Demystifying remote working
Myth 1: Remote working is a scam
Mention the term “remote working” and some people immediately think of those shady advertisements on the internet that promise you an easy work-from-home job that pays thousands of dollars every month. There are still many of these ads on the internet today which don’t paint remote working in a good light, but the truth is that remote working can be a perfectly legitimate mode of work. After all, even big companies like PwC, Apple, Amazon and Dell hire remote workers these days.
Myth 2: Legit remote work is freelance work that won’t pay me enough
While some remote workers are indeed freelancers, others actually work full-time for a company and get to enjoy all the usual benefits such as health insurance.
The salaries of freelance workers working remotely would obviously vary depending on the project, but full-time remote workers get a very decent fixed pay. Based on statistics by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, remote workers in the United States are typically well-educated individuals who earn an annual wage of $58,000.
Certain types of remote working jobs even pay well above the average. Research has shown that roles in project management, software engineering, enterprise solutions, product marketing and even sales could allow people to work from home and earn more than $100,000 per annum.
Myth 3: Productivity decreases because remote workers aren’t being monitored
Just because someone works in an office space from 9am to 5pm doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is more productive than someone working from home or a café. Most of us would have come across that lazy colleague who skives while in the office and never delivers on time.
Being serious about one’s work and taking ownership of it is not a result of being in a structured office environment – it is a state of mind.
In fact, a Stanford University study has even shown that remote workers are 13.5 percent more productive their peers who work in an office. The answer as to why remote workers are more productive is simple: they get to operate under their own terms, and this makes them happy. And happy employees are productive employees, according to a study by economist at the University of Warwick.
Find what rocks your boat
There are many websites dispensing tips on the best ways to work remotely. While they can be good guidelines, the key is not to adhere to them religiously. Not everyone can jump straight into work at 9am. Some of us work best in the afternoons, over a cappuccino in a café, with light lounge music streaming in the background. Others are at their creative best in the wee hours of the morning. Each of us functions differently.
There is a wealth of evidence out there that shows how the conventional 9-5 job structure is not the way to get the best out of employees. What remote working offers is a break from routine, which can be detrimental to creativity. In his book How We Learn, author Benedict Carey, reveals how routines can be an impediment to our ability to learn. Over at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, researchers have found that structure can kill creativity.
Remember, the focus should never be on what time you start work or how many hours a week you put in, but the quality of your output.
So what exactly is remote working like? QLC speaks to three professionals.
EC: Eddy Chan, Product Manager, QLC (Singapore)
JVP: Jennifer Vaughan Paquette, Manager, Business Readiness – RDO PMO (United States)
ML: Morgan Legge, Holacracy Leader, Convert Insights (Canada)
Where do you normally work?
EC: I work from home about 70 percent of the time. The other 30 percent is spent working out of cafes. I also occasionally travel for work.
JVP: I work from my home office 90 percent of the time. I occasionally travel and can work from just about anywhere – airports, hotels, café’s, client sites, etc.
ML: I normally work from my home office. It’s a dedicated space where I have an excellent and stable internet connection. It’s quiet and has a door that closes! In this space, I have invested in well-lit work surfaces, a place to read and an ergonomic chair since I sit A LOT. As much as I love my productive home office, I try to work seven hours a week from an alternate location to stimulate the brain and interact with people. This could be a coffee shop, library, or even a park when the weather is nice. It really depends on my schedule.
Should people who work from home dress professionally? Or is it fine to be in your PJs?
EC: I guess dressing up as if you’re in an office might help some people “get in the zone”, but for me it’s all about being comfortable. T-shirts and shorts work just fine. I think attire is somewhat irrelevant to how well you work. If you think you work best naked, then please, by all means, do it. But be sure to draw the curtains!
JVP: If I have meetings (which is most days) I go for business casual. PJ’s are def not appropriate for webex meetings!
ML: It depends on your work environment, the one that you’re connecting to through your computer. At Convert we have a policy that video is “default on” so we are always “face to face”. However, we don’t have a formal office culture. You dress how you like! I find that for many people the routine that you create with your remote work almost always includes dressing, albeit in comfortable clothes. Other people only feel productive when they wear more professional attire. It’s really about what makes YOU comfortable and productive! When I have calls with “the outside world” I usually have a more polished appearance.. But never a suit!
What is your work routine like?
EC: I start most of my days at 8am but on occasions when I have a late night, I start work later. The key is to get enough rest. There’s no point forcing myself to start at 8am if I went to bed at 3am - I wouldn’t be able to work efficiently. I usually work for three hours at a stretch before taking at least 30 minutes off. I’m not saying this is the formula for being the most productive – this is my formula.
It’s all about planning your time and knowing what suits you. I used to aim to complete a standard number of work hours every day, but then I realised it was affecting my performance because sometimes I would be working for the sake of working.
JVP: Wake up, feed our dogs and any foster dogs we may currently have. Read emails, prep for meetings, host meetings, work all day long. Take a break in late afternoon (5:00-ish) to sit outside with the dogs and try to relax. Usually by 7 PM, I am back online working either independently or with my West Coast colleagues for a few more hours.
ML: Routine is very important. That said, it doesn’t need to be the same routine every day, at least mine isn’t. I have certain days that I am heavy with meetings and others where it’s important to have deep concentration. On those days I break those up with a visit to the pool, the gym or errands.
My time zone is Eastern but our team is 100 percent distributed in 9 time zones. I, by choice, start my day at 5:30 am. This allows me to have more overlap with my co-workers in EEDT and IST. It also means I finish my day “earlier” than people who live in my city! Bonus: No lines at the grocery store! I have learned through trial and error that I work best in blocks of about three hours so I schedule my day accordingly.
What do you like most about remote working?
EC: Flexibility! The great thing about working from home is that you can do anything you want during your breaks and not be judged. I sometimes take a walk around the neighbourhood or watch a bit of YouTube or even play computer games. I don’t think bosses at a typical company would approve of these activities.
The thing about conventional companies is that there’s a belief that X number of hours spent equates to a quality product. But that’s just not the case. To get the best product, we need to ensure that workers are functioning at optimal levels. And to do so they need to have the freedom to determine their working style.
JVP: Being able to work for a global tech company while living in beautiful, Bucks County, PA – think pastoral farmland and quaint covered bridges. It also feels great to not have to fight traffic and to be green / environmentally-friendly with zero commute. Since we work from home and foster homeless rescue dogs (mostly senior, sedate couch-potatoes), we can provide regular, human companionship for dogs that may have separation anxiety and would not do well alone in a home all day long. To date we have fostered 35+ homeless dogs – all of which have found wonderful fur-ever homes. It is extremely gratifying to be able to help rescue homeless dogs and “give back” in this special way.
ML: Where I live we have really brutal winters so I absolutely LOVE not having to scrape the ice and snow off my car, drive in snowy and slippery conditions, and not wear a million layers to go outside!
Are there any downsides to working remotely?
EC: Sometimes I feel disconnected with my team because I don’t get to see them “face-to-face”. I guess it’s human nature to need to have physical interaction to keep some sort of bond going. You will definitely miss the chance to have lunch with a group of your colleagues and talk about stuff outside of work.
JVP: If you’re working in an only partly-remote company (where there is an actual brick and mortar HQ), then being a part of the minority workforce does make it more challenging to build meaningful relationships with leaders, which could impede your upward mobility in the company. I have been fortunate to have always rolled up to managers and directors who are very “remote-positive” – several of which have also been remote themselves. But others may run into managers and/or teammates that don’t understand nor appreciate working with remotes, which can be an unfortunate scenario and lead to an “uneven playing field.” Finding work/home balance can also be tricky. I’ve observed that the majority of remotes I work with are “Type A” – very driven and focused -- and we will typically work longer hours than we might in a traditional office environment.
ML: Yes. These fall into two categories: team culture and your work ethic. A HUGE myth about remote work from both workers and employers is that its panacea that will solve all your team and financial woes. As a worker, you need to manage your communication, priorities, and expectations. It’s up to you to be proactive. Learn the technology, time management, and prioritization skills to be an ace at independent work. You'll also need to master the subtleties of remote communication. As an employer, it’s key that remote teams are supported by a culture that encourages building connections, and communication through buddy calls and brainstorming meetings, on company time. This is how you build trust. If you can't do this, it's not for you! We are really fortunate at Convert. Our company has a Holacracy structure and perks built around great remote work habits. Plainly put, we determine our own work. We rarely need to get or ask for permission in making decisions that relate directly to our work. We are given a lot of trust to make decisions, fail and succeed out loud. Transparency is KEY. This is not the case in many places. We have a productivity budget we can spend how we like, how we determine what makes us productive; home internet? Great cake at the coffee shop? Lamp? Your choice!
What’s the biggest challenge you face while working from home?
EC: Planning your work and sticking to it! Because of the added flexibility, one might easily fall into the trap of “I’ll do it later when I feel more efficient”. At the end of the day, mental strengths play a huge part in planning how long should one work before taking a break, or before feeling inefficient - and it’s a fine line between both. Just because you are feeling inefficient doesn’t mean you should stop working completely! I didn’t just stumble upon my “3 hour work/30mins break” cycle, it took me a few months to figure that out. I don’t take a break 30mins into my work just because I feel “inefficient”, I simply switch my tasks around and find something different to work on.
JVP: As a social animal, I have needed to proactively work on creating a local social network outside of my work environment.
ML: The human contact. Even as an introvert, some days can be really hard to feel the human connection, and we have a pretty close team. I can only imagine that for more “sterile” cultures it can be debilitating. When you work physically alone your self-care and work life balance is incredibly important, and it falls on you to manage and set boundaries. I have learned that I must make time for interactions in my local world, friends, pets, family, exercise, and culture etc…otherwise burnout will sneak up from behind!