A recent article in Quartz argues that Millennials should stop working from home so much. While the piece doesn’t completely attack work from home or remote job options, it does praise several companies for fordbidding telecommuting from their offices.
But even though this article briefly touches on the ways that working from home is positive for “employees with children or health problems or a prohibitively difficult commute,” it doesn’t take the time to think about the real benefits of working from home, or how we can integrate remote working and in-person collaboration to create a balanced company culture.
Working from home is a privilege, like the article says. Those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged often don’t have the option to work from home. People who are required to be somewhere in person—cashiers, waitstaff and similar hands-on employees—don’t have the option. But it’s a privilege that we should try to make more widespread, not less.
There are so many benefits to making telecommuting more accessible and widespread. People with health issues and disabilities are a perfect example, as this personal essay illustrates. While someone’s worth should never be about whether they can work or not, the option to telecommute clearly has the ability to make working more accessible for thousands of people with ongoing health issues who might otherwise struggle to stay employed.
Telecommuting also offers opportunities for people they may not otherwise have. The original article in Quartz mentions prohibitive commutes as an issue remote work can overcome, but what about when the commute isn’t even possible? There are an abundance of jobs in expensive metropolitan areas, such as LA, NYC and San Francisco, especially in certain industries, like technology, media, fashion and publishing. But these areas are unaffordable to many talented people who could be invaluable in the workplace, and whose presence could increase much-needed diversity of thought and experience.
Likewise, options for remote internships offer a similar opportunity for those still in school who wouldn’t be otherwise able to get up and move across the country for an unpaid opportunity. Several of my friends completed remote internships in college, and were able to intern at international pop culture websites because of it. If remote internships weren’t an option, many people wouldn’t be able to complete internships, because owning a car and keeping it on campus for your internship commute—or worse, having to relocate completely to an expensive city—isn’t an expense that’s accessible to everyone.
If there are so many benefits to commuting to an office and meeting in person, then why can’t companies meet in the middle? I’d love to see more 100 percent telecommuting roles open up, because they offer opportunities for people that literally wouldn’t exist otherwise. There are other situations where working remotely can’t be an option all the time, and I get that. But we could all benefit from a little flexibility.
It speaks volumes that the Quartz article targeted millennials, even though it made the point that telecommuting is a great opportunity for people with kids, long commutes or health issues—and none of these categories is specifically made of just millennials. The backlash against the post on Twitter is a great example of how tired millennials are of thinkpiece articles about how we’re just one lazy, entitled generation incapable of being productive members of society.
— Valory BurnInHelly (@nsdrews) August 24, 2016
How is that every time we want to think critically about a societal issue, we jump to the conclusion that millennials, uniquely and as a whole generation, are messing up in some way? There’s a lot of research to say that millennials have different priorities in the workplace, so has anyone thought about the fact that telecommuting reflects new workplace values? Or that it’s a benefit of the growing technology, of our ability to Facetime and Slack with each other from anywhere in the world? Or that it reflects on the fact that we want our workplaces to be more accessible, accommodating and diverse, and that as a generation, we’re attuned to the issues regarding income inequality, ableism and even how introverts work differently?
If adding telecommuting options to more workplaces allows us to think globally, add diversity to our work, be more productive, save introverts (and people who get bad migraines) from sensory overload, be more accessible to those with health issues and priorities outside work and save a little money on gas, too, then I’m all for it. As much as I love the in-person camraderie of grabbing lunch with a colleague or sharing an inside joke after a long day of work, I’m also the first to say someone should work from home if they’re in pain or if it just plain helps them focus, or take the day off if they need to take care of something personal.
Remote work, flexible hours and flexible sick time (or general time off) are all steps to achieving the kind of work-life balance that would make our time spent working more productive—and happier.