Why your company needs a BYOO (bring your own office) policy

Remote work is not a trend. It’s there to stay. Insider Pro columnist Mike Elgan explains why it's time to re-orient your organization's thinking around workshifting and BYOO.

OK, I'm calling it. The controversy is over. The results are in. The remote work trend will continue growing indefinitely, and nobody can stop it. More to the point, nobody should stop it.

Remote work is expanding. With each passing year, more kinds of technology-driven options are emerging. Work-from-home employees. Co-working space workers. Digital nomads. Overseas employees. "Flex" employees. Telepresence-robot workers.

And let's face it. Every white-collar worker is workshifting — doing all or some of their work outside the office and normal work hours. Nearly all are at minimum checking email at home, working for a few hours per week at Starbucks and stealing a glance at Slack channels during vacations.

Also: Every large organization employs an "invisible workforce" of consultants, freelancers, independent contractors, service providers and agencies. They're not only coming and going and using their own devices. They're also working remotely at least part-time.

In the imaginary corporate world, "regular" employees work in a physically secure office where all tools are vetted and approved by IT.

In the real world, none of this can be assumed. Workshifting employees are "bringing" their own office and equipment into your organization's orbit.

OK, I'm calling it. The controversy is over. The results are in. The remote work trend will continue growing indefinitely, and nobody can stop it. More to the point, nobody should stop it.

Remote work is expanding. With each passing year, more kinds of technology-driven options are emerging. Work-from-home employees. Co-working space workers. Digital nomads. Overseas employees. "Flex" employees. Telepresence-robot workers.

And let's face it. Every white-collar worker is workshifting — doing all or some of their work outside the office and normal work hours. Nearly all are at minimum checking email at home, working for a few hours per week at Starbucks and stealing a glance at Slack channels during vacations.

Also: Every large organization employs an "invisible workforce" of consultants, freelancers, independent contractors, service providers and agencies. They're not only coming and going and using their own devices. They're also working remotely at least part-time.

In the imaginary corporate world, "regular" employees work in a physically secure office where all tools are vetted and approved by IT.

In the real world, none of this can be assumed. Workshifting employees are "bringing" their own office and equipment into your organization's orbit.

Just as the reality of consumer devices drove the bring your own device (BYOD) policy trend, the reality of remote work demands the systematic thinking and communication of a bring your own office (BYOO) policy.

The ever-expanding universe of remote jobs

New technology is opening up jobs for remote work that few thought possible. At the extreme edge of this trend are service jobs and skilled blue-collar jobs.

The waiters at a cafe in Tokyo that should open next year will be remote workers. The cafe, called Dawn Ver cafe, will use Ory Laboratory's OriHime-D telepresence robots controlled by bedridden sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They control the robots' movements  via a tablet controller, take orders and deliver food, and interact with customers by voice.

The cafe was actually tested for a few weeks last year in a combination proof of concept and publicity stunt.

The visionary behind the cafe, Kentarō Yoshifuji, sees telepresence robots opening up all kinds of remote work opportunities for both employees and businesses, including check-in staff for airlines. Remote work expands the labor pool.

Yoshifuji sees telepresence robots enabling employees with disabilities, the elderly, parents with children at home and others to do service jobs from anywhere.

Meanwhile, a Norwegian startup called Steer is building remote control technologies for heavy equipment like earth movers, cranes and dump trucks.

The company touts benefits like safety, where dangerous or toxic environments can be work in without harm to the operators, and also the ability to get in-demand skilled workers to do work in remote spots where there's no place for those workers to sleep or eat.

The technology suggests a future where highly skilled equipment operators can work from home or from a remote-control room from anywhere in the world. Expect to see the remote-control operation of machinery in farms and factories, too.

The idea sounds farfetched until you consider that the U.S. military operates surveillance and attack drones all over the world from a giant parking lot full of air-conditioned trailers in Nevada.

The Dawn Ver cafe and the Steer remote technology are obviously not mainstreaming remote work in food service and construction. But these fringe applications suggest a technology-driven broadening of remote work occupations going forward. In other words, advancing technology and innovation will enable blue collar remote work, not just white collar.

Why remote work will only grow

Some predictions say that half the workforce will be remote by the end of next year.

The benefits of remote work are simply too great and numerous to ignore.

Remote work enables companies to hire the best employees globally, rather than being limited to the local talent pool. It lowers salary and infrastructure costs. It places employees closer to customers and partners.

One powerful strategy for managing employee costs is to avoid losing employees (which can cost up to a third of that employee’s salary), while simultaneously paying lower wages. In other words, allow remote working.

The pain and inconvenience of a daily commute, in fact, is one of the top reasons for quitting a job. A survey by the task outsourcing platform, Airtasker, found a direct link between "employee tenure" and commute times. Commutes were the reason for quitting at least one job among one-quarter of the survey respondents.

An Owl Labs survey found that one third of employees are willing to take up to a 5 percent pay cut in exchange for the privilege of working remotely. One quarter would take a 10 percent cut, and one out of five would take a pay cut higher than 10 percent.

This makes sense in part because remote-employee costs are lower. Work-from-home employees save thousands of dollars less on gas each year, fewer miles on the car, fewer dry cleaning bills. The Airtasker survey found that working from home saved an average of $4,523 per year on gas.

Remote work saves time, too. Cutting out the commute can add more than three work-weeks per year, according to at least one report.

Work life balance is another benefit. And work-from-home employees are healthier, in part because they have more time to exercise, according to Airtasker.

To oversimply, remote work is far more efficient. It reduces time and money, and the company and the employee split those savings to mutual benefit.

Remote work isn't all rainbows and unicorns. More than half of remote workers say they become overly stressed out, whereas fewer than half of in-office employees said the same, according to the Airtasker survey. Flex work and workshifting place a psychological burden on employees, and they often find themselves working while others are enjoying guilt-free time off.

And, of course, remotely working employees create additional burdents for IT.

The co-working company WeWork has been in the press a lot lately, in part because of an accusation of lax security. A digital media company renting space at a WeWork office found that other companies renting the same space were visible on the office network, with sensitive company records exposed and Wi-Fi passwords that you’ll find on lists of the worst and most common passwords. The weak security reportedly continued after years of complaints by customers.

This is an example of how a lack of coherent policy leads to data insecurity. WeWork spaces offer what are basically public Wi-Fi networks. Yet somehow the pinball machines, micro-roasted coffee bars and fresh fruit water convinced companies that their data was OK on the WeWork network and so they didn't have to worry about it themselves.

There are hundreds of other traps that can be fallen into when remote work is allowed but not planned for or governed by policy.

How to evolve toward BYOO

  • The remote work trend drives up demands on infrastructure. Way more data transferred over the public internet when many employees are working remotely.
  • The BYOO policy needs to provie clarity about the company's responsibility for protecting data and other business assets. No, cloud service providers are not responsible for GDPR and other regulatory compliance for the data you house on their systems. No, WeWork is not responsible for securing the data used by your employees who rent offices there. No, you can't provision or secure a home office like physically secured office space at HQ.
  • The policy must represent a clture shift: Stop thinking of work in terms of 9-to-5, and instead develop smaller, cross-functional teams that use team-centric communications tools to do work on a project basis.

Most importantly, the creation (and subsequent care and feeding) of a BYOO policy involves lots of conversations about what's happening now and where things are going. It involves acceptance of ever-increasing remote work. And it involves creativity in finding new solutions that enable secure, reliable and functional remote work.

The future is remote. But the time to start creating a BYOO policy is now.