In the last decade or so, remote work and all its synonyms have been slowly entering the mainstream of the business lingo. Then, 2020 and coronavirus pandemic happened and its presence escalated, with an enormous number of companies, especially in the United States, adjusting to remote working almost overnight.
If you were caught in this transition too, or you plan on making the leap to remote working in the future, we’ve compiled a thorough guide for you.
Read on and find out why remote work is so popular as well as the benefits and challenges of working remotely.
Remote work definition
Let’s cover the basics first. Remote working is any work happening outside the traditional workplace, such as office space. Employees who work remotely don’t commute to centralized workplaces, but work from an alternate location instead. It can be their home office, a coworking space, a local coffee shop or anywhere they choose to be.
This paradigm shift in thinking about work is made possible by the digital age since it relies on the premise that you only need a laptop, a solid and stable internet connection and a remote work toolkit to get your work done. The philosophy of remote work can be summed up in one simple sentence - as long as you get work done, it doesn’t matter where you sit.
Remote work terminology
There are different terms used to describe remote work, and some of them may have you confused. Here is a short terminology round up:
- Remote work VS Working From Home (also, WFH)
Consider remote work a blanket term of sorts. While remote workers can work from anywhere, working from home means exactly what it says.
- Remote work VS Telecommuting
In this case, the lines get a bit blurry; nowadays, remote work and telecommuting are basically synonymous, with subtle differences. Telecommuting is a bit of a dated term, used to refer to a person mostly working from home or remotely, but who could swing by the office for a meeting if necessary. This means telecommuters are mainly hired locally, so they could be present in the office when necessary. Since remote work has been gaining more traction and companies are looking beyond local talent, most companies don’t use the word telecommuter and opt for remote worker instead.
- Remote work VS Distributed team
The term “distributed team” or “distributed work” has been gaining traction lately. Debates are taking place about whether the word distributed should replace remote altogether, and for a number of reasons. First of all, some experts argue that remote is a designation for an individual worker, while distributed requires the whole company to adopt the mindset. Others say that remote bears a negative connotation and focuses too much on the location of the worker instead of the team efforts needed to accomplish the tasks at hand. In reality, companies and teams that are distributed usually don’t have offices anywhere, so this term may actually be what you sometimes call a “fully remote” company.
- Remote work VS Flex jobs
Flexible jobs or flexible working is a term describing your work hours rather than a location. Most remote teams also incorporate flexible work options, and this means you can arrange your work flexibly. Flexible work jobs are not always remote - they can also be done in a physical office space with flexible work hours or time-shifting.
- Remote work VS Hybrid teams
A hybrid office or company is a mix of conventional and remote teams. Workers can choose if they want to work remotely, in the office, or both. Team members usually opt to work some days in the office, to connect with their coworkers and discuss some things in person. Hybrid teams can be a great starting point for companies not yet ready to become fully remote.
How remote work actually works
You may be hearing about all the wonders of remote work on social media, but you still don’t understand how it works in reality or why people work remotely.
The basic premise is that you can do your job with the same efficiency from home, a coworking space, or any other location, as long as you are connected to the internet and in touch with your team. Sounds simple, right?
The truth is, focusing on location doesn’t even scratch the surface of how remote jobs work.
Companies that work remotely know there are many other factors influencing the success of their remote teams and most of them have to do with communication, productivity, and independence, which are usually preceded by procedures and guidelines.
A wise move for companies is to make a solid remote work policy that will ensure clarity for all parties involved.
Is remote work the future of work?
The Covid-19 pandemic showed the world first hand why being ready to embrace remote work is important. However, apart from large-scale emergencies, there are compelling arguments about why it is here to stay.
There are solid indicators that remote work is good for the environment - it reduces pollution and traffic congestion. If fewer people need to travel to work, it will benefit the planet. In addition, remote workers tend to stay in their neighborhoods during the workday, which means they support their local economies - the gyms, coffee shops, restaurants, and stores in their area.
Another benefit of working remotely lies in how remote work policies encourage diversity.
Apart from hiring talent that is not geographically constrained, giving an opportunity to people from different countries also reflects well on hiring from different communities. Workers no longer need to live in expensive cities so they could be close to the prospect of a good job. On the other hand, people will scheduling conflicts, such as new parents, can get jobs that work with their daily duties. Remote work also benefits disabled people, who are relieved from long-distance commuting and the stress it causes.
For employers, the benefits of remote work are visible when it comes to real estate, too. The dependency on finding a good space, paying exorbitant rent, maintenance, and upkeep costs are no longer necessary when your workforce is partially or entirely remote.
Finally, remote work requires companies to build a strong culture. Remote working means putting in place processes, enhancing values, and implementing techniques that will differentiate you as an employer and make your employees more loyal and passionate in the long term.
Common misconceptions about remote work
Remote work doesn’t only have supporters and evangelists - numerous people are still skeptical about the concept. While some benefits of working remotely are well known to everyone, there are misconceptions that may be the reason some companies are deciding against going remote. We decided to debunk those myths one by one:
- Working remotely means being available all the time.
This is one of the most common beliefs about remote work. Blurring the lines between a worker’s personal life and work can happen with remote work, but more and more companies are successfully combating the always-on issue. Companies have started adopting remote work policies that outline everyone’s work hours and encourage time off and work-life balance.
- Remote employees are lazy and want to avoid working.
This couldn’t be further from the truth - remote work is not an excuse for slacking. People work remotely for various reasons, but most of them are happy to be able to organize their workday based on their duties, chores, or preferences. This misconception largely stems from people basing their trust in employees on being able to see them in the office. However, there is no proof that remote workers are any less hardworking than their office counterparts.
- Communication is impossibly hard in remote teams
Hard - sometimes; impossible - absolutely not. Communicating in remote teams is a significant challenge, but there are plenty of ways to address and overcome it. One of them (and you can read about the rest later) is to use video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft teams and proactively schedule team meetings so everyone can see each other and discuss important topics. In fact, video calls are certainly more efficient than countless emails office teams exchange with one another.
Remote work advantages and disadvantages
Working remotely is not all sunshine and rainbows: like any other work, it has its pros and cons. If you are wondering will remote work become the new normal for your company, the answer lies in carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this work method.
The pros of remote work
A major advantage of working outside of the office space is the lack of distractions, resulting in an increase in productivity. The common interruptions you face when working in an office space can seriously interfere with your concentration and focus and prolong the time you need to get your work done. Working remotely does involve notifications and Slack chats, but you can always mute those and get a quiet space to focus and be your most productive when the task calls for it.
Working remotely will also give you a chance to hone your communication skills. As you might suppose, remote work comes with the obstacle of being far away from your team - and communicating through technology is a skill in its own right. Distributed teams have protocols in place that proactively tackle communicating, delegating, and discussing important details.
Communication ties in closely with the skills and processes necessary for successful remote work. Remote team members adapt quickly to the digital workplace that requires a technologically savvy, process-oriented, and results-driven workforce.
Remote work challenges
The disadvantages of remote work are usually tied to the habit and desire to see and spend time with our coworkers.
Remote employees are at a greater risk of experiencing isolation, especially if their coworkers are in a different country or time zone. The inability to form relationships organically and engage in office chit-chats also potentially lowers the sense of belonging and camaraderie. The best way to tackle remote work loneliness is to deliberately introduce casual communication. One of the options is to create work-free channels the employees can use to share what they’re doing off work and blow off steam with humor. A crucial method of engaging your employees and getting them to know each other better is to organize team retreats a few times per year. This is a great exercise that also connects remote workers and induces productivity and happiness.
Another issue to pay attention to with remote workers is their lowered access to teams. For example, as a project manager of a distributed team, especially across different time zones, it is important to introduce processes and written communication so everyone is aligned.
Finally, the biggest challenge of working remotely is the responsibility of the worker. All remote employees need to understand that their tasks and performance depend on their own organization and time management. Being proactive and responsible in delegating your own time can be a tricky shift of mindset. However, if the workers are equipped with tools and tangible metrics, this potential issue can be easily overcome. Make sure to support remote team members with training and education as well to maximize their performance.
Remote work skills
When a company hires remote workers, some skills and qualifications should demonstrate a good fit for remote work, regardless of the position. Here are some of those skills:
- Independence: being able to self-organize and be responsible
- Collaboration and written communication: remote work requires strong team players and communicators who can translate ideas into writing easily
- Cross-cultural literacy: remote teams are usually multicultural, so everyone needs to work well in a diverse environment
- Comfortable with remote work technology: remote companies depend on various software to get their work done; all employees need to be able to learn and adapt to tools quickly
- Process-oriented: sometimes remote work requires breaking concepts down to clear, actionable goals and tasks; processes oriented team members adopt this work method easily regardless of their department and position
How remote work benefits employers
From a company standpoint, remote work can seem like it’s all about the workers, with little implication about the business. However, a distributed workforce can bring many benefits to employers as well.
Access to talent, especially a global one, means employers don’t have to rely on local talent pools to fill a specific role. The ideal candidate can be located anywhere in the world and have just the skills and drive you are looking for. This explosion of global job seekers can bring enormous value to any employer and turn your hiring process towards the best and most qualified people, not the closest ones.
Talent retention is something that shouldn’t be disregarded when it comes to remote work. If the location doesn't matter, the major life changes employees experience, such as moving across the country, having a child, or a health crisis will not require them to switch jobs. Supporting remote workers with paid time off, sick leave and other benefits means they will be happier, less concerned, and therefore less likely to change jobs often. Retaining good people is often harder than finding them, and a truly dedicated team goes a long way in making a company successful.
Last but not least - cost savings. Employers often think that with all the software, perks, and benefits for remote workers, they must end up costing more. Still, this is not the case: remote companies save money on real estate, maintenance and upkeep costs, commuting expenses, catering for lunch, and many other office-space-related payments. On the other hand, spending money on the wellbeing of your employees only seems like an expense. If they end up being more productive, it’s actually an investment in the company's success.