Remote Work is the Future of Work

Driving sucks. It pollutes, it wastes time, and it is dangerous.

Public transit takes forever- although you can multi-task. The main problem is it isn’t nearly as widely available as needed, especially in the US.

Cycling is amazing. It is healthy, competitive training, and a great mental transitions between work and home. But it requires a decent bit of skill and experience to be done in the US, and in some places can be very dangerous to do. Going any significant distance will usually involve getting sweaty and require a shower at the destination. Finally, it is very difficult in winter, with a few exceptions.

Ultimately, transportation is complicated and has significant impact on the user and the world. Wouldn’t it be great if we could remove a major percentage of all travel? Well, actually, we can – it’s called working remotely.

I have worked remotely, or perhaps more accurately in a ‘hybrid’ fashion for the last several months. I visited the corporate offices for about one week a month, and the rest of the time I was either traveling abroad or encamped at the family farm. It worked quite well. However, some of my management didn’t think remote work was appropriate. Here’s to convince you, should you end up being my manager some day.

I have been meaning to write such a statement for a while, but this article really kicked it off. It does a great job of arguing why the future of work is remote work – unless we should develop teleportation or reliable flying cars… Summary: cities are just growing too big to make commuting viable for most people. Remote work nicely severs the limitations of commuting.

Now, obviously some jobs just won’t work for remote work. Remote work is mostly work that involves computers, or perhaps pen and paper. You can’t remotely fight fires (or can you with drones???). However, I think most jobs will work just fine with a hybrid form of work. Most of my meetings were on Skype (or Zoom, or Teams, or whatever) anyway. Having everyone meet once a month for three days in person is probably fine for many teams, with perhaps an annual camp of group training and activities.

Yet I don’t think the need for meetings in person is really the issue some people have with remote work. I think there are two issues:

  1. Management doesn’t feel in control
  2. Uncertain if people will be productive without supervision.

Power corrupts. I think there are a decent number of leaders who depend upon servile lower workers bowing and scraping to make them feel good about themselves. On the other end, there are managers who simply consider their presence to be working, and would realize they aren’t actually doing much beyond causing disruptions, were they to be on their own. Yes, this is cynical, but I think being a manager of remote employees is very hard, especially for someone with no experience in it, and experienced managers don’t like feeling out of their depth, and thus avoid it.

Towards the second point, no work setting is going to be absolutely perfect. There will always be noise and distractions of some kind. My team at USV had a collection of desks in the the call center, which some of my fellow data team people found terribly distracting. Indeed, my work setting at home is far less distracting, just me, my computer, and some birds outside at the bird feeders. It is a far more comfortable environment which I can adjust to my needs.

One big problem with going to an office to work is that just being in office, just chatting with coworkers, or other activities tends to feel a bit like legitimate activities. Most people judge themselves on social cues, and thus a fun day with coworkers will feel productive even if it accomplished little for the business. This is especially bad, from what I’ve heard, in some Asian cultures where long hours, not productivity, are what is important, and long smoke breaks and such filled with hours of chatting are common. Meetings in person tend to involve more chit-chat and take longer. Long lunch breaks happen in person. Lots of activity in an office is not really going towards productive outputs, but it feels more-or-less like working, because it is with coworkers at the office.

Compare that to remote working, where I feel far more pressure to work. I can’t just schmooze and befriend people to assure myself of my keeping a job. Only one thing is really judged – the quality and quantity of my output. If I go and do anything that isn’t directly work related, I can just feel a tally being made, eventually I will miss a call or some other monitor, and I’m afraid suddenly I will be flagged for not doing any work at all. Remote work is truly focused work, and for most jobs, more productive.

Again, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, but a one-size-fits-quite-a-number-of-people situation. Some jobs, some personality or corporate styles just won’t work with remote work, but many can and will with a little practice. It can save a company money, and they can access new talent across the world. It saves humans lots of time and stress. And most importantly, a massive reduction in commuting and possible changes in city design would be a huge boon for the planet and the environment. It is the future, and companies would be wise to begin to embrace it more often.

1 thought on “Remote Work is the Future of Work”

  1. Not to mention, employers could save significant overhead costs if they were to downsize or remove company office spaces including: rent, electricity costs, maintenance (staff and equipment), janitorial services, parking lot clearing costs (for colder climates), insurance, etc. Additionally, major offices renovations, which tend to occur every few years, would be made irrelevant.

    If set up and managed correctly, remote work has the potential to benefit a large majority of stakeholders. Businesses would save costs, employees would save time and stress, and the environment would be better off from reduced carbon emissions. A few niche industries, such as commercial real estate services, may be impacted negatively, but it’s clear that the overall potential benefits well exceed the costs.

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