Will Remote Work Kill the Corporate Office?

Published: Apr 25, 2017

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One of the great promises of modern technology is the idea that workers do not need to be physically tethered to their workplace. Whether working from home or dotting around the country or planet on different assignments, the capabilities now exist to ensure that many people would rarely need to set foot in a corporate office building in order to do their jobs. But is a future where this vision comes to pass likely?

Kirill Tatarinov, CEO of Citrix Systems, seems to think that it is. In an interview with MarketWatch, he outlined four key reasons for his optimism (aside, of course, from being CEO of a company that specializes in remotely connecting employees):

Many Jobs Can Already be Done Remotely

"If you look at information workers, and knowledge workers in particular—executives, professionals, doctors—I would argue that these people are 100% mobile today."

Not only that, but many organizations such as banks and media organizations have no fixed desks for their employees—a trend that Tatarinov says should be classified as "flexible, mobile working."

The rise of the cloud

Being mobile would be significantly harder without the ability to access everything we rely on to perform our day to day activities. As Tatarinov points out, that involves using a single device that we can take everywhere—something that was seen as the holy grail of technology not too long ago. But don't go thinking that it's the phone in your pocket that he's talking about: rather, it's the cloud that will enable an ever-growing number of employees to be connected and productive regardless of where in the world they happen to be.

BYOD policies

"We find that 80% of companies today actually allow 'Bring Your Own Device' policies," says Tatarinov. "We also find that more than half of the organizations actually mandate bringing your own device." The reason that's important: it's an indication that the role of companies is shifting away from a centralized organization where everything is standardized (including tools, roles and employee locations), and towards a concept where more autonomy is provided on everything from how the work gets done to where.

Work-life balance

Clearly someone with a techno-utopian outlook, Tatarinov's final point in the video is that traditional definitions of work-life balance imply that there is a natural tension between the two elements—something that he believes can be eased as we learn to use technology to meld the two together more seamlessly. Or, as he puts it: "Technologies enable flexible access and enable people to live in this modern world where there is a full harmony between work and life."

So, is Remote Work Inevitable?

You can count me as someone who is skeptical that "full harmony between work and life" will equate to positive changes for the average employee, as opposed to an increasing inability for people to separate their private lives from their jobs.

And, while Tatarinov certainly has recent trends in technology on his side, it's debatable whether enterprise-scale remote work is feasible. Consider, for example, that remote-work pioneers IBM recently announced an end to its decades-old policy of allowing employees to contribute without ever setting foot in a corporate office. Here's how Quartz summed up the announcement of the change:

"In a video message, [IBM CEO Michelle] Peluso, formerly the CEO of fashion startup Gilt, explained the 'only one recipe I know for success.' Its ingredients included great people, the right tools, a mission, analysis of results, and one more thing: 'really creative and inspiring locations.'" [Emphasis added]

That last point is the major stumbling block for any vision of the future that involves remote teams of employees seamlessly connecting with one another as they crisscross the globe (or sit at home in their sweatpants). A cohesive corporate culture and a sense of connectedness to both a company's mission and your fellow colleagues are extremely difficult to pull off without physical proximity on a daily basis. And, while we are undoubtedly heading towards a future where more jobs are temporary and project-based, the basic work of establishing companies with a shared vision—and of ensuring that that vision filters through the company—means that jobs where the majority of responsibilities can be carried out remotely are likely to remain an elusive dream for many employees for a long time to come. Which means that the office isn't going anywhere for some time.