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I’ve worked remotely for 9/10 years of which the first 6/7 as a employee and now for 3 years as a freelance (at the time of writing – 2016).
My remote work career began in a web agency where I worked for more than 12 years, in Italy. Working hours had always been flexible but at the beginning I always worked in the agency. So after more or less five years I took courage and I asked my manager if it was possible for me to try to manage 1/2 days a week by myself. I must say that I did not even have to insist too much, however, there was already a good mutual trust built over time. From there I began a journey that gradually brought me to full months out of the office.
For various reasons three years ago I decided to quit my permanent job and to try the freelance way.
Today even more I carry on this idea working 100% or nearly in this mode.
It’s more than 16 years now (at the time of writing – 2016) that I’m a web developer, in this digital area that by itself is apt for such a remote working scenario. I cannot speak on a direct experience for other areas, but it just takes to apply and adapt tools and ideas to the context.
When I started I had no one with whom sharing it, and so I often was a little confused. Now thanks to the spread of the topic and various groups and forums about it I can find more or less common experiences which to confront with.
This gives me the opportunity to complete this article with all that I have learned from this comparison.
I start anyway from what I have learned from my own experience first of all, which as mentioned is quite consistent, on remote working and what I think is the added value of this methodology.
Various types and interpretations of remote working
What turns out from a broader overview is a truly heterogeneous scenario. There are various “levels” of remote working, from those who just work from home but are available during office hours, to those who travel constantly, working from wherever they have the opportunity in diverse hours, and time zones, with all possible different shades in between.
What I try to do here is dealing with the remote working aspects in general besides what could be the rest (traveling the world, or working always from home).
From my experience I find that the most interesting and rich of opportunities is the one that frees you from both, the place and the working hours.
Regarding the listed issues
Every point listed here is strongly linked with the others, it may be consequent or strengthen one aspect. In this case, as in every case where something is moving in a honest and positive direction, it creates its structure itself, triggering a kind of virtuous circle.
For the same reason they cannot even be put in a real order.
Similarly I find that there is almost never a real distinction between who benefits more of the various aspects, if the employee or the company. I think that, in the end, what gives value to one, does create a benefit for each other.
Limiting or canceling the working commute
I would say this aspect is the most immediate that comes to mind.
Even if we limit the question to it, the positive aspects are many:
- less time lost, therefore more availability;
- cost savings;
- less stress;
- positive impact on the environment;
- chance to live in a better place.
The cost savings clearly derive from not needing to have and use your own transportation means, but also by other factors such as being able to choose your place to live in less expensive places (eg. you can work for a company that is based in a big city living elsewhere).
Limiting or canceling fixed working hours
This aspect also leads, where it can be applied of course, to innumerable benefits. I could fill several pages on this aspect only, since it revolutionizes the work and lives of those who are involved in some way.
Just to mention some benefits:
- ability to manage time;
- ability to have more time;
- less needs of time off to accomplish personal issues;
- more responsibility;
- moving importance on tasks, rather than hours;
- more organization;
- lack of supervision needs;
- real productivity monitoring;
Wishing to give an order to these points, we could say this one as the previous point are a bit ‘the fathers’ of all subsequent points.
Better quality of life
I think the economic aspect is just very interesting in itself, but thankfully, as evidenced by the rest that goes with it, there’s even more in terms of quality of life.
More time can mean many things, such as more time for family, leisure, education etc. but whatever you can think about it, it is something universally positive I guess.
Similarly, this leads to less stress, avoiding to deal with traffic, and also being able to work in a familiar environment with all that it entails, as well as being able to live in the healthiest places and however you prefer for various other reasons.
In short, as I wrote in the introduction, here already seems clear that the mere fact of not being bound to a workplace, frees a number of opportunities to improve life.
If we also talk about disengaging from fixed working hours, I would say that positive aspects can only increase.
The worker is more involved in his/her work, both in terms of organization and feeling the activity that he/she does every day as his/her own, therefore less abstract or alienated from himself/herself. Also he/she has another reason to be productive, that is the need to maintain this positive state of affairs.
Add to this all that was listed above and the fact that you are more relaxed and happier.
More time also means more time for education
Which is linked to multiple aspects: the commute time saved, motivation, and also the increase of companies’ economic resources that come from less infrastructure costs.
Wellness, motivation, better life and everything else can only lead of course to greater productivity. This seems to slowly be acknowledged in more places and work environments also outside the new american digital environments.
There is another very important aspect that I have noticed in recent years having a major impact on productivity, which is the ability to diversify the daily routine. It has an impact not just on the quality of life but also on the quality of the working hours.
The concentration of a person should be renewed very often, I believe, and in any case it is unthinkable that a person can be focused for 8 consecutive hours or so. The result of this is that when someone is working .. or better saying is for 8 consecutive hours in a work place, he is not producing for 8 hours but much less. I think this is undeniable. And it is not just the coffee break that saves the day.
When working in hours blocks, or at least in a way as a person is more productive, spacing out with other activities, in the worked hours the concentration is always at the maximum, in those hours you become a “war machine”.
Varied day means more power to troubleshooting
This could also be a consequence of the previous one, but I think it is worth to emphasize.
When in the course of the day you pass from your work short block to another activity, actually you do not stop working at all, but your mind often continues to process what it was working on before, but without your fury. It follows that a lot of time that you would have spent mentally stuck on something has moved to something else, and that helps you to find the solution you were looking for.
I can claim to have solved more work problems walking out with my dog or cooking pasta that standing in front of the mac overthinking.
We always talk about problem solving, well, this is a great way to trigger it.
Better organization for projects and companies
I would say that one of the biggest problems at work, is the organization of projects and sometimes of the companies as a whole. A methodology totally released from places and times like the one proposed, forces a real and effective organization change and leads to a global optimization. It forces to track all tasks to be performed and to create a real project and team organization. All this gives the opportunity to constantly have a good overview of the projects and even of individual tasks, any time. This is especially true for companies fully distributed which also work on different time zones (a very interesting example that I recently met is Automattic, the company behind wordpress.com).
Moving the organizational and responsibility load on the worker
This new organization leads the worker to manage his/her time and activities in addition to having to communicate effectively. You can use various tools in order to create todo lists, reports etc.
This on the one hand relieves the project manager and the employer from doing micromanagement and supervision, on the other hand it makes the employee more responsible for himself/herself and for his/her tasks. Then having always everything written down (processes, advances, problems, etc.) means having a better overall organization.
Obviously this can only be done by a good professional, but the issue of working with people you can trust should go beyond the fact that the work is remote or “traditional.”
Work flow and productivity become really monitorable
This is true for a genuine organization. What working remote/distributed management does, it’s to highlight the real need for good organization.
Once this is accomplished and everything is traceable, productivity and processes become more easily monitored and everything remains available also for estimation of future projects for example.
Good impact on teamwork
As a consequence, this good organization leads to clarify everything with good effects on teamwork.
Besides the fact that for jobs that require constant concentration it reduces interruptions and distractions. In my experience however, also when I worked in the agency with colleagues during development, we often preferred asynchronously written communication (skype, email etc.) just because we were all aware that interrupting a colleague maybe engaged in solving something could be a waste of time for both. For the same reason I often isolated myself from the surroundings with music on headphones in order to avoid distractions that would make impossible the resolution of a task.
Also, if a new member has to enter into a running project or take over someone else the process will be made more streamlined by having everything already defined and written.
Obviously on the human side there might be some shortcomings, but there are many ways and tools to tackle this issue.
No territory restriction to find workers
When a company seeks a competency the place from it can take it is infinitely larger, so it can easily find the one that matches exactly what it is looking for.
Reduction of infrastructure costs
This is most evident in fully distributed companies like Automatic that I mentioned before, but I think it may be valid also at various levels for others.
Endless production cycle
This too is definitely true for fully distributed enterprises with workers on different time zones, but also at different levels for companies that operate in smaller territory, as, although in the same time zone, operations may be asynchronous and then on a nearly continuous loop on all day.
For example, I often prefer to handle some tasks in the evening.
Nothing is perfect
Obviously nothing is perfect and problems always arise, but if done in the right way remote working brings with it several positive aspects, with a considerable weight.
Surely it is not suitable for all in terms of the kind of job involved but also and especially in terms of culture and mental predisposition. Obviously it requires a more open-minded attitude and a more “entrepreneurial” mind set by both the employer and the employee.
Also it underlies more comprehensive skills, also organizational, and of course a basic trust between the parties concerned. But this last aspect should be present regardless of whether the work is done remotely or not, I think, otherwise I would say that the relationship cannot work anyway.
I think that since there is a way that can lead to improvements, it should be explored and pursued. Especially since we are talking about two very important aspects such as our work and the quality of our life.
We are all very different and it is not a universal solution, but neither is the current/traditional state of affairs.
But one thing that unites us all, wherever we were born, whatever our personality is, is the fact that all of us want to be happy and at the best of our potential, in order to carry out our activities with motivation, to give and to be the best of us.
For me and for many people now, working is neither a place nor a time. Therefore it is no longer even a bad thing or a compulsion feeling that takes time from life, but it’s part of it. I can live my life in a very great way doing my work at the best of my ability.
I think that little by little this is the direction the field of work will take.
I think the time to move things in a more natural way and less based on control and coercion is maturing.
Time for motivation, time well spent, doing well.
It’s time to work and live more wisely.
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