Business Unusual
office-boardroompng

Working from home or from the office, which is best?

Industrial revolutions have played a big part in moving our places of work. We tend to think working from home was a product of the Internet Age or the 3rd Industrial Revolution, but before the 1st Industrial Revolution most people worked on farms (their homes) or in shops or workshops (typically below or next to their homes).

So we actually started working from home, but the 1st and 2nd Industrial Revolutions centralised and mechanised work which, for manufacturing, occurred in newly created factories, while dealing with administrative work and early services like law and banking required staff to gather where the records were kept in offices.

With that simplified history for context; which option is best for now?

Work from work

There is no magic bullet as the needs of the business, staff and the industry will play a major role in determining the best option. It is very likely that the most suitable option will be a hybrid.

Manufacturing, mining or lab work only allows for a formal workplace as staff are working with actual products or materials.

But design, research and theoretical modelling don’t need to be office bound.

For the last 20 years there has been a growing belief that staff that could work remotely would be sufficiently effective to make the most of the significant cost savings it allows.

IBM certainly benefitted from this and has a well-established track record. Yet, it is IBM that is questioning the value of remote work as it faces increased competition and declining market share.

It points to the model used by some of the biggest start-ups of the last decade; Google and Facebook. Both know that staff can and do work remotely, but require them to be in an office in order to tackle their biggest challenges.

Start-ups typically do find a small but central space to iterate products and options, something that becomes more complex when time zones or geography separate teams.

The strongest case for work locations is that the physical presence with co-workers fosters collaboration and cooperation. It appears to favour those looking to innovate over those simply looking to create greater efficiency.

Of course, while true it also increases the chances for personality clashes and office politics. Work culture is the best tool to manage this, but that warrants its own article.

Central offices are expensive requiring significant costs that don’t actually turn into profits; transport options, dress codes and places to allow people to take breaks are needed to sustain even a modest level of work satisfaction. Again, companies like Google spend a lot on making office environments as comfortable as possible to remove any reason to not apply your full effort and potential to your job.

Central offices also have implications for the cities they are located in. What may initially be a welcome boon to attracting residents and income from rates, if not managed, will lead to expensive residential markets, transport congestion and, depending on the industry, pollution and a degradation to the city environment.

Work away from work

As more commercial activity becomes focused on services, and most work becomes digital in nature, all that is needed to work is a basic computer and an internet connection. Terms like coffice are common for those that make use of free wifi at coffee shops to set up office there, hence Coffee Office - Coffice.

It also allows for companies to recruit the best skills irrespective of where they may be located in the country or the world.

The move to more contract and freelance work, and the growth of the badly named “gig economy”, further drives non-office based work as the norm.

A new segment of freelancers and very small teams looking for central locations that are split between unrelated but similar businesses gave rise to a new definition of "co-working". They are also used as hubs for related companies to collaborate in solving problems beyond their capabilities.

It is not a binary option

Rather than you having to choose one and hope for the best, with a bit of planning you could manage both.

The City of Cape Town is experimenting with flexi-time options to ease the burden on traffic and is inviting other businesses to do the same.

Hot desking is a practice that creates generic workstations allowing any staff member to use it. Either on a shift basis or by working in the office on some days and from home on others.

The big issue for most businesses to resolve is how to define work output. The traditional method was to specify work hours and expect staff to fill those hours. With work involving customer support, or services like retail, it makes sense to define hours as the metric for output.

But roles like design or sales don’t fit that ideal so well.

The idea of ROWE or Results Only Work Environment redefines how a person is judged for having done a day’s work by defining an output or the support given to a collaborative project. It suggests that many industries may benefit from this assuming the HR function has shifted to more clearly define a person’s output rather than their role. It is not as easy as it sounds and not all businesses are suitable.

So rather than a simple option A versus option B to determine the best for your business, you are faced with a complex and changing set of options. Despite it being a hard and ongoing effort to manage, finding the correct mix will offer a business significant competitive advantages over competitors.

CapeTalk welcomes all comments that are constructive, contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner and take stories forward.

However, we will NOT condone the following:

  • Racism (including offensive comments based on ethnicity and nationality)
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Religious intolerance
  • Cyber bullying
  • Hate speech
  • Derogatory language
  • Comments inciting violence.

We ask that your comments remain relevant to the articles they appear on and do not include general banter or conversation as this dilutes the effectiveness of the comments section.

We strive to make the CapeTalk community a safe and welcoming space for all.

CapeTalk reserves the right to: 1) remove any comments that do not follow the above guidelines; and, 2) ban users who repeatedly infringe the rules.

Should you find any comments upsetting or offensive you can also flag them and we will assess it against our guidelines.

CapeTalk is constantly reviewing its comments policy in order to create an environment conducive to constructive conversations.

Read More
Google is almost 20 years old

Google is almost 20 years old

September is a special month for the search giant. Here are a few things you did not know.

Your camera could save the world

Your camera could save the world

A picture is no longer worth just a thousand words, it is how we will build the future and save the past.

What Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is and what it isn't

What Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is and what it isn't

There is much to gain and even more to lose which means we all need to learn more about AI.

Radio's past may ensure its future

Radio's past may ensure its future

All media has been disrupted by the web and mobile. What is the impact on radio?

This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

This sport requires you to run, drive and fight all while remaining seated

eSports are more than just a game now and may even be an Olympic sport by 2024.

Great ideas, wrong time

Great ideas, wrong time

The iPhone, Ebay and Facebook, we all know these killer applications but what about their very similar predecessors that flopped.

Popular articles
KPMG International's meeting with Pravin Gordhan

KPMG International's meeting with Pravin Gordhan

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Pauli van Wyk, a journalist with Scorpio at Daily Maverick.

'KPMG must fall, it's as simple as that' - caller

'KPMG must fall, it's as simple as that' - caller

In the wake of recent allegations, Eusebius McKaiser asks listeners what should happen to KPMG in South Africa.

KPMG SA’s new CEO opens up about the future of the disgraced auditing firm

KPMG SA’s new CEO opens up about the future of the disgraced auditing firm

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews KPMG South Africa CEO Nhlamu Dlomu.

Ocean View activist speaks: We have had 20 murders in 2017 alone

Ocean View activist speaks: We have had 20 murders in 2017 alone

Sharone Daniels, a community activist in Cape Town's Ocean View says they need police intervention to end gang violence.

Civil engineer devises plan to use stormwater in Cape Town

Civil engineer devises plan to use stormwater in Cape Town

Civil engineer and Ph.D. researcher John Okedi speaks to CapeTalk host John Maytham about his plans.

[WATCH] Day-Zero for water running out fast approaching?

[WATCH] Day-Zero for water running out fast approaching?

A government employee emailed John Maytham about what he or she believes is the real state of play with the Cape water crisis.

Sasfin CEO opens up about dumping KPMG

Sasfin CEO opens up about dumping KPMG

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Sasfin CEO Roland Sassoon.