Last week, our Marketing Team went out for some pizza after work. It was a chance to unwind after a hard day, and get to know our newest colleague and show him around town. Naturally, after a few drinks, the conversation turned to that particular combination of casual shop talk and inside jokes. Among other things, the topic of remote work also came up. What followed was a spirited discussion - one voice, in particular, was strongly against it, listing all the possible downsides such a mode of work could entail. I, of course, am, and always will be, a strong proponent of remote work, and will always defend it, in any circumstance.
But this got me thinking - even though remote work is on the rise, particularly in the tech industry, it still has a bit of a bad rep associated with it. Most of the articles about it usually point out that trust is the biggest issue, and routinely give out advice on how to best keep tabs on your employees and make sure they are actually working. These are written by, and for, managers. So here’s my $0.02 dedicated to employees!
Remote is a process, not a state
I’ve been working remotely for years now. Ever since my first freelance jobs when I was translating and transcribing, to steady jobs as a Community Manager and photographer. This happened naturally, and I just went with the flow, regardless of what happened. Meaning - I never looked for tips and tricks. I love my process and always thought it was the best at any given moment. Only now I can look back and realize how much I’ve improved everything.
The best thing about working remotely is the rise in productivity. When you work remotely your productivity should increase over time. That’s the sign of a well-implemented system, one that works like a charm.
This is the evidence of improvement. Whether it’s because of the workspace, motivation, discipline, or the job itself. For me, the challenge is to manage to work at the office with the same (or at least almost the same) focus.
Address the pink elephant in the room
Is it really all about trust? At the beginning - of course.
Shortly after I joined ActiveCollab, I worked on a story about time-wasting, and a question has gnawed at me ever since: why is a non-remote option instantly considered a guarantee for better work?
Why is it assumed that remote workers procrastinate on Facebook and binge Netflix instead of working?
There are plenty of types of distractions at the office. Most of them interrupt my process and then I need time to get my focus back up. We are even thinking of snoozing instant messenger entirely a couple of hours a day, so we can devote ourselves to tasks without any interruptions.
There’s this amazing point raised in Talent Economy’s post: If I am working from home, spend three hours on focused work and the next five minutes popping my laundry in the dryer, does that make me an unproductive employee?
From my point of view it’s rather simple: if the quality of the work remains the same (or even better) - there is no need to discuss this matter further. And if employees work better remotely, it’s time for the remote option to stop feeling like a privilege, and become a legitimate option.
If you were given the option to work remotely, that means you’ve probably left a good impression. You’ve earned it. Now it’s up to you to fulfill the expectations. And if you’re a manager still having second thoughts, note that high-trust companies excel in almost every field! After all, it goes without saying that you’ve hired someone because you trust them to do their job as professionals, and constantly doubting them reflects poorly not just on you, but your company as well.
Put it into practice
In our team, transparency keeps everything in order. Each task is set with a start and a due date, so anyone can see what I’m working on at any given moment. We also fill out weekly reports on Friday, where we sum up everything we did and plan for the next week. So you can’t just take a remote day and laze about on the couch playing video games. When we make a plan, I stick to it. I know what I should deliver, and I work on it.
The funny thing is, I’m usually more available on instant messenger when working remotely than when I’m working at the office. There I can sometimes get stuck in a meeting without my laptop, share a bowl of my homegrown cherries with a developer, participate in an impromptu conversation in the hallway. Then I get back to my workspace and see a huge number of notifications in that red dot at the bottom of the screen, all of which need to be addressed.
Being available and online during work hours has always been my advantage. Even when I went swimming during lunch breaks, I would regularly check my notifications. There are occasional power grid blackouts in the hills where I live, but no Manager ever questioned those. And I could’ve always proved them. After all these years of remote work, I realized it’s more than responsibility and trust. You can always find a way to “cheat”, but whether you’ll do it or not depends only on your moral compass and how much you care about your job and your team.
The ultimate goal
Remote work should be at least as effective as office work. If you are organized enough and committed to your job, you can achieve the same - or even better - amount and quality of work wherever you are. Trust is definitely the foundation of remote work, but it isn’t and it shouldn’t be enough. Because of all the prejudices that come with remote work, it feels like there is a battle ahead and it’s the battle I want to win. It’s the battle we should all win.