In businesses of all sizes and industries, remote work has been steadily growing year after year. Yet the adoption of remote work hasn’t been as obvious and viral, as say, the internet.
The technology has arrived. It is now easier than ever to communicate and collaborate with people anywhere, any time. But majority of human minds still have not been able to process the concept of remote work, or to decipher how to make it work.
Among the many benefits of remote work are access to a wider pool of talent, enhanced productivity and independence from daily commutes.
I know because I actually do and manage others who do remote work, not just theorize about it.
Over the past couple of years, I have grown a successful digital services company, where majority of hires are remote workers. Together, we serve hundreds of clients in dozens of countries.
I’ll use my experience to show you how remote work has started a new age of happiness and productivity.
Okay. Time for a show of hands. Who likes commuting? Anyone?
The alarm is set for much earlier in the morning and you get home that much later in the evening.
Not only you lose time, but also the will or energy to do anything other than eating a heat-to-cook meal and placing your ass in the couch in front of the TV, before you’re off and snoring.
You’re too tired to go to the gym, take a guitar class, tell a bedtime story to your kid or have a chat with your spouse. The list is endless.
It’s not just the weekdays that suffer the impact of wretched commutes. All the routine work – that you didn’t muster up the will to do after wrestling with traffic on the weekdays – compiles into a nasty list of pending things on the weekend.
By the time you’ve paid the pending bills, bought the groceries, been to the bank and picked up the dry cleaning, most of the weekend has passed.
The commute itself isn’t much fun either. Even the best of trains or buses and sleekest of cars can’t add any pleasure to driving in traffic or leave you feeling even half as fresh as you were going in.
Long commutes make you miserable, stressed and fat, not to mention the negative impact on the environment.
Most people understand the basic premise of remote work, which is that we don’t have to be at the same place to work together.
But there’s an aspect often overlooked – we don’t have to work at the same time too. Not only can we accommodate people from different time zones, but also based on when they are the most productive.
Whether someone is a morning person, a night owl, or juggling with parental responsibilities, we can structure processes and expectations to make everyone work in an efficient manner.
A company may set the expectation for a 40-hour workweek, but how employees distribute those hours in their weekly schedule can be left up to them. It doesn’t need to work around a set schedule.
In this age of stiff competition and changing consumer demands, businesses and employees are dealing with problems which don’t have obvious solutions. More than anything else, they require innovation and creativity.
Freedom to work at one’s own time is even more important for such work, which can’t be forced or contained in a firm schedule.
When it’s not required to be at the same place at the same time, it’s best for people to take some time a break and get back to work when the brain is at optimal level again.
Having said that, I understand some overlap of time is necessary every day or week to catch on everyone’s progress and get clarity on steps to be taken the next day or week.
Not everything can be done independent of a few schedule restrictions. For example, if you provide customer support 9 to 5 on the weekdays, you’ll make sure that the support team is available during those times.
But even with those limits, it’s still possible to have a relaxed schedule on the whole, so long as someone is always available to take care of customer queries.
The idea is to unleash from the 9am to 5pm mindset. There is a learning curve and practice period to manage it well, but it won’t take long to realize that what matters most is the quality of work, not when it’s done.
Free laundry, free massages, free food, free gym and a room full of ping-pong and other games – these are the “benefits” employers offer these days to keep the staff in the office, spending endless hours.
The result – you spend your life away from your friends, family and your extra-curricular interests, while dreaming of everything you’d do when you finally retire.
But why wait until you don’t have the strength or energy to learn and do anything you really like? If you like to surf, why live somewhere away from the ocean because of work? If all your loved ones are in the west coast, why are you stuck in the east?
What if you could pursue your passions in the present, side by side with your work? There’s no point in wasting your life daydreaming how awesome it’ll be after you quit. You deserve better.
May be you can’t live near the ocean, but what if you could work from there every alternate week. Or there can be some other arrangement. The idea is being able to build a life of time and freedom.
Saying yes to remote work doesn’t mean saying no to an office. Just that it’s optional. It also doesn’t mean all your staff members would have to be in different cities. Just that they don’t have to be at the same place.
Remote work just means setting up your business, teams and processes in a way to allow every member to be their most happy, productive self.
A company can support as much and as little of remote work in all capacities.
It may have an office because it’s required for some sort of work to be done, or because an impressive office is a must for its image in front of potential clients.
It may have an office just because it’s nice to have all the employees fly-in for a company gathering few times a year.
Or it may not have an office at all. People can work from office when needed and are free to work from home when not needed.
Your business may already be getting some part of work done outside the office without even realizing it. It may be outsourcing legal work to a law firm, accounting to an independent CPA, advertising to an agency or payroll/compensation work to an HR contractor.
All these are essential business activities, yet being done outside of the business, and there’s trust that the work is getting done well.
Remote work is happening in almost every business daily to some extent and no one thinks of it as reckless, risky or irresponsible.
Companies trust outsiders to handle critical work all the time. Yet they can’t come to terms with allowing the insiders to work from home.
They’ll trust an accountant to get the work done from another town, while their own staff can’t work from anywhere other than their assigned work desks. Does it make sense?
Also worth noting are the hours you spend every weekday emailing, instant messaging and doing work which needs you to just be alone and focus.
On many of the work days, it doesn’t even matter whether you were working from the office or remotely. So on such days, is it even worth coming to the office?
Look around your company, and you’ll see a lot of work happening without any face to face interaction.
Ask someone where do they go when they really want to get some work done. They’ll probably not say the office.
Even if they do, they’ll say they go really early to beat the traffic and not have others to distract. Or they stay till late after everyone’s gone, or come in for a few hours on the weekend.
During a peak day, the office is the last place you’d want to be to get work done. A busy office is full of big and small distractions and interruptions, one after the other.
It’s not easy to get work done when your day is split into chunks of 20 minutes of this, then 30 minutes of that, then 10 minutes of this and so on.
Work which requires a good amount of uninterrupted time of focus and creative thought is impossible to get done.
That’s not to say interruptions can’t happen when you’re working remotely. If you’re working from home, may be it’s the TV, kids or guests. If you’re in a cafe, may be someone is talking really loud a couple tables away.
But these are interruptions you can do something about. They don’t paralyze you. You can find a better space to work or put on the headphones.
There’s no coworker or boss to come tap on your shoulder and demand your attention right now. Nor you can be suddenly called into an unnecessary meeting.
Collaborating with people in different places wasn’t possible all along with limited technologies like the fax machine or FedEx. But then came the Internet.
With internet came emails, instant messaging, screen sharing, cloud storage, online documents, and web project management.
We have created a world more advanced than our brains can process and adapt to. As a result, we’re still learning what’s possible and changing our workflows and lifestyle accordingly.
We have been deeply accustomed to the idea that work only happens from 9-5, in big, urban cities and offices and cubicles and tall buildings. So we resist the notion that things could be different.
All the tools and technologies we today at our disposal don’t take much to learn and use. The real challenge is shifting our mindset to let go of how things had been done so far and open our mind to new possibilities.
Ever since the industrial revolution, people have been leaving their natural settings, plush hometowns, family members and country lands in exchange for work opportunities in the city.
They live in tight apartments and quarters – small spaces in tall buildings to call home.
The word home stops even mattering that much because most of the time they are in the office. The home is only “a place” to go, lie down and sleep at night.
It wasn’t just the factories that benefited from high population density in the cities. High population in a few regions also made the regions an ideal choice for businesses to sell their products and services.
Cities got more developed, and city dwellers got stadiums, libraries, theaters, restaurants, clubs, theme parks, malls, grocery chains and everything else.
But all this came at a cost. We lost the freedom and warmth of our original homes and hometowns. With the current technologies, fortunately, there’s no trade-off anymore.
No only can we get the work done from anywhere we want to live, but we don’t have to rely on the convenience of the city for access to the best movies, books, sports games or anything else.
We are living in the world of Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, restaurant chains spread over hundreds of locations and what not.
We have unlimited access to entertainment and culture from anywhere, yet we feel we’re better off in the city with an overpriced apartment and a tiny cubicle.
Silicon valley has long been known as the hub for new technology and startups. Hollywood is known for show business. New York has many advertising agencies.
Such location monopolies make it hard to believe that success can be achieved outside of them. A new technology can come out of somewhere other than San Francisco. And a successful movie can have no connection to Hollywood.
There are thousands of people and businesses doing remarkable things in relatively lesser known locations. Great talent exists everywhere. Not every entrepreneur craving success wants to move to California, and not every aspiring screenwriter has to be in Hollywood.
Not having all the major players of a niche in one location has other benefits too.
Having scores of competitors within a few yards of your office make it more likely for employees to feel like the grass is greener on the other side and make frequent jumps.
For a company that’s trying to teach you the responsible use of staples and printing paper, the idea of saving millions of dollars in office space would surely have some merit.
While remote work lets the firm save office space, the employees save on thousands of dollars worth of fuel otherwise spent everyday in commute.
In doing so, they also lessen harmful emissions and lower their impact on the environment. So with remote work, you’re hitting 3 birds with one stone: business expense, fuel expense and impact on the planet.
Before you get excited about all the benefits of remote work and decide to take the plunge, it’s important to understand fully what you’re getting into.
Nothing is too good to be true. There is always some level of cost or compromise.
There are often times when nothing can beat talking to your manager or coworker in person. Or sitting in a meeting with all your coworkers in one place brainstorming on the next big idea.
And same goes for lack of firm rules, structure and direction.
Without an office, there is no one to impose pressure and always keep a watch on what time you come and go, and how long you were on the desk working.
Remote work is great power. And with great power comes great responsibility. People need to be self-disciplined and independent problem solvers so they can get the work done on their own.
For the kind of people who can’t meet deadlines and get work done without monitoring or a sword of pressure hanging over their head, remote work will not work.
Plus, for family men and women who work from home, it may not be easy at first to set boundaries with their spouse, kids and friends.
All this doesn’t mean that remote work is bad. Just that it’ll have its own learning curve and will take some time to reach an arrangement where it works for your business and work.