The Benefits of Local-Remote Work

Try having a Zoom meeting from here. Source: Peter Bennets, Wikimedia.org

For many, remote work has been a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic cloud. It turns out with no commute it’s a lot easier to find that time to exercise, tidy up the house, or do absolutely anything else you want to do.

COVID-19 may linger for a long time, but it seems like in the coming months society should be returning to “normal,” at least in the sense that we won’t need to take special precautions to avoid COVID other than getting vaccinated. And with that return to normalcy comes the speculation over the future of the office. Will workers flock back to the office? Will they insist on remaining at home?

But as I think about the options for my company, I’m excited about a previously rare remote work setup. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it “local-remote.”

Before COVID, if a company had a large number of employees concentrated in one city, it was very likely they all worked together in an office, but thanks to COVID there are now many companies who have a high concentration of employees in one area who are all working from home.

Not Hybrid

There have been surveys showing a “hybrid model” is popular among employees. This involves some days at home each week, and some days going into the office. None of the actual reasons for a hybrid model seem to hold up for me. I think it’s popular because it feels like a middle ground. Nobody wants to have to go back into the office every day, but also it’s a little scary to think about never going back to the office.

And there are significant challenges to this approach:

  • The company still pays for office facilities that will be under-utilized.
  • Employees need to maintain a work from home setup while also keeping a desk at work.
  • Benefits of going to the office are significantly diminished when fewer people are there.
  • Open offices, which have taken over, are particularly bad places to have Zoom meetings.

Virtual Work, Real-life Relationships

In a local-remote situation, there’s no need to work a full day at the office just to foster relationships and maintain company culture. By now many companies have seen that remote worker productivity is quite good — possibly better than in the office. But we also know nothing beats getting together in person.

The beauty of local-remote is you can have both. You can work from home and still meet up for an after-work dinner or drink. Want to have a department meeting in person? Rent a conference room at a local hotel. It’s easy and way cheaper than renting an office.

The idea is simple, being local and remote allows a company to be smart about how things are done. Local-remote lets you use the best form of interaction for whatever it is you want to do.

Think about how many company events, dinners, and other fun can be purchased for the amount spent on renting office space? I expect we’ll see much higher rates of participation in such events because letting people work from home gives them more time with their family on a regular basis, which means the spouse acceptance factor for missing an evening with the family to go to a company event should be higher.

Be Smart, not Hybrid

No company wants to rent office space that is 50% utilized, and no employee wants to sit in a half-full office listening to coworkers having Zoom meetings with the other half of employees working from home that day. The hybrid approach is perhaps the dumbest way to utilize this interesting new opportunity of remote workers who are concentrated in a geographic area.

Companies that make the most out of the new opportunities for remote work that have been created over the last year will attract the best employees and ultimately have greater success than those who are stuck with pre-COVID ways of thinking.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

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