As the pandemic took hold in 2020, many companies made the transition to 100% remote work, and many are now 100% office free.
This has been a topic of many coaching conversations with businesses worldwide. So, what is the future of work from anywhere “WFA” and the possible remote workforce of the future?
As we start to transition back into whatever our new normal is going to look like, remote work will remain a part of our lives, and so we must learn how to do it well.
The book, Remote, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, explores how one of the world’s most successful small companies manages to work remotely, and make it work…both for the company, and for their employees. I’ve enclosed below several strong reasons why the time is right for remote work:
Your best work happens in focused blocks, not small fragments
The office has always been the last place people want to be to get actual work done. That’s because offices are the world’s best interruption factories, slicing and dicing your time down into small fragments, and then interrupting what’s left with ad hoc requests.
Meaningful work, creative work, strategic work, planning work, all require time and space to get “into the flow.” Your best work requires flow, not interrupted fragments.
Gain your life back by not commuting
Community has a huge impact on productivity and well-being. If your commute is 30+/- minutes each way, you are spending almost 260 hours of every year commuting. That is almost 7 full weeks of work hours, just going back and forth from the office. Not to mention the money you spend for the privilege.
Working 9-5 mentality is antiquated
One of the largest benefits our advances in technology has granted us (aside from work that truly requires people to be in person to get the work done, like manufacturing), is that it allows for work to be asynchronous.
Technology allows us to get work done around your family schedules, the sleep patterns that give you the most energy, or around other things that leave you fulfilled and truly “on” when you are doing your work.
If you can escape the 9-5 mentality, you’ll unlock all sorts of great benefits both for the productivity of your workers, and their wellbeing. It’s a virtuous cycle.
The 9-5 mindset is so ingrained into our culture, that there are a number of hurdles to overcome if you are going to make it a reality in your business.
Now that we’ve covered why you might want to work remote, here are some common arguments against it.
6 Reasons Why People Don’t Want to Go Remote
The “magic only happens when we are all in the same room.” There is no denying that there is a place for synchronous work – much like a jazz band, creativity, planning, and strategy work can be enhanced by live interaction.
You can’t know that people are working if you can’t see them. Here’s the thing – lazy workers will always slack off, even if they are right in front of you. And productive workers will always work, even if you can’t see them. In fact, being remote might finally force you to deal with the unproductive people on your team.
People’s homes are full of distractions, which is potentially true. However, certainly no worse than the office. If home distractions are an issue for you, you could always decide to work from a coffee shop, library, or a co-working space.
Having your team work remotely is a security risk. Hansson points out that there are plenty of steps you can take to make remote work just as secure as working in the office.
If big businesses don’t do it, why should we? This reason might have held more weight before the pandemic, however, here are examples of large companies like IBM and eBay, plus many Silicon Valley technology giants have realized that their workers were getting as much (if not more) done while working remote that they made it a permanent change.
“We are paying/paid so much money for this office” excuse. Of course, this is a great example of the sunk cost bias – it’s irrational to make that part of your decision to work remotely or not. You should only weigh the costs and benefits directly related to becoming a remote-first company.
Here is a great resource – PwC’s U.S. wide remote work survey summarizing a recent survey of employees and employers regarding working remotely. Suggesting that now is time to reimagine how and where we work. Read the survey summary here.
Now, let’s turn to how to do it well.
Successfully Collaborating Remotely
Here are a number of things you’ll need to get right in order to make the switch from in-person work to remote work.
#1. Ensuring that there is always overlap between working hours, so that you don’t cause any large collaboration delays.
#2. Build in a social aspect of work. In the office, people gather around the coffee machine or the water cooler to take a break and socialize. Make sure that whatever technology you are using allows for that, and make sure that the socializing still happens.
#3. Build in more communication to ensure that everybody remains in the loop on what’s happening at the company. This can be accomplished through a weekly discussion thread where everybody gives on update on the work they are doing, and their plans for the coming weeks.
#4. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Beware of too many meetings on Zoom leading to no work getting done and ultimately burn out. Make sure you are giving people the time and space to work on the things that are critical to their role.
Potential Pitfalls of Remote Working
Even if you set up your remote work environment perfectly, it would be naive to think that there aren’t any potential pitfalls.
#1 Cabin Fever
Get out of the house every once in a while to work in a coffee shop or a hybrid co-working space.
#2 Work-life balance.
Ironically, the biggest fear of managers (that their people won’t work as much remotely) turns out to be completely unfounded. The bigger danger is over work, or more specifically, being “always on.” Make sure you are creating a separation between work and home, and when you are done your work, “log off” for the day.
#3 Can we make it work?
A great way to test working remotely is to have an entire team work remote, and pay attention to the quality and quantity of their work (it will most likely go up and to the right in both measures).
#4 What will our customers, clients and stakeholders think?
The solution in this case is to address it head on, and make sure that your work output doesn’t suffer, or even better, gets significantly better, during the transition.
Bonus: set your team up for success to run effective consultations remotely with this guide.
Hiring and Keeping the Best
One of the largest benefits of going remote is that your talent pool becomes a lot larger. You will start to find quality employees in areas you have never thought to look such as other states and even other countries.
Remember that just because you are hiring people for remote work, does not mean you can’t meet them in person. In fact, the authors suggest you do this whenever you can, because you’ll learn a lot about them in the process. Did they show up on time? Do they treat other people well? Are they decent human beings?
Alternatively, whenever you find exceptional employees, you’ll want to make sure you are focused on ways to retain them. Teams get better over time as they learn how to work with one another, and it takes time to develop that synergy.
Identify new ways to show appreciation and perks for longevity that will also help you to differentiate yourself from any other companies. You can do little things like providing them with holiday experiences and encouraging and funding their hobbies. Anything you can do to make your team feel like working for you helps them be a better human being is an easy way.
Bonus: check out this guide for hiring.
How to Manage Remote Workers
Trust but verify. You cannot effectively do your job if you do not know the details of what your people are working on. So double down on the things that will help you do that and try not to worry as much about when and where the work gets done.
Frequent one-on-one meetings with each of your team members will be critical. This will enable you to coach them on their work output, but also keep a consistent open line of communication. Listen to this podcast where we discuss how to make remote meetings work.
You will still want to make sure your team gets together in person occasionally. It is easier to work together with people you’ve met in real life. It is also a good idea to have an occasional work sprint in person to finish up or launch a big project.
Finally, be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork. If you are doing your job as a manager, the work will get done just as well as in person, if not better. The bigger issue will be people burning out from over work because there is much less separation between the home and office.
4 Coaching Tips for Remote Workers
Here are a four tips to consider to set you set yourself up for success in remote work.
Tip 1: Build yourself a work routine. For example, even though you could easily roll out of bed and do your work in your pajamas, consider putting on your work clothes.
Tip 2: Divide your day into chunks. Building in time for catching up, time for collaboration, and time for doing serious work that requires you to be in the flow.
Tip 3: Make sure you have a dedicated workspace in your home, preferably a space that doesn’t get used for other things.
Tip 4: Break up your routine by making sure to try out different places to work. You might find a place that is great for churning through emails, a space that is great for creative work, and a place that’s great for your video calls. Now that you are not chained to your desk, use your freedom to get your different types of work done at the highest possible level.