The Harsh and Heavenly Sides of the Remote Work Argument

Seeking the middle ground in the endless controversy over remote work

See! It’s not all black and white.

In late 2016 Forbes published an article about the positive aspects of working from home. It may have been positive in tone, but the numbers didn’t show that remote work was a runaway success because… Surprise! Not everyone can handle it.

I am one of the largest cheerleaders for remote workforces and just about any work from home situation, but not everyone works well in the same environment. What is one person’s energetic, motivational work environment shoulder-to-shoulder with peers is another person’s distraction-filled nightmare. And when it comes to working remotely, some people thrive on their own and others find it lonely, disheartening and demotivating. That’s why statistics for work from home success are never 100% (or even close) and why some companies completely bail on the idea after experimenting with converting their office-based employees to remote.

Because remote humans are special.

Advantages for Humans

For you, the workforce — aka living, breathing beings— the advantages of working at home include finite control of your work environment, flexibility in scheduling, lower costs for clothing, food and transportation, and being closer to your kids and family. None of these benefits should be taken lightly. People move from job to job seeking just one during their career.

The oft-cited disadvantages include difficulty in communicating with your co-workers, lack of engagement with important company politics that affect promotion and raises, and keeping yourself focused and motivated.

Those who naturally work well without supervision or are motivated to master the skill, should seek out remote positions with the best companies and thrive. Those who look forward to each day in a traditional office environment with all its oversight and rigidity, shouldn’t let wild horses drag them away from it.

Business is business. What’s the dartboard for?

Companies

For businesses, the advantages of a remote workforce are very attractive. Employers can choose from a wider pool of employees, who may demand less compensation than the local workforce, and find that their investment in expensive physical infrastructure is minimal or non-existent. These aspects combine to significantly lower overhead which can, in-turn, make a company’s offerings more price-competitive.

There are fewer disadvantages, but you can’t ignore them. The biggest one is the significant challenge of finding the right employees. True, you have a much wider pool of talent to choose from since your choice is not geographically restricted. But, as I mentioned above, not everyone can work from home. Finding and retaining the best work from home employees is not the same as for office-based employees.

If you start from a complete understanding of how remote teams work effectively then suss out the unique needs for your industry, you can then apply them to all employees, from executives on down, to build a very successful, highly-competitive distributed company.

The Middle Way

In the remote work universe, the most significant pitfalls are as deep as the most fantastic benefits are lofty. Working out the middle ground for yourself or your company is where having the right expertise comes into play.

For companies, this is accomplished by hiring executives and consultants who have years of remote experience under their belt and can help guide your policies and personnel choices along a prosperous path.

For individuals, this means locating resources that teach you how to manage yourself and your home environment to make your remote position a success.

With the right knowledge and experience, mastering only one or two of the remote work advantages can end up greatly outweighing all of the disadvantages combined.