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3 Reasons Why Remote Work Sucks

And why it’s solving the wrong problem

In a recent session with my business mentor, one of the first questions he asked me was how my products and pricing are structured. My answer sounded flaky, and I hated how it made me feel.

“Well, it depends. It depends on where the customer is physically, what the problem is, what they need.” I answered.

“It’s complicated.” I continued, feeling a need to justify my reponse. “I want it to be accessible to everyone, not excluding someone because the pricing is not affordable or accessible from their country. One of my goals is to make my services accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical location, with a future goal to package it into an online module so I need the feedback from everywhere and everyone.”

As I said these words, I felt a split inside me. And it hurt. Part wanting to get away from the rigid constraints, senseless rules and control that comes with an office environment - the ownership of my life in exchange for money which I so despise. Part of me yearning for the social connection of like-minded people coming together in the same location where you don’t have to guess whether someone is not responding because they’re not there, or because they simply aren’t interested in your message.

It felt like being a toddler with two hands already full of candy and being offered more. A sticky problem for a two-year old!

Remote work has many benefits. This post doesn’t focus on these, but rather on the reasons why it shouldn’t ever be the one and only answer to your work life. I don’t think it’s a healthy lifestyle choice for extended periods of time. For teams that are struggling or dysfunctional, it will most probably worsen your problems. I’ve firsthand experienced how a team that could be co-located opted to connect remotely to avoid much needed conflict which in turn made the problems even bigger.

So here’s why remote work should be a blended approach, not a default option according to me:

1. Slack is unnecessary noise that distracts rather than helps

If you’re working remotely, chances are you’re using Slack. Because everybody does. But even if you don’t, the other chat tools are exactly the same.

My personal opinion after working with it? I hate it. I hate it with so much passion that I refuse to use it.

“Why so passionate?” You might ask.

Because in dysfunctional teams it’s used as a cover to look busy. It’s easy to say you missed a message when in actual fact you didn’t want to hear the message but didn’t have the guts to say no. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re busy when you’re busy typing the whole day in conversations with team members, yet, at the end of the day, have taken no action. All that happened is that you’ve added onto the already unmanageable to-do list with the conversations that you believe is improving relationships. It’s not improving anything.

Action by far exceeds talking.

For dysfunctional teams, I would say it is a definite no-no to use a tool for what should be communicated face-to-face.

But even for functional teams, I felt drained after a day with Slack compared to a day without it. My productivity went down and I could only effectively complete small, mindless tasks. Anything requiring creative thinking or problem solving and prolonged attention became ineffective and unproductive.

Even without any notifications set, it felt as if you have to check in every few minutes or hours to be ‘seen’ or ‘hear’ if there’s any new messages that impacts me or which I need to respond to. With an email I have confidence that I only have to check it a few times a day and that everything will get done. I have time to think about my response carefully before hitting the send button.

With Slack, however, it’s like a rotating conveyor belt that only ever comes past once.

Once you miss a conversation the effort in trying to catch up is just too high, with trying to find an old message a feat that takes more energy than what it is worth in most cases.

Where in the office when you find a conversation not interesting or relevant, you walk away. With Slack, you’re subtly forced to be included in all the conversations, all the time.

2. Video calls add unnecessary restrictions and constraints

When I use Skype, or Zoom, or Appear.in or any other tool to connect remotely with people, I become aware of the issues it adds to a meeting.

For one-on-one meetings or getting to know someone, it’s great. Mostly.

For groups, or creative thinking sessions or problem solving, I’m yet to find a tool that improves the results of the conversation. The best way I can explain it is that it makes me feel boxed in. Literally, where I have the entire room and my whole body available in an office, now I’m restricted to my face and have to be careful when using my hands for extra feedback to make sure it’s in the picture, not too distracting, etc.

With groups, sound or video quality is also often a problem; getting everyone to speak is much harder; and getting everyone in the same screen at the same time can be an annoying challenge.

In an office environment, the most valuable conversations happen unscheduled. I have a problem so I walk to a colleague. We discuss it, realize we need input from someone else and quickly walk over to grab them and get their input. Problem solved.

With a video call, it has to be scheduled in advance and much of the momentum of thought is lost in the shift of focus from the problem to the administration of scheduling a meeting with different attendees.

Sure, you can quickly ask a colleague to join a video call on demand, and sure, you can add someone else, but in reality, it is far more difficult than in real life. The technology doesn’t support these ad-hoc conversations and you first have to send over a link or create a new room to continue the conversation.

The train of thought gets derailed when using technology for ad-hoc communication.

3. Visual thinking is impeded in a virtual environment

Video calls were designed to improve audio calls. It added a face to a voice on the other side of a telephone line, greatly improving telecommunication.

As such, it is designed around audio input and as a visual thinker who has my best successes to improve communication or work out problems in front of a white board, I feel disabled when asked to facilitate in a virtual environment.

It’s possible, but it reduces the learning and the experience with so much that I feel it’s not worth it. Preparing for a virtual group session takes much more time, with having to find the right tools for the purpose of the session as no single electronic white board available is able to cater for collaborative brainstorming and more static sessions. It’s either the one or the other, and I haven’t found a board which allows me to as quickly adapt my plan according to the needs.

Drawing a new understanding, model or game on an electronic whiteboard is much more time consuming and because people are remote, this is a much bigger impediment in keeping engagement high than what it would have been in a physical environment.

But above all, and the primary reason why I don’t believe in electronic white boards, is that no virtual environment supports kinesthetic learning, or learning by movement. The reason why agile took off in the first place was because people no longer had to sit still in a chair and talk to a manager, but were able to get up and demonstrate their thinking rather than verbally be put on a spot.

An electronic sticky-note or whiteboard doesn’t have a fraction of the power of a real one, simply for the reason that it removes the magic ingredients, namely movement and touch.

Conclusion

Remote working is the wrong answer to the problem it’s trying to solve. The real problem is that people are trying to get away from the control and management and rules impeded on them. They just want to have fun. They just want to build something real. They don’t want to spend more time giving status reports than actual work.

The real problem is that people are trying to get away from the controlling leadership style. Working remotely doesn’t solve that.

The solution is not to walk away and hide behind a screen, but an increased need for leadership development and autonomy in the workplace. For more about my thoughts on the leadership of tomorrow, read my post on the next paradigm of leadership.

If you’re interested in my work, please visit my website and drop me a line. I would love to connect.

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Kate Dames

Kate Dames

334 Followers

A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun. www.funficient.com