If I closed my eyes, I could picture myself sitting in my cubicle alongside my colleagues. With all the technologies and communication resources at my fingertips, although half-way across the country, I could be constantly connected. As technologies continue to advance, working remotely has become more common or even most practical for some people. The ability to access all the necessary work activities from the comfort of your home is appealing to many. However, before you pack up your office and request to work remotely, consider what I experienced to be the pros and cons.
I recently graduated college, and saw this transition time in my life as an opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine: to live in a mountain town and ski for the winter. While it would have been nice to drop all previous commitments while living my dream, I felt obligated to continue my work part-time, and devoted myself to doing so remotely.
Positive aspects of working remotely
- Personal Needs: Working remotely allowed me to work and ski, a privilege that would not have been available just a decade ago. Having my iphone, laptop, email, VPN access, and Skype with me in the mountains, I had the ability to be completely disconnected and connected at the same time. In one instance; I was on a chairlift listening to music through my Bluetooth headset when an important work-related call came in. I was able to respond to the situation right then and there. I didn’t mind the interruption, because I realized that in circumstances where the progression of someone else’s work depends on you, it is vital to be accessible.
- Fewer Distractions: While I enjoy the energy and camaraderie in an office setting, working remotely can be less distracting. There are no arbitrary interactions that get you off topic or noises from across the building that block your train of thought. You can begin an assignment without worrying about any interference other than your personal attention span.
- No Commute: Some people, including myself, have a long commute to the office. I drive nearly an hour each way to and from work. That is roughly 480 hours or 20 days in a year, given I work 5 days a week. While this time can be great for loud singing, personal reflection, and thinking, there are much more productive things I could be doing in the office or at home. In addition, there’s the environmental impact of long commutes and the money spent with escalating gas prices.
- Flexible Work Schedule: What I found to be the most beneficial aspect of working remotely was the flexible work schedule. I was no longer confined to the traditional 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. business hours, and could now work when it was convenient. This meant that I could be out skiing during the day, and still able to complete my work at night. These are the positive aspects that I directly experienced. But I can imagine there are countless more reasons to work or hire remotely.
The negative aspect of working remotely
- Company Culture: Justin Moore, who has been called the “Silicon Valley Culture Doctor,” views culture as a critical element to creating an organization with highly talented and productive people. When you are working remotely, you are missing out on all the company events, informal meetings, social interactions, brainstorming sessions, collaboration, and energy that drive company culture.
- Feeling Out of the Loop: In the fast-paced working environment of a startup, changes in the company’s product, culture, employees, and business occur on a regular basis. If you’re not regularly present in the office, it is difficult to fully understand all the changes that have occurred in your absence. When I returned to Axcient after working remotely, there were a dozen new faces added to the team. Although I had already been an employee for nearly eight months, I felt as if I was a new addition to the team.
- Building Lasting Relationships: At Axcient I have learned how important it is to build lasting relationships with your co-workers. It is through these connections that you will gain the work-related recommendations, networking, and knowledge to advance your career. There are many people at startups who have worked with one-another in a different organization, and were hired because their specialties and talent were known first-hand by a trusted employee. Also, getting to know your colleagues on a friendship level simply makes work more enjoyable.
- Motivation: Once I step through the front doors of the office building, I find myself motivated and ready to work. There is something about seeing your colleagues hard at work that drives you to do the same. Also, the office has all the resources, tools, and supplies needed to make it as easy as possible to get your responsibilities done. When I was working remotely, I found it would take me longer and it was more difficult to get started on a project or assignment.
Knowing that my team was already overwhelmed with their current work load, I made an effort to minimize the chance that someone would have to work harder as a result of not being able to contact me. When I was working, I made myself available through as many forms of communication as possible; phone, text, email, Skype, and all social media outlets. I appreciated updates from my team members, and was liberal with the amount of updates I provided.
How Companies Will Change
The advancements in technology have opened many doors for a flexible working schedule and environment, and these resources are only getting better. There is no question that more and more people are moving towards a remote working environment. Hewlett Packard has 40% of its employees working remotely, and Plantronics has created a “Smarter Working” platform for easier out-of-office communications. Although working remotely has become common for larger companies, small businesses have been slower to adapt. I think at the startup and early stages of a company, it is too soon to hire and or work entirely remotely since the energy and collaboration of the office environment is important to support fast pace. If you have the option to consider working remotely, I would recommend a hybrid approach, where you spend at least half the time in the office. This could offer you the best of both worlds.