The Problem With Remote Working
I’ve been on an interesting journey over the last 2 years, both professionally and personally.
I’ve moved from working in the world of marketing innovation for brands like Lynx and Canon to the world of corporate innovation for a global B2B office supplies company. It’s a move that’s provided me with a fresh view of innovation as well as exposing me to an entirely new set of challenges.
One of the biggest changes for me is where I get to work. Like a growing number of people in the western world, I have a job that doesn’t require me to work in an office between the hours of 9–6pm.
I work from home (in a converted garden shed), from co-working spaces, cafes and more and more, the Eurostar train or the occasional airport.
We’re pretty good at coming up with names for this new employment trend. Flexible worker, digital nomad, home worker or my favourite — office optional.
Over 50% of UK workers will conduct their jobs away from their employer’s location at least once a week and according to Pieter Levels, there will be 1billion digital nomads on the planet by 2035.
There is any number of articles (this one has 5 tips for working from home entrepreneurs) and studies espousing the benefits of remote working, I’ve even written a few myself. For me, the ability to work flexibly has utterly changed my relationship with work and home, however, there are some downsides to working remotely that are not often discussed. The good news is that none of these are deal-breakers.
I conducted some research on behalf of my employers to try and understand the challenges faced by flexible workers.
Full disclosure: I wanted to demonstrate that remote workers had specific needs around the kit they use and that our company could be the one to supply it.
What I actually found out is that most remote workers don’t have a deep yearning for supplies of A4 paper and high-end biros. Pretty tough news given that my parent company supplies exactly those things.
The biggest insight from the survey is that 51% of respondents identified a need to have colleagues to bounce ideas off.
Human beings are social creatures (most of the time). We need people around us for a variety of functions — validation, shared experience, direction and inspiration.
When we work from home or in a WeWork, there’s a tendency to retreat into an insular work mode. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. The ability to focus on important tasks in a distraction-free environment is a crucial part of my day as I’m sure it is for others.
However, sometimes you just need to be able to turn to the person next to you and connect.
So what can we do to address this challenge? I’ve got a couple of thoughts.
If you’re part of a team — be part of the team!
My colleagues are distributed over several cities and countries. We have weekly status meetings (stand-up meetings if you want to be trendy). Having initially felt weird using video calling I now insist on using a video conferencing platform.
My current favourite is WhereBy.com — it doesn’t require any software (other than a web browser) and it’s free.
Where’s the cake?
One of the often unconsidered benefits of working in an office is the background pulse of cakes, ad-hoc drinks and treats provided by bosses (if you’re lucky).
Home workers can feel left out, and rarely get considered when the end of the month drinks trolley gets pushed around (ok, I admit it, I’ve worked for some good companies!).
I think there are ways of feeling more valued in your remote job.
As a remote worker, you are the monarch of your own personal kingdom. You don’t need permission to reward yourself — and I’m not talking about a doughnut every time you send an email (no judgement). There’s nothing stopping you from finding ways to create a feeling of value in the choices you’ve made to work the way you do.
This is one of the reasons that, having found that remote workers don’t want mouse mats and multipacks of PostIt notes, I created the Anywheres box. I wanted to recognise the fact that remote workers like us need help feeling valued and also deserve to get treats (although sending cake through the post is probably beyond the scope of the idea at the moment).
This project isn’t strictly what my bosses wanted me to do when I started looking at the remote working trend — after all, we’ve yet to send a box with a stapler in it — however, we’re excited by the possibilities this subscription box opens up.
As well as delightful things, we want to create a sense of community — enabled by a combination of tech platforms (WhereBy.com, Slack, Trello etc) and by tapping into the experiences many of our team have from working around the world.
Remote working is the future
The simple fact is, remote working is here to stay. There are so many reasons why it makes sense for businesses, employees, customers and families.
It’s my strongly held belief that the benefits outweigh the negatives — and with the right support from employers plus some practical help from our peers, we can thrive in whatever location we choose to do our jobs.