March 4, 2020

Working Remotely

We live in an electronic world. With tools that allow us to easily transition to working remotely from home. People now write documents on word processors and share files as uploads or attachments. They send messages via email, texts, and chat. Cellphones and video conference services have replaced the need for landlines. And interactions often take place through social media and web conferences. The days of needing to be in an office are almost over for many white collar workers.

To many, this has opened up new opportunities for freedom. It’s always good for mothers and fathers to be home for their kids. Pet owners can keep their furry friends company. People who live outside the city and business centers can still have career opportunities. We are in an exciting time, full of options and possibilities.

There are also practical considerations. Traffic congestion is as bad as ever and commuting is stressful and expensive. With considerations like the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the need for social distancing, companies have been forced to consider what a workday would look like if employees couldn't come into the office. Remember the earthquakes in San Francisco and the havoc that ensued from the damage to roads and bridges? Remote work options are quickly becoming a necessity for companies. Not only can it be a valuable perk to entice and retain employees, but it can become a requirement when situations arise that prevent workers from coming into an office.

Top Remote Work Benefits

But if you’re one of the many who have spent most of your career in an office environment, you might be asking, could you transition to working from home? The answer is, most likely a resounding yes! But there are questions you need to consider. 

Will I Be as Productive Working Remotely From Home?

The answer to this question depends on you and your commitment to staying on task. People often think that working remotely from home means goofing off. Since nobody is around to check your work habits, you can do whatever you want. Need to mow the lawn, take the kids to the doctor, or go for that afternoon workout? All these things are possible when working from home.

I’d suggest they’re one of the primary benefits of remote work. The idea is not that you need to be sitting at your desk for 8 hours a day. It’s that you’re getting your work done during the day. Little breaks give you much-needed time away from the monotony of daily tasks. It allows you to stay fresh and engaged when you sit back down.

And let’s be honest, when you’re in the office, you’re not sitting at your desk all day. You take those coffee breaks or stop by someone’s cube for a little office gossip. You go out for lunch to get away. We all need breaks. Because you’re using yours to get a load of laundry done, doesn’t mean you’re any less productive. In reality, the time you’re spending getting an important personal task done actually frees your mind. You can concentrate more on work in a way that office gossip around the water cooler rarely does.  

It’s also true that people who work from home tend to extend their workdays longer than if they were in the office. When you’re at work, you have to deal with the morning commute, going out to lunch, and the drive home. Often, that’s wasted, unproductive time. At home, you simply log in to start your day while sipping on your morning coffee. No stress from the long drive or frustration dealing with road construction. You can be in a better frame of mind and active long before your co-workers even get to the office.

Often, employees take long lunch hours to “get away” for a break. When you’re working remotely from home, you can put this time to other productive uses. There isn’t a need to get away, and so lunches tend to be shorter. The freedom to make your schedule and surroundings work for you can be a huge boost to productivity.

Won’t I Miss Interacting with Co-Workers?

Of all the downsides of working remotely, the biggest is face-to-face interaction. In this era of digital communications, we shouldn't be a name only attached to an email signature. You need to see people, get to know them, and understand them as individuals. Co-workers are important whether you’re working at home or in the office. When working remotely, you have to be more intentional about making these interactions happen.

In the best scenario, working remotely is something you do most of the time or part of the time but not always. You need to find ways to get to the office and interact with people in person. It’s a challenge when you have distributed teams or if they also work remotely. Managers should encourage regular times when teams can get together. They need to set dedicated times where teams come together for some team building.

I’m also a big fan of video conferencing. It’s a technology that has been around for a long time. But it hasn’t caught on until people got accustomed to things like FaceTime. There’s somewhat of an intimidation factor for many. People are often overly concerned about their appearance.

This is even truer when working from home because it’s letting people see inside their home. There might be some resistance at first but it's crucial to make video conferencing part of your everyday routine. Over time, people will adjust and become much less self-conscious. It’s important that people know their team members, not only by their names, but getting to know them personally. A video conference is a great way to facilitate those interactions.

How Will My Boss Know I’m Working?

As a manager of remote employees, your mindset needs to shift. Change from seeing your employees at work, to seeing the work product they produce. Be more deliberate in assigning work. Set expectations, but it’s not about enforcing screen time. I’ve heard horror stories of bosses monitoring employees through chat applications. Bosses making sure that employees are signed on by 8 and always showing as active. That’s petty and displays a complete disregard for autonomy. If you can’t trust employees to do their work, then why are they still employed? Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and that extends to remote employees.

That said, for many companies, remote workers are still a new concept. Many managers don’t have much experience managing remote workers. It’s a learning experience for them as well. When starting a remote job, you will have to gain your manager's trust. If they call, it’s a good idea to be available to talk and not have the sounds of the gym in the background. When they set deadlines, it’s a good idea to meet them or better yet, exceed their expectations.

Show you’re a good fit for remote work. It won’t take long, but it’s important for everyone to know that you’re doing your job and are available as needed. Yes, you should be able to take breaks and do some personal things as well. Understand how your team works and your boss's expectations. If the work is getting done and your boss is happy, they have no reason not to trust your work habits.

I’m Sold, How Do I Get to Work Remotely from Home?

Remote work, at least part-time, is becoming more popular and is especially important when social distancing is required for pandemics like the Novel Coronavirus. Companies understand that it gives employees flexibility and cuts down on wasted commuting time. For some, it significantly reduces the expense of having a permanent office space. For many employees, it might be time to ask your boss about working for home. Start small, it may be one day a week; then, little by little, work into spending more time at home. Or it may be that you’ve got a job that requires too much collaboration. I don’t want to imply that every job is a fit for remote work. Sometimes, you need to be with your team in person to get things accomplished. But if you spend most of your day on your computer, in email, or applications, you’re a prime candidate.

If your company won’t support work flexibility, then there are new jobs posted every day that offer remote work options. Sites like LinkedIn now even have an option to search for remote jobs. As companies seek to cut expenses, expect it to be a more common option in the coming years. Today's technology can easily support remote work. What’s often holding companies back from advocating it are their old management mindsets. As younger workers demand more flexibility, companies need to adapt. Remote work is part of a flexible workplace and is one aspect of what often creates a great company culture.  

Eric Dickmann

Eric Dickmann is the founder of The Five Echelon Group, host of the weekly podcast - The Virtual CMO, and a CMO On Demand for a variety of small and midsize companies. An executive leader with over 30 years of experience in marketing, product development, and digital transformation, he has worked with large, global companies and small startups to develop and execute marketing strategies and bring innovative products to the market.