Remote Working

Due to building work going on at home, I’ve needed the odd day of remote working here and there. It got me thinking about why remote working still isn’t the norm for many, especially those whose job involves sitting at a computer more often than not (aka knowledge workers). As we all slowly become technology companies, that bracket seems to include more and more people.

There’s a whole slew of benefits for remote working.

  • Avoiding the daily grind of commuting with everyone else.
  • Changing your environment to suit the work you’re doing.
  • More flexibility for life stuff (partners, kids, dogs, deliveries, doctors etc.)
  • The possibility of living/working further afield minus a daily commute.

Technology has never been cheaper, lighter and as capable as it is now. So what would it take to change the status quo of heading into an office 5 days a week, 7 hours a day?

Trust

At some point we’re going to have to acknowledge that whether working at a desk in the office, a table in Starbucks or the dining room at home, it’s entirely possible to *not* work regardless of your location.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, it can be easier for office based workers to do less and glide under the radar. Whilst those who work off-site might receive more scrutiny about what they’ve been up to.

If someone is struggling with their work or lacking motivation, chaining them to a desk seems like the least effective way to tackle the root cause of the problem.

How about this. Let’s stop using physical presence as a measure of productivity.

There are plenty of other ways to measure productivity that are effective regardless of where you do your job. And really it should come down to whether you’re achieving defined outcomes (or not). If you’ve been given 4 tasks to achieve this week, importance should be placed on how you completed those tasks, not where they were completed.

Self Discipline

Succinctly put, picking the right environment to get work done.

If you are prone to procrastination, working from home might not be the best place for you lest you start doing the hoovering instead of digging into that report you really don’t want to write.

Likewise, if a block of work is going to require swift input from multiple people to move it forward, perhaps holing yourself up miles away from everyone isn’t the best choice.

Developing an awareness of the right place for the right activity seems like an essential skill for the remote worker. If you know where & when you are best placed to complete different sorts of activities, you can structure your working habits more intelligently.

Distributed Working

In any team endeavour, knowing who’s doing what is fairly vital. Arguably, sitting in an office gives you the ambient awareness of what’s going on immediately around you. Based on how much you need to focus on task, that can be both a blessing and a curse.

The alternative is that we use digital tools to retain this ambient awareness whilst allowing people to work from anywhere. Depending on how much structure you want, things like Slack, Yammer, Trello, Basecamp and 7Geese can provide a window into who’s doing what. And because they’re not limited to your immediate team, they can actually amplify that ambient awareness to extend across multiple departments or the organisation as a whole.

The tricky part is, we have to collectively agree to use these tools instead of endless emails & meetings to establish what everyone is up to. Perhaps we need to switch to organising work more openly & proactively, so that everyone is crystal clear about what they’re supposed to be working on, and how much progress has been made. That’s a net benefit for everyone, surely?

Actual (not virtual) Social Interaction

One of the things the workplace often does get right is that it’s where people can socialise and forge relationships. Those relationships become incredibly handy when work requires multiple people to come together and push in the same direction.

In contrast, remote working can be a lonely existence. I know lone freelancers who say the only thing they miss about being an employee are the informal chats with colleagues. Thankfully, the rise in co-working has saved the sanity of many. It provides the social interaction of the office without the restraints of having to be there every day.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here for our traditional offices? What if we had smaller office space and only required people to come in and work there when they actually needed to collaborate with other people?

All Or Nothing, It Is Not.

You might be reading this nodding your head in agreement or frowning in contempt. That’s okay. There is no single rule for everyone. Nor should there be.

Some massively value having an office with a desk and a place to put all their stuff. Others prefer the flexibility and freedom of working from anywhere. I don’t think these options need to be mutually exclusive.

The tools and workflows that bring productivity to remote workers also translate to office workers. Why not embrace the strengths of both? Why not have a team that converges and diverges as it needs to?

And yes, I recognise that we absolutely need to get around a table occasionally and interact without technology like good old fashioned human beings!

A balance must be struck. Up till now, it’s been heavily weighted in favour of people sitting in the same building. What I’m hinting at here is, perhaps it’s time to start experimenting with alternatives. Given that the humble office worker is bombarded with all manner of distractions, whats the worst that can happen?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *