My mother worked a standard 8 to 5 job for years, and I hardly saw her. Surprisingly, as she excelled in her career, I had the opportunity to witness her transition from crazy mornings, with rushed schedules and bumper-to-bumper traffic, to having relaxed mornings and a commute as short as the hallway. Obviously, this was back when “working from home” was very exclusive and even frowned upon from employers. Well before remote work was a common practice.
One of the craziest things though was that her schedule was just as demanding, and although her workload actually increased, she was able to manage both her professional life and her personal life better than before. The difference was astronomical. After witnessing the drastic change, I knew I wanted a similar work environment.
As someone who grew up in the early days of the tech and internet boom, I got to be a part of the early companies who transitioned into remote teams. Having the ability to work remotely started to become more common practice and now, many companies encourage it.
Technology has made it possible for employees to work from home (WFH) often and for some companies to even be 100% remote. Tech also changed the perception of remote work, as well as common working locations and the notion of traditional hours. Most importantly, modern companies feel that employees don’t have to gather in the same location in order for them to do their job well.
Types of Remote Workers
Remote workers are not the same as freelancers, though they share similarities. Additionally, an employee who works from home now and then is not the same as a person who works remotely full-time. Each type of employee has their own office setups, expectations, requirements, and schedules.
In-Office Team with Flexibility
Today, many companies have office space in a central location but allow employees to work from home on occasion, such as:
- An employee has a medical or personal event scheduled, like a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with their child’s teacher. In these cases, working from home is an alternative to taking a sick or personal day, and the company won’t be quite as short-handed for the day.
- The employee has recurring work from home days because they’re better able to focus on certain projects from the peace and quiet of their house.
- There’s an early meeting to attend and the employee has a long commute to the office.
Since these situations call for only infrequent work from home days, the employee’s home office isn’t optimized for full-time work. They may be missing any of the following:
- Dedicated office or workspace
- Reliable, fast Internet
- Necessary equipment, like a printer or scanner
- Office supplies and work-related software
- Childcare or pet care
These employees deviate from the normal routine once in a while and make do with what they have. However, their home isn’t necessarily ready for full-time productivity and success. Here are two more issues that may arise:
- The work from home employees may miss out on important conversations and decisions by being away from normal, daily work conversation.
- For in-office employees, the workday gets interrupted if it takes a while to prep and test the tech needed so the work from home employee can attend a meeting.
Employers who’d like to allow employees to work from home on occasion should carefully choose the days when this is most convenient for the entire team. Company-wide guidelines can clarify when an employee can take a work from home day. For example, maybe WFH days are only approved if there aren’t scheduled meetings, other WFH employees or an excessive number of work from home days that month.
100% Remote Team
On the other end of the spectrum is the fully-remote team. This means that there’s no central office and that every person who’s part of the company works remotely. Here are some ways that remote teams are positioned for success:
- Remote workers need a dedicated workspace that’s closed off from the rest of the house. They don’t work on outside projects during the workday or act as the primary caregiver for a relative or child. Typically, remote workers aren’t watching movies, cleaning their kitchen or going out for a run in the middle of their workday. They’re in their workspace, just like they would be in an office.
- There are clear standards for when the employee will start and stop working, when and how they’ll be available, and when they’re not expected to work. Remote workers have to avoid burnout just like freelancers because there’s a temptation to always be working when it’s so accessible.
- Communication is primarily digital. Team members can communicate one-on-one, in groups made up of specific people or in open chat channels. At Spade Design, we use Slack and Zoom for that.
- During meetings, every person participates via video. There aren’t just one or two people seen and heard in the meeting – everyone is present and represented. Holding meetings via video instead of over the phone allows for body language, too, and people don’t talk over one another as much.
- Those who are not available for a day get up-to-speed when they’re back, and they’re still involved in decision making. They can read the chats they missed or watch a replay of a recorded meeting.
- Employees have regular check-ins with supervisors to go over performance, deadlines, and expectations.
Figuring out if remote employees are right for your company will take time. You have to decide how many WFH days to allow when starting out, who can request them and how many people can work remotely at once. You may find that some employees are less productive on WFH days while others are more productive. You’ll then have to decide how to tell some employees they can’t work remotely any longer.
For many employees, working remotely is more convenient and comfortable than heading to an office every day. That improvement in their quality of life translates to better work. For companies, having a distributed workforce opens up the door to more candidates regardless of where they live. Today’s job seekers are actively looking for WFH jobs, so smart companies will consider creating remote opportunities.