Remote work – some thoughts

Earlier this week I saw “The Rise and Fall of Working at Home” listed in the “What people are talking about” section on the LinkedIn home page. I’ve been a remote worker for the last 10 years or so in several different positions, so I clicked through to see what people were saying.

A cursory glance gave the impression that most of the links in the #RemoteWorkers thread were about the impending fall of remote work (which is, by the way, significantly different than “working at home”), but there were some links with successes.

I have personally had great success as a remote worker. Even though I don’t physically see or interact with my team or my customers very often (almost never), the evolution of social collaboration tools over the past 10 years has made it easier than ever to connect and execute projects at a distance.

Among the many examples I could give, here’s one from this past spring. I spoke at JiveWorld17 with one of our users telling the story of how we developed a Community of Practice for a global legal practice. Jim and I had worked together off and on for nearly five years on this and other projects, and of course collaborated on crafting the talk and the slides. The kicker: Jim and I met face to face for the first time the night before the talk, after we had both arrived in Vegas.

It’s not always easy, though, when I am the only person on the team working fully remote, and the rest all come together at “the office”. Definitely requires adjustments on both sides of the “line”, and I find that I have to make a deliberate effort to stay in the know. Which isn’t all bad, because it makes me pay attention like I might not otherwise if I were always at the office. But it would be nice if everyone worked as if they were remote.

In fact, I’ve tried making exactly that case on occasion in the different positions I’ve had as a remote worker. Partly because it would make it easier for me to keep up with what is going on, but just as much because I think that the team as a whole would benefit from the transparency and the records of conversations. Here’s a quote from an article in the Wall Street Journal, Why Remote Work Can’t Be Stopped, that captures this perfectly:

The online communication required allows for radical transparency, since anyone in the company can search across all internal communications. “Most of the meetings were held behind closed doors at other places I worked at,” Julia Amosova of Automattic says. “I didn’t have the same feeling of unit and inclusion.”

Which raises one of the key challenges to successful remote work in organizations: culture. It’s easy (in this context) for individuals and the organization to be successful if everyone is a remote worker. Take, for example, Automattic and Basecamp.

On the other hand, the collection of “fall of remote work” stories are full of stories about organizations who have failed remote work programs, or who are pulling everyone back to corporate, because even though they say they support remote work, the culture is obviously hostile to the whole idea. For a whole host of reasons.

If you are interested in remote work, either as an individual or on behalf of your organization, I encourage you to read through the #RemoteWorkers thread.

Edit: As I was finishing up this article, putting some final touches on it, I saw an update come through my feeds from Jim McGee, with a link to his latest blog post, Free and Cheap Technology is Killing Organizational Effectiveness. It occurred to me as I read the post that part, a big part probably, of my success as a remote worker comes from a) my experience working on teams in many capacities before I started working remotely and b) a level of mastery with not just the tools of my trade but as importantly the tools that enable me to work remotely.

Now that I think of it, there was an article in the #RemoteWorkers thread about new members of the workforce preferring to work at the office so they can benefit and learn from the proximity of more experienced workers.

Something to explore in a future article.

Photo credit: Todd Miller

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