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Location Isn’t Remote Work’s Biggest Problem

You may have heard about some major defections from the remote work trend – notably IBM this past spring, and of course famously in 2013 under then-CEO Marissa Mayer’s leadership, Yahoo. Other prominent companies, including Bank of America, Best Buy, and Honeywell have also recently made moves to limit or eliminate remote work altogether.

The common rationale behind these decisions is that face-to-face collaboration is more effective when people are physically present in an office or shared workspace.

Better Together

Research supports the importance of physical proximity on productivity and effective teamwork. A recent Wall Street Journal article cited the work of Jason Owen-Smith, a University of Michigan sociology professor who has done extensive research on collaboration and innovation. He found that for every 100 feet of overlap between the paths two researchers walk in a building on a given workday, there’s a 17% increase in the chance that even if the pair hadn’t previously worked together, they will end up collaborating on a new project. Further, there’s a 20% increase in the likelihood they will be able to get their project funded.

While this information is important and compelling, there is just as much evidence – if not more – supporting the idea that flexible, off-site work arrangements are equally effective when it comes to getting the best results from employees.

Embracing the Workforce Shift

In fact, a growing number of businesses have embraced remote work as a strategic way to attract and retain talent for its key benefits, which include greater job satisfaction, higher productivity, and overall improved employee morale.  

And statistics support the idea that remote work isn’t just a fad, but a bonafide workforce shift: a recent Gallup poll found 43% of Americans work remotely at least some of the time and, according to Global Workplace Analytics, as much as 90% of the U.S. workforce wants to telework at least part-time.

So what can a modern, forward-thinking company do to accommodate the wishes of a workforce that favors flexibility without compromising the power of in-person collaboration?

Redefining Presence

This was the exact question that motivated Beam founder Scott Hassan and the Suitable Technologies team to explore the opportunities afforded by telepresence technology. The idea was to transcend the biggest obstacles of remote work -- namely feelings of isolation, frequent miscommunication, and disruption caused by calling multiple meetings a day for regular, ongoing work -- with an effortless solution that allows people to easily collaborate and get their work done.

Beam solves the problem of remote work by literally allowing people to be in two places at once.

This not only is a cost-effective, sustainability- and productivity-focused solution for employers, but it also supports employees by making it easier for them to be more effective when working remotely, with the added bonus of leaving them with more time available to spend with friends and family.

The Future of Face-to-Face Communication

Today, a wide range of people, including thought leaders such as XPrize and Singularity University’s Peter Diamandis and video game visionary Richard Garriott, use Beam on a regular basis for the persistent presence they need to manage their day-to-day operations – regardless of where they physically are in the world.

Telepresence not only removes barriers for people that are on the go, but also for those who can’t easily leave their homes and have historically had issues being included in the traditional workforce, like the 20% of U.S. population that lives with some kind of disability, be it physical or mental. For the disabled, previously closed professional doors are opened when they Beam In and can literally show up and be present in ways never before possible.

Several years ago in the now-infamous internal Yahoo memo where Mayer ordered the end to remote work in favor of “a new era of collaboration,” it said, "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Today we recognize that such valuable, ad hoc communications are not only possible, but actually easily implemented with Beam. Positioning remote work against working on-site is no longer an “either/or” scenario -- the true new era of collaboration is the gap bridged between “face-to-face” and “in-person” by telepresence technology.