Remote Control (part two): why the open-space environment fails creatives and why working remotely is better.

In recent years, the much-maligned cubical farm has morphed into the supposedly superior open-space environment. It was promoted as a way to encourage collaboration and provide people with a sense of freedom. At best, the move was a lateral one—from “factory farm” to “free range”—because regardless of the specific environmental configuration, upper management typically still wants people in the office for eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s an antiquated way of doing things, especially for an industry that champions creativity. It’s time to reduce the influence of the office environment and more fully embrace working remotely. Here are five reasons why:

Working remotely better serves women. 
Women remain the primary caregivers in the American family, yet their role as the primary breadwinner is increasing. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.”* (Despite this trend, women still earn less than men—up to 30% less according to some data.) Working remotely offers women the flexibility they often seek and increasingly require. Offering this flexibility shows a commitment to further diversifying the workplace, which is vital for an industry that still has a dearth of women in creative departments.

It allows people to be off-site when they can’t be off-the-clock.
Not only do most companies now expect employees to provide their own smartphones, but people are expected to be accessible 24/7. If their time can’t be their own, their environment should be. Having a communal space for people to gather when necessary can be advantageous, but having all or most of your employees in one location everyday is excessive. Why physically tie all of your employees to a particular place when there are tools that essentially allow them to be wherever whenever? After all, isn’t the promise of the Web and wireless communication to provide unparalleled freedom? Marketing companies constantly champion technology but often deny technology’s core benefit to its workforce.

Working remotely makes financial sense. 
Less physical space translates to less overhead, and agencies that pony up less money for space have more money to spend on things that really matter, such as talent. Physical space does convey a sense of legitimacy or success, but clients are increasingly placing less significance on the importance of large, cooler-than-cool physical spaces, especially when they realize the savings that can be reaped when working with an agency that doesn’t have that particular expense. In addition, more time working from home appears to increase ROI. “More for less” is a beloved marketing sentiment, so managers rejoice: working remotely is a directly applicable and quantifiable example of this concept.

Your talent pool expands exponentially.  
When you limit where your people are, you limit who your people are. Working remotely and embracing a decentralized organizational approach allows companies to hire the best person for the job, no matter where that person lives (and works).

Creativity flourishes when it’s untethered. 
Conventional wisdom suggests that the open-space environment enables collaboration and the free exchange of ideas, which makes the quality of work better and creates a richer internal culture. The only problem is that the quality of work doesn’t get better, and the internal culture becomes richer only in its antipathy. Recent studies have shown that breakthrough ideas are more likely to occur when people’s minds are as free as their bodies. (See the previous link to the Forbes post.) Different people do their best work at different times of the day in different environments. When one creates a specific type of environment that everyone is required to occupy during a particular period of time, some people will simply not be as efficient as they could be if left to their own devices.

* Wendy Wang, Kim Parker and Paul Taylor, “Breadwinner Moms” Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, May 29, 2013, (accessed June 21, 2014)

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