Betting on a Remote World

For those of you who worked 20 years ago, how easy was telecommuting?

How much easier did it get 10 years ago? 5 years ago?

What will it look like in another 5 or 10 years?

While one can argue the exact impacts and changes, it’s hard to argue against the fact that more work will become remote.

Slack, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Asana, Trello, Google Docs — the list goes on and on. It has never been this easy for teams to work remotely, asynchronously. Internet speeds have never been faster.

I’m not the only one who believes in the future of work being remote. 
Laura Vandercam of Fast Company writes:

Remote work seems to be the wave of the future. A recent survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34% said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. A full 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020, which is not some far off, futuristic era. It’s six years from now.

Let’s break that down: 
34% of leaders at some conference (read: dudes and dudettes in suits) said more than half of their company’s full-time workforce will be working remotely by 2020.

We’ve got people in suits saying this! People who go to something called a Global Leadership Summit! In London of all places!

I digress.

I don’t wear a suit much, so I’ve got some credibility here: I think those numbers are an understatement. I think the majority of the world will work remotely within 5 years. I’ve been living the remote work-life for the majority of my career and have started two companies that are betting on a remote future.

A remote world is more efficient for companies and more flexible for workers. Companies can hire from anywhere and workers can work from anywhere in the world. Sounds nice, right?

Let’s make it sound even nicer.

From the company’s perspective: 
* A great engineer earns more than $150K per year in the San Francisco or NYC + benefits. To an employer, the cost is about $200K per year.
* Abroad (at least in Eastern Europe, Latin America, India), an engineer of similar technical quality will cost no more than $40 per hour. To an employer, the cost is about $80k per year (neat trick: just double the hourly).
That’s a 60% savings for going abroad.

And it’s a lot more likely for an engineer to pull $200K/year in the US than it is to pull $80K (40/hr) in (most of) the rest of the world..

Sure, there are arguments of patriotism, language barriers, cultural barriers, and of course: the paranoid desire to want to tap your minion on the shoulder — but speaking from experience: those arguments are moot at the $40/hr level (hired directly). You will hire phenomenal, hungry, capable, elite talent (at least double through a shop. Don’t be lazy if you can’t afford a shop) and you’ll keep them quite happy at those rates, especially if you treat them with the same exact respect that you would treat local talent with.

Oh yeah — and you just increased your potential hiring pool 1000x+ (there are a lot more people outside of your city commute radius!).

From the worker’s perspective:

Life is short. Doesn’t commuting suck? Doesn’t being at work when you don’t have to be suck? Doesn’t it make you feel miserable when you have to choose pleasing your boss and dressing up with a stupid tie when that has no impact on actually bettering your work?

If you’re a Knowledge Worker (most people reading this today… even more reading this in 5 years), most of your job today can be already be done remotely.

Your internet is going to get faster, Slack is going to get better, and tools we can’t even imagine today will make remote work even more pleasant. Will it really make sense for you to schlep on that suit and tie and spend 1.5 hours getting to the office because someone did the same thing 50 years ago and that’s the way it’s gotta be?

That said, there are a some common criticisms:
(1) I need to be able to tap someone on the shoulder
(2) Nothing replaces face to face or a handshake
(3) I need to be around people to work
(4) I can’t trust someone abroad

re (1): Do you really need to tap them? Is it a good time for you to tap them? Is it going to disrupt them or help them? Going remote doesn’t mean you can’t tap them — call or message them. Remote or not, think before your tap — you may be disrupting the other person if this concern came to mind before I said anything.

re (2): Ok, then fly somewhere nice together and shake all the hands you want and stare at each others faces. That doesn’t mean you have to do it every day. A Caribbean getaway will cost you about as much as office rent for a month.

re (3): This one can really affect people. People are social creatures. Try coffee shops or setting up hangout time at coffee shops with other remote workers. If all else fails, make enough money to pay for some co-working space (400–500$/month in the US) and use it when you need to.

re (4): It’s 2016. Get over it. Pay a lawyer a fee that will be a tiny fraction of the talent cost difference.

The Future of Work will be remote

We live in a beautiful, connected world — ripe for working more efficiently, for working together as one towards common efficiencies.

Cellular data speeds will only get faster and wifi will become more abundant. Your glasses or contacts will make you believe you’re shaking hands with a coworker within a decade.

As more jobs go remote, pay discrepancies based on location will disappear Language, technical, and self-management skill level discrepancies will remain.

More and more of YOUR job will be doable remotely. It won’t be scary. It will be efficient. We, humans, know how to adapt — and given current technology and connectivity infrastructure: we’re well overdue for adapting to a world of remote work. Let’s enjoy the ride.

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