Sure, working from home occasionally can offer a productivity boost. Getting away from the phone and co-workers is sometimes necessary to accomplish large, solitary projects or catch up on a dozen loose ends.
But everyone working from home, connecting via the internet and VOIP or video conference to each other is not going to happen. As suburbanization and then ex-urbanization became the trend, there were workplace gurus who insisted that the office building would soon be a dinosaur. This hasn’t happened. Office space is more expensive than ever in most cities and globally.
In the modern economy, far too much productive economic activity requires collaboration. Companies ranging from banks to software companies, law firms and financial advisory companies need bright people working together. Many brains thinking about an issue differently — but together — solve problems faster and innovate better than individuals working alone.
That’s one reason why cities are spikes of economic activity, to use a Richard Florida term. That’s why industries cluster together — they take advantage of many brains thinking about interconnected subjects.
Few companies that require creativity — that earn their revenue or stock value from the collective brain power of their people — can afford to have them working in silos at home. Working independently, thousands of wheels will be continually reinvented, and won’t get around to creating an automobile.
But, many people when given a choice do not telecommute very often. I can’t find the source right now, but I recall a recent UK study in which only about 10% of people who could do so telecommuted regularly, and most of them only did so only 1 or 2 days per week.
There are a variety of reasons why people don’t telecommute most of the time.
- Some don’t want to be forgotten about at the office. The best projects may go to people who are physically there when they are dreamed up.
- Most people enjoy being part of a group — some would argue that it’s human nature to want to belong and the workplace provides an avenue for that expression. For many, going to work has become especially important given how many more years people are now single and often living alone. People all crowd into expensive “superstar” cities in order to be around other people (why else would you pay the rent, tolerate the traffic, and accept the noise? it comes with great creative and inspirational benefits.
- Collaborating with smart co-workers to solve complex problems can be exhilarating.
In some cases today, people don’t have the room at home to telecommute much. For families living in urban spaces rather than suburban ones, there isn’t a separate “study”.
For decades, people have been predicting the end of the office building and the end of downtowns. The suburbanization trend lead many to dream of living in the mountains or by the beach or lake and away from a city altogether. Some did this in the ex-urbs. Why can’t I just telecommute rather than drive was the plea.
Noting that occasional telecommuting was highly productive, many blamed inflexible employers for chaining them to their desks. However, as employers have brought in increasingly flexible work policies at many companies, regular telecommuting has not caught on. Most of the time, people want to be near people to stay in the know, hear the latest industry news, and collaborate.
Working from the ex-urban mansion is not efficient for participating in a collaborative world.