"Is a traditional office even necessary?" That's what an article in yesterday's Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail asked. After all, in the age of cloud computing, mobile devices, and cheap and fast internet, who really needs to go to the office? Why not work from home, where you can lounge about in PJs and eat bonbons while you creatively respond to emails? In fact, anyone can start a business and set up an office, fast. You can go all start-up using Skype and Google Hangout for video conferencing, Dropbox for file sharing, and a host of other niche productivity apps. Right? Not so fast. PJs or not, working from home requires you to have a legit business set-up and the right company culture. Think about this: What's the work environment? (Part I) Are you used to frequent but random check-ins with colleagues and managers, or a morning coffee routine with deskmates? Do some of your best decisions and insights come from impromptu meetings in the cafeteria or hallway, à la Marissa Mayer and Yahoo, or is a work-from-home culture already well entrenched? Some companies are known for their flexible policies... and others less so. What's the work environment? (Part II) Since not everyone can work from home -- aging relatives, young kids, no office space, poor telecommunications facilities or tools -- how will the division of the workforce into real commuters and telecommuters affect morale? Often a core component of a job is the personal relationships that are built over time. Telecom equipment can maintain or enhance a work relationship, but it can be hard to build a relationship that wasn't already there. What's the nature of the work? Can the problem-solving required on the job be done with a different type of interaction? Can IM replace the visual cues that cubicle neighbours learn to help them take advantage of the ebb and flow of their colleagues' work? What's the infrastructure like? Is the company able and willing to invest in IT infrastructure for home workers? Are security procedures and software in place to give the same level of protection to workers who use the VPN as those who work in the office? And is there a unified messaging system set up to allow telecommuters to connect from a coffee shop or another public location, and to make and receive phone calls and voicemail via their computers or mobile phones? The office is not dead, as anyone who's experienced a morning rush hour commute knows. But the point isn't where you work, it's about who you work with and how you get it done. The set-up matters.
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