Most people have been sold on an idealised vision of remote working, a transit-free lifestyle where employees cut down on lost time, reduce expenses and find an improved work-life balance. But is remote work really the best option?
Unfortunately, people can be ill-informed or not prepared for the adjustment it takes to create a healthy remote environment. Within a few days an unexpected anxiety sets in. This anxiety could be related to cabin fever,which was a common issue when people were cut off from society for long periods of time.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” Jack Nicholson, The Shining
While many people tout the benefits of remote work, there are less attractive aspects that both employer and employee need to tackle before progressing.
Nowhere has the job market seen a greater shift in practices than IT. With it obvious advantages, IT is quickly becoming the spearhead in remote work. By offering flexible locations, companies are signaling to their employees that they can and should devote more time to health and wellness. That’s likely why 77% of those surveyed in Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work said that more flexible work options would help them be healthier. But this scenario is rarely reflected in the statistics.
“Remote employees are more likely to report the feeling that colleagues… leave them out”. Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, HBR
Companies that give employees more control over when, where, and how they work through flexible work options are supporting the health and wellness of their workers and enhancing the company’s culture and productivity at the same time.
The inconvenient truth
People with an active and healthy lifestyle will always find the opportunity to exercise, socialise, and engage, but many people who switch to remote work end up in a downward spiral where their links to a work community and external activities may deteriorate due to the reduced need to leave their environment.
The isolation of remote workers needs to be taken into account and an open discussion must be made to understand the real benefits of moving to this new situation (against the possible dangers).
An interview with a remote expert
In order to help find a balanced Scality contacted Rodolphe Dutel, founder of Remotive.io, a recruitment website dedicated to finding remote IT placements. Rodolphe shed light on many concerns that both employers and employees face in this new market.
Scality: How does one go about convincing management that remote work can be of benefit to them?
Rodolphe: Tough one. Most people spent a lot of energy convincing folks who don’t always have the decision power to make the call. I see two options here: Either your manager has enough leeway to let you work remote[ly], in which case pitch them “A trial period to see if remote could be a good fit.” Start small, be considerate, build your case. The other option is that your manager can’t make that call. Often times because it’s a first or because it’s someone else’s decision to make (CxO or HR). In that case, the only way to go is to find yourself a champion for remote work within the Executive Committee who’s willing to go to bat for you and remote work. Otherwise, I’ll consider looking for one of the thousands of companies who already love remote work; it will save you time.
Scality: What apps would you suggest companies implement to improve communication and workflow between colleagues working remotely?
Rodolphe: My sense is that quality remote work comes from trust. When a company operate based on trust, your manager can say “I trust that you’re working, I don’t need a monitoring system to check it”), they can pick any tools of workflows. Most popular workflow are Slack for daily chats + Zoom for video call and daily standups. Other teams also thrive through asynchronous work.
Scality: Sometimes the need to be progressive gets in the way of practicality; what are the drawbacks to remote work and possible solutions?
Rodolphe: Andreas Klinger (Angelist) said, “Colocated is better for innovating, remote is better for iterating.” I tend to agree: remote work is what happens between the two times where you see the person face to face. Nearly all remote teams I know physically get into the same room once or twice a year. No silver bullet here, remote work simply feels like a more flexible approach to work.
Scality: The dark side of remote work is the expectation to work longer hours than normal and the ability to have employees on call beyond the normal hours. Have you come across this issue before?
Rodolphe: Remote workers are prone to burn-out, especially because it’s hard to know “when is it OK for me to stop working?”. I use to work remotely from Europe, I had to tell my US colleagues “That’s it, I’m wrapping up my day!”. It’s hard to have enough trust in the organization so that people feel comfortable stopping to work at the end of the day.
Scality: The lack of human interaction can affect a company’s culture; what steps should companies take to improve the culture?
Rodolphe: Most teams organize physical retreats, insist on getting the team virtually together every so often and pay for physical co-working spaces. That helps remote workers find their local tribe, and feel more connections.
Scality: What are the pros and cons of becoming a remote worker and how do employees anticipate them?
Rodolphe: You gain flexibility but you’ll get desocialized. It’s a tricky trade-off, most remote workers take about a year to sink into a routine that suits them. Oddly enough most remote workers I know enjoy sports/club activities in order to recreate the “tribe” feeling they may lack at work. Again, not having to commute and being in charge of your own schedule feels priceless to me.
Scality: What recruitment tips can you share with HR when dealing with a remote interview?
Rodolphe: Thoroughly assess candidates’ communication skills. As Jason Fried puts it, when in doubt – hire the better writer. Remote workers need to be great communicators. Ensure that most/all of your content and handbook is consigned somewhere in writing; always err on the sign of being explicit. Also, ensure you assign them a buddy/mentor once they join.
For more information on going remote, Rodolphe recommends Jason Fried’s book Remote: Office Not Required as a great resource with more information about how one company broke the rules and went remote. Fried is a founder of Basecamp, a software service that allows teams to collaborate in real time with automation, tracking time and projects and teams.