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Remote Work: The Corona Virus Tipping Point

Drew Banks
Mar 13 · 3 min read

Back in the early 90’s I was on the Silicon Valley TelecommutingTask Force. We were a committed bunch of IT nerds and touchy feely types, leading what we thought would be a workplace revolution akin to Casual Fridays. We had babies and dogs and wanted a better solution than nannies and dog walkers. We advocated for work-life balance and fought to Spare the Air.

All the big Silicon Valley companies were represented and some even had telecommuting policies, highly caveated as they were. But the % of telecommuting employees from these companies was nominal and the technologies supporting remote work were pathetic. Over the years, as Mosaic became the Dotcom era became Web 2.0 became the sharing economy, telecommuting became telework became working from home became remote work. Policies shifted gradually, telecommuting %s crept up, and the technology landscape supporting non-collocation exploded.

While I revelled in this evolution I never envisioned the possibility of a fully remote company like the one I work for now: Drops. We have 22 employees living between 12 and 13 countries (one nomad is forever shifting between here and there). We’re scattered all over the world and don’t have an actual home office, which always befuddles journalists when they inevitably ask, Where are you headquartered?

Even though we span multiple time zones spread across 10 hours, we’re insanely efficient due to a slew of technologies, most of which didn’t exist a decade ago: Slack, G-suite, Github, Zoom, Trello, Monday.com, … (email is viewed as woefully old-school and therefore any internal use is ridiculed). Consequently, our carbon footprint is insanely low.

The one high-carbon exception is our quarterly Dropsite — overly cutesy name, we know — where we pick somewhere in the world and all fly there to meet up face to face for a post-mortem on the previous quarter and planning session for the upcoming one. In fact, we’re wrapping up a Dropsite this week, which was supposed to be in Tel Aviv.

Enter COVID-19.

While I am indeed in Tel Aviv, there are only two of us here. Given the circumstances we decided to make the trip optional. Most employees chose not to come. Only six of us decided to risk it, but four hightailed it back home as Israel’s mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions put the fear of י ה ו ה into them. (Btw, the final two of us are Americans. I’m not sure what that says about the American psyche — intrepid or delusional?)

In the midst of this chaos, we decided to forge ahead with the Dropsite. Our company coach facilitating the meeting quickly pivoted and skilled up on Zoom’s breakout rooms feature, which I didn’t even know existed. I was doubtful we could pull it off, but to my surprise it was even more efficient than our usual Dropsites. And we still managed to have a bit of fun thanks to a couple of work-free hang-out sessions and some vigorous Avalon gameplay. Hell, I even had time to write this blogpost.

Though everyone agreed that we don’t want to give up our face-to-face Dropsites, it’s great to know that we can. Especially if COVID-19 is the tipping point of the long-awaited telecommuting revolution.

_____

Postscript: Just caught wind of Trumps’ new European travel ban and changed my flight to head home two days early. Hopefully I’ll be let in. Answer to the above question: delusional.

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