fellow commuters.

Next month believe it or not I will mark my 5th anniversary as a remote worker or telecommuter. I won’t lie and tell you that it didn’t take a while to get used to it. When you’ve worked within the confines of a traditional office since the Reagan Administration, it’s a radical lifestyle change to put it mildly and adoption does not come overnight.

But that was then and this is now.

Back then, there were less than 10 million people who worked remotely at least one day a week. If the 2017 projections by technology consultant Gartner are accurate, by the end of this calendar year there will be nearly 70 million folks toiling in a remote location – whether that’s a home office or a comfy lounge chair at a nearby Starbucks.

No doubt the avalanche of cloud applications available has accelerated the push to work remotely. Unencumbered by the need for costly in-house servers requiring an on-site presence to log on, the amount of telecommuters has unsurprisingly, increased at an exponential pace.

And what’s more, younger workers don’t view the decision to allow them to work remotely as a company perk, like four weeks’ vacation or matching their 401(k). They see it as a requirement for them to consider working there. With the ongoing war for talent in the profession, Millennials expect the opportunity to work flexible hours whenever and wherever and if Firm A doesn’t give them the option to do so, then there’s always a Firm B who will.

The traditional office matrix has evolved. Where a new employee once wanted a great boss, now they want great colleagues. Where people like my father clocked in at 8:30 and left at 5, today’s these high potentials want the ability to clock in at 5 pm or 5 am and work accordingly.

Last year I was speaking to a managing partner of a CPA firm who admitted to me he had trouble not only hiring young and promising talent but keeping them as well. His firm’s turnover ratio more resembled a fast-food restaurant than a professional services firm. When we go to the subject of allowing his staff to work remotely he revealed that he had fielded a number of requests, but “wanted the ability to keep an eye and them and make sure they’re putting in the required hours.”

I was tempted to sit him down and calmly explain that it was 2016 and not 1975 but thought better of it. All it would have done was use up needless energy for a concept he clearly did not understand.

He didn’t get it and chances are he never would.

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