Remote work is more common now than it’s ever been. We loved reading Jerry Useem’s article,”When Working From Home Doesn’t Work,” from The Atlantic‘s November issue.
Useem revisits IBM’s announcement in March to bring remote workers back into the office and looks at differing studies that make compelling cases for why working remote does or does not boost productivity.
While the arguments for pros and cons of remote work are all valid, we’re very much in favor of not having an office.
The Pros of Remote Work
Remote work is great for those who are intrinsically, personally motivated and engaged with what they do. For anyone who requires or loves to focus on a task or project with little to interruption, the ability to work from a non-office location is a dream.
It can save businesses an absurd amount of money on overhead costs like office space (IBM brought in an extra $2 billion after offloading some of their office buildings) and actually helps to weed out less-than-productive workers much more quickly than might happen in an office environment.
Remote work increases the talent pool when it comes to hiring and means your business can thrive in different time zones. Employees gain back valuable time and resources otherwise spent on commuting. We learned all of this from reading Remote: Office Not Required – anyone thinking of going remote should read it, too.
The Cons of Remote Work
For roles where regular collaboration, problem solving, and motivation happens in a group setting, though, going to the office is where the magic happens.
Hammering out projects, meetings, and feeding off the creative energy of others can be difficult to recreate in a remote setup. Not to mention the importance of reading body language, tone, or the small bursts of energy and laughter that can come from a standard issue high five or terrible (yet hilarious) joke.
So it goes without saying that the absence of physical presence can absolutely mean an absence of rapport between colleagues. That is, after all, a massive part of how trust is built.
And, in a remote setup, distractions are still a reality, they just come from other places: family members, Facebook, the dog.
The crux of Useem’s article as to why exactly remote work doesn’t always work is that despite the benefits, completing tasks takes longer than they do with in-person interactions.
“This brings us to a point about electronic communications technologies,” he writes. “Notionally, they are cheap and instantaneous, but in terms of person-hours spent using them, they are actually expensive and slow. Email, where everything must literally be spelled out, is probably the worst.”
The argument that physical distance can create a communication breakdown is fair. Useem’s point that the weakness of all these technologies is that we must choose to use them is spot on.
Why Remote Work Works (for Us)
But what’s true for any company is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What worked (or didn’t, in this case) for IBM may not be the case for your company.
Robly has been fully remote since December of 2016. Did we have an office space before that? We sure did.
Did we waste a lot of time and money commuting? Yes.
Was it more difficult to focus sometimes? Yep.
Were there people we tried to avoid if possible? Naturally.
Did we solve problems together? Oh heck yes.
Did we bond with one another over things like the office dogs or the morning news or the Fermi Paradox or playing Slither or happy hour drinks? You bet we did.
Did we miss those things once we went fully remote? Yes and no.
The Office Made it Work
We’ll argue that going remote has been one of the better things we’ve done as a company – but we’ll also concede that it wouldn’t have worked as well had we not had an office first.
The office is what gave our small team the time it needed to get to know one another in a face-to-face environment, work cohesively, learn to trust each other, weed out those who weren’t a good cultural fit, and really get a sense for everyone’s personalities and communication styles.
We’d be lying if we said that working from home didn’t allow for more personal productivity on top of work productivity.
We’ve traded long commutes for more personal time with loved ones, pursuing personal hobbies, and the ability to care of things like laundry and doctor visits without losing productivity.
In the office, a break probably consisted of a snack run to the deli or a cigarette on the street. Now we can pop out for a run or clean the kitchen. Hooray for #adulting!
All joking aside though, regaining that time is such a bonus, especially if you’ve lived your entire work life in a traditional office setup.
In Person Interaction
What about the face-to-face time, though? It’s much more limited now – we have team video meetings 2 to 4 times per month and all-staff retreats are scheduled at least once a year in places like Antigua and Costa Rica.
We use Slack on a daily basis to instant message back and forth. Effective communication is probably the biggest challenge when it comes to working remotely. It forces accountability upon every single participant.
We see this as a good thing though, because it quickly uncovers where improvements need to be made or if someone is under-performing. We try to embrace the “don’t be nice, be honest” way of doing things.
We’d also be lying if we said we were never slowed down by waiting on an email or Slack reply – but that’s part of the reality of working remotely and if you expect and plan for it, you can address it.
A Shifting Landscape
We feel passionate about remote work and for the most part, it’s working.
As mentioned earlier, we took a lot of our initial inspiration from Remote: Office Not Required – one of the books our CEO put on his list of books that all SaaS executives should read.
That’s not to say there are never hiccups or technology failures here and there, but overall our team is happy, productive, and taking advantage of the remote lifestyle.
One of us is traveling around the country in an RV, others are subletting their NYC apartments and going on three-month excursions all over the world – South America, Las Vegas, and Mexico to name a few.
From what we can see, especially in the tech industry, the landscape of work culture is changing – a 9 to 5 job is no longer a good thing in the minds of the millennial work force.
And who can blame them? That type of routine can be soul crushing – earning a paycheck shouldn’t rely on your butt being in a chair in the same place every day. This generation craves experience and variety.
The pros and cons will always be there – though at this point we can’t really imagine going back to an office in any 9 to 5 capacity, so fingers crossed we won’t have to.
Do you work remotely? If not, would you like to? What do you think about the pros and cons? Tell us in the comments, pretty please!