Once thought of as a novelty, remote working has become increasingly prevalent across the world of business, with many touting it as the future. Here’s what we found.
One week in June, NUBI decided to pack up the office and work from home. This was partly an experiment, and partly preparation for a period when we’ll be between offices. Who knows, perhaps we could even forget about the office altogether?
Remote working is the latest change to hit the world of employment. In the US, a number of regular telecommuters has gone up 103% since 2005. Of course, “millennials” are the demographic most in favour, with 68% saying it would “increase their interest” in working for certain companies, according to a survey by AfterCollege. No doubt some employers will use this as evidence that millennials are “entitled” and “don’t want to work”.
Some of the benefits touted by remote working’s champions include increased productivity, engagement and decreased overheads, while the disadvantages are obvious: distractions, lack of oversight, and potential feelings of isolation.
We were inspired by startup Buffer, who posted a detailed story of their transition to an office-less existence.
Our new routine involved a 10AM morning agenda meeting on Skype; if you weren’t there on time you were considered “late” to the office. Each person would be responsible for adding their items to Basecamp and ticking them off upon completion. Each employee had a different approach to “working from home”, with some literally working from their beds while others set up in cafés and libraries.
While we expected to see a swing to either higher or decreased productivity, the truth is that in our first work from home week our output remained about the same. We had left the sometimes distracting environment of our shared office (along with the madcap philosophical conversations that come with it), but we’d traded it in for a new sets of distractions and challenges.
For some of us, a busy home environment impacted our ability to concentrate, while others became too focused on a task and found the time flew by. While physical coworkers can be distracting, they are also a good motivator as you measure your progress against theirs.
We also found that some of the transparency in the business had gone; before, everybody used to know what each other were working on, and in times of creative crisis other employees were always happy to offer their own ideas or critique.
This isn’t the typical inspiring story about the benefits of remote working as posted by so many of the practice’s evangelists, but it also doesn’t mean remote working isn’t for us. What it should highlight is that any business making the move to fully remote should be aware of its inherent challenges. For the next iteration, we’re already planning to test out new approaches such as a persistent chat app like Slack or a regular employee meeting in a physical space.
It doesn’t have to be a binary choice between office or remote working; Basecamp still use a central office, for example. SMEs will find it easier to experiment like this and find what works for them, but eventually, businesses across the board will be able to do so, rather than being tied to one thing through tradition, or trying a new strategy purely for its novelty.