Working from home is certainly in style, and it’s changing the American workplace. Millennials tend to prefer working from home (as do most people), and entrepreneurs are starting to embrace a more flexible work culture – one that allows or even encourages remote working opportunities.
In fact, the advantages of working from home are so numerous and so apparent that some businesses are opting for a “fully remote” model from the get-go – one that does away with any kind of office in favor of independent work from pretty much anywhere. Buffer, for example, ditched the office model a couple of years ago, and Upworthy relies on what it calls a “distributed team.”
Higher productivity, higher morale, less commute time, and a reduction of office expenses ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year are just some of the benefits of a fully remote model. So what’s really stopping new startups from going fully remote?
1. Genuine Necessity.
First, there are some businesses that have no choice but to have a physical meeting location – in fact, some exist purely to have a physical location. Online shopping may be threatening the profitability and popularity of brick-and-mortar retail locations, but retail stores are still thriving and probably will for years to come. You may also need a physical office to give your workers access to physical resources; for example, a construction worker is not currently able to operate a piece of heavy machinery from home with a tablet. Most white collar office jobs can be done remotely thanks to new technology, but there are some physical requirements that still exist. You may also “need” an office to make a good impression for potential clients – especially if those clients tend to have traditional mindsets.
Some entrepreneurs simply want an office because it’s traditional. Most of these thinkers have had years of experience in an office environment, and want to copy or improve on that successful environment with their own venture. The prototypical “office” has existed for decades and is responsible for the creation of a number of workplace customs and fixtures, including meetings, water cooler chats and even the 9–5 workday. It’s hard to let that go in favor of something new, even if it offers practical benefits.
Team communication may suffer in a fully remote environment – if you aren’t careful. Offices mandate that people congregate for designated periods of the day, and if you don’t show up, it’s obvious. In a remote environment, active hours tend to be more staggered and less consistent. Plus, even though video chatting is sophisticated and reliable these days, it’s hard to replicate the experience of talking to someone face-to-face in a meeting room. The solution is to set better communication standards and give the right tools to your team, but that’s still a tall order.
4. Investors and authorities.
Many startups are dependent on some outside authority who may prefer to have an office for the business. For example, many angel investors are aged, wealthy people with decades of experience in traditional workplace environments. They may strongly prefer the company to have an office because it falls in line with their vision for success. This isn’t inherently wrong, but it is difficult to effectively argue against.
5. Startup environments.
Some startups may prefer to have a physical office because they rely on a startup community for support. For example, thousands of new businesses each year emerge from startup incubators and accelerators, and many big cities around the country pride themselves on being “hubs” for entrepreneurs. It’s easier to be a part of this community, attending events, drawing from other resources and working together with peers, if you’re physically injected into it.
6. Culture and retention.
There’s also a cultural advantage in having a physical office. It’s much tougher to build a sense of belonging, camaraderie and shared identity when all workers do their jobs from home, but if you put them together every day, they’ll be much more likely to bond with one another. Creating your own physical space gives you the ability to choose furniture, decorations, and layouts that adhere to your company’s values and personality. Immersed in that environment, workers may feel more inspired and more loyal, leading to higher morale and retention.
Of course, some entrepreneurs resist the idea of going fully remote from the beginning because they’re afraid of what might happen if they adopt the model. Even though there are studies that suggest the benefits of working from home are more than anecdotal or imaginary, remote workplace models are still new and relatively untested. The last thing businesses want is to turn into a guinea pig for a setup we still don’t know much about. Going with a traditional office is a more conservative bet.
It’s going to be some time before the majority of American businesses rely on “fully remote” models to operate. Obviously, there will always be some natural advantages to having a physical office, but with the right technology and policies in place, remote work is preferable in the majority of cases. I estimate that we’ll see double-digit growth of fully remote companies in the next several years, and possibly the rise of “hybrid” offices, which accommodate both physical and remote workers in a less obstructive, more cooperative way. This trend is only beginning, and most of the hurdles impeding its progress are preventable.