Productivity, Pajamas and Beyond: Is Remote Work Right for You?
So long, strict 9 to 5s and fluorescent-lit cubicles: the new world of work is here, and it’s ushering in a more flexible and human-friendly approach to how — and where — we do our jobs. The rise of remote work is a major part of this cultural shift; as of 2016, 3.7 million American workers are working outside the office walls… and that number is climbing.
In a recent Cisco survey, 6 in 10 college students and young professionals said they expect their employer to offer a telecommuting option — and increasingly, they’re getting what they want. (After all, it can be a big win for the company, too: each offsite employee saves a typical business around $11,000 per year.) Once reserved for a select few, remote work is rapidly becoming a standard practice — especially within the digital marketing and design space.
Offsite work has proved to be a great fit for many of the professionals who make up the Filter community — myself included! For the right person and the right role, working from home can increase productivity while creating a more integrated relationship between work life and life-life.
But every remote worker I know will tell you that leaving the office behind comes with its own drawbacks and responsibilities — and it definitely isn’t the right choice for everyone. Before jumping into an at-home role, it’s crucial to think hard about the different ways this change would affect your job performance and your wellbeing.
To give you the inside scoop on offsite work, I teamed up with two of our talented Filterati: designer Erica Cruz, who is remote part-time, and copywriter Tess Jones, who works entirely from home. These two have learned from the highs, the lows, and the surprises of working remotely — and here’s what they think you should know before setting up your home office.
1. Remote work can boost focus and productivity.
Multiple studies indicate that being away from the distractions of the office allows workers get more done, faster. In one study, offsite employees completed 13.5% more tasks per day than their in-office coworkers, accomplishing an entire extra day’s worth of work per week — all while reporting higher levels of job satisfaction. I’m personally much more productive at home than I am in the office, as are many of our professional freelancers.
Tess’s story is a perfect example; she’d found it difficult to concentrate at her previous onsite job, often working with headphones on to drown out the office chatter. After doing a combination of on- and offsite work for ten years, she’s recently made the switch to working from home full-time. The primary reason? “Writing or editing really lends itself to working alone, because you can’t listen or talk while you’re performing those tasks,” she says. “Working remotely, I avoid the interruptions that used to curtail how much work I could get done in a day.”
Working at home enhances Tess’s creative flow as well: “Sometimes when I hit a creative block, it’s great to have the freedom to step outside for a bit; oftentimes just giving my mind the chance to relax allows more ideas to surface.”
2. A greater sense of freedom — and more time for what you love.
This is probably the most common reason people seek out (and often fall in love with) offsite work; according to a Microsoft study, 60% of remote employees say having more control over their schedules and location is the most important benefit of working outside the office. Increased flexibility can make telecommuting an ideal solution for parents of young children, avid travelers, artists, and others whose lifestyles don’t fit neatly into the traditional 9 to 5.
Working remotely makes it easier for Erica to visit loved ones who live far away. She explains: “Working remotely is an amazing option for me in that I know that if an emergency occurs, I can travel to be with my family and friends without interrupting my work.”
Plus, all three of us are happy to ditch the daily commute! Without it, I’m able to do more with my mornings and evenings — and I usually still log on earlier then I would working onsite. Last but not least, for dog parents like me and Erica, it’s awesome to able to work with our trusty companions beside us.
3. Potential benefits for health and wellbeing.
Offsite work can simply make people feel better inside and out. Able to prepare healthy meals in their own kitchens, for example, 73% of workers say they eat healthier when working from home. (On the flipside, working remotely also means that I can eat ice cream at 10:00 a.m. without anyone judging me… but at least I’m also more likely to get a workout in during my breaks.)
At the same time, working from home may encourage workers to take better care of themselves when they’re under the weather. “I don’t have any guilt associated with being away from the office,” Erica says. “If I’ve been sick, I don’t have to call in and miss an entire day of work; I can just work in my pajamas, in bed!”
1. You’ll spend a lot of time alone.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to spend all day with my dog — but if I need to talk through an idea, she isn’t the best sounding board. Though there are more and more ways to connect with my colleagues online, I sometimes miss the vital interactions that only happen in person.
Many remote workers struggle with feelings of isolation; in a recent global study, 37% reported feeling lonely, and 65% said they miss interacting with coworkers. Plus, Tess notes, working in a group setting can provide extra motivation to stay on task. That’s why she sometimes opts to work at a coffee shop, where she can be around other people without losing her focus.
2. Collaboration can be more difficult.
Offsite workers can’t simply walk over to a coworker’s desk to exchange ideas or ask a quick question — and that means collaborative work can require more time and effort. “Although it’s rare, sometimes you really need to see someone in person to talk something through,” says Tess. “That’s when relying solely on email can get a bit tedious.”
This challenge is part of what drove Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s controversial decision to end the company’s longstanding work-from-home option last year. “People are more productive when they’re alone,” she said, “but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” While I feel for the Yahoo employees who had enjoyed telecommuting, I do think there’s an element of truth to Mayer’s statement.
For Erica, open and ongoing communication is the key to solving the teamwork issue. “My team lead and I are in touch often and he knows what I’m working on; he knows whether I’m in the office or offsite, and whether I’m slammed or have availability.” She also makes sure to meet up with the team lead about once a month to catch up face-to-face.
3. Some people and roles just don’t fit remote work.
It takes a thorough and honest self-evaluation to determine whether your strengths (and your weaknesses) lend themselves well to offsite work. Sweatpants aside, working from home isn’t a pass to take it easy: in fact, the level of autonomy it requires in some ways makes it harder than being in a more structured environment.
It’s not just a matter of personal aptitude, though; some positions are just more conducive to offsite work than others. Writers, designers and developers, for instance, are often successful when working from home, where they can really put their heads down and get in the zone. On the other hand, people like Creative Directors and Project Managers might have a more difficult time with offsite work. In a role that involves directing and managing a project with multiple contributors, it’s typically less effective to work apart from the rest of the team.
As excited as Erica, Tess and I are about this growing trend, none of us see remote work as a universal solution. The effectiveness of this model depends entirely on the individual person, role, company, and implementation — and some challenges will always arise, even in the best of circumstances. However, when these different factors align, working offsite can be a powerful part of achieving what we at Filter call Job Fitness: the happiness, motivation and success we experience when our work matches who we are and the lives we want to live.