In recent years, IBM, Yahoo, and other companies have changed their policies on remote work, asking people who previously worked in home offices to transfer to larger, centralized offices. One of the stated reasons they did this is that they felt that people work better face to face. While it’s true that the best work is often done face to face, once rapport is built the opposite is also true. Remote working is an untapped superpower that many more companies need to use.
For the last few years, I have worked remotely for teams in other cities. My colleagues mostly know me through interactions on a screen. I’m that face in a box on a video conference, that guy in a different time zone on Slack who sends funny animated gifs, or the person they see every few months in person.
Every day, I am responsible for making sure that I create an excellent work environment. I have a dedicated office, a standing desk and a schedule. At 7am (the team is on the east coast), it’s time to have the first cup of coffee and start working. On the worst days, it feels like no one is listening. On the best days, it is an amazing and instant connection to anyone, anywhere in the world. I’ve gotten much better at directing and communicating my results and in working solo in a way that produces great results. And at desk dancing. Well, maybe not at desk dancing.
Even though I am not physically present, I feel intensely connected to my teams. Seeing faces and interacting though video isn’t the same as being there, but it does feel like the world we live in today. We carry around supercomputers in our pockets, can make instant video calls around the world, and yet many of us worry about being in physical proximity more than finding the best people anywhere in the world. The best people in the world can work anywhere with anyone, and have the advantage of no commute.
Working remote is not for everyone, but if you love it, you really love it. I enjoy the opportunity to split my day and schedule in the way that’s most productive (depending on maker/manager tasks) and I generally end up working more hours a week than when I have worked in offices. I also work more deeply on problems and am more productive than similar work in an office. If I need to take a coffee break or a lunch break, I take a quiet walk in a dense forest.
Working remote is not for every team. Teams might say: “this won’t work for us.” Having remote team members is an intentional decision to exit the bubble most offices live in all of the time. When you focus on communicating well with that remote team member, it has an unexpected benefit: your communication improves with the entire team. That’s right, even the team . members who already interact with each other every day. I strongly believe the benefits of a partially or fully remote team outweigh the disadvantages, especially when you consider the value of a team member who is available at different times during the day.
So what’s the downside of being a remote worker? For some conversations, I am at a distinct disadvantage. For most of our interactions, we will never have hallway conversations, rarely go out for coffee, and miss the kind of small talk you get when you are in an office. This makes me try harder to interact with team members and ask them how they are doing and how I can help.
There are unique benefits to working remotely. I rarely have to commute and can instantly arrive on-time at any meeting in any room of the company. I have informal and formal conversations with many people in all parts of the companies. I’m used to being on camera and that has put me more at ease with partners, prospects, and presentations.
Being remote has given me unexpected superpowers due to these constraints. The lack of commute has given me extra time — when I tell people that in the past my 20 mile commute to and from Seattle has taken 3 hours a day routinely, they are surprised. When they realize that adding three hours to their day could give them 15–30% more productivity compounded every day, they take notice.
Do you work remotely? I’d love to learn more about your remote superpower.