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What is Remote Work?

Remote work is a working style that allows professionals to work outside of a traditional office environment. It is based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a specific place to be executed successfully.

Think of it this way: instead of commuting to an office each day to work from a designated desk, remote employees can execute their projects and surpass their goals wherever they please. People have the flexibility to design their days so that their professional and personal lives can be experienced to their fullest potential and coexist peacefully.

There has been a cultural paradigm shift in what society deems to be an appropriate workplace - and remote work has capitalized off of that newfound freedom.

How do people work remotely?

There are a variety of ways in which people can work remotely. That’s the beauty of remote work - people can choose to work in a way that makes the most sense for their lives.

For example, some people have the opportunity to work remotely for the majority of the working week, but have to commute to in-person meetings at the office one day a week. On a typical day, these remote employees work from their home offices or nearby cafés and can work from their company’s office when it’s necessary.

Others rely on coworking spaces to be the spots where they can get the job done. Coworking spaces act as hubs of productivity, community, and technology, offering great network connectivity and opportunities to meet others who work in a multitude of industries. They can be utilized by people with full-time jobs, freelance careers and even entrepreneurs who want to rent out an office space for themselves or their small staff. You might even say that coworking spaces are a halfway point between a traditional office and a nontraditional workspace, giving you the comfort of working from home and combining it with the professional amenities and networking opportunities that you’d find in a corporate environment. Whether remote employees choose to take advantage of a coworking space in their home city, or obtain a membership with a coworking collective that has locations around the world, they reap the benefits of having location flexibility.

Some remote workers take full advantage of the opportunities that a remote working lifestyle gives them. On top of being able to set their schedules so that they are able to work whenever they are most productive or creative, some remote employees decide to leave their traditional routines behind and hit the road. In an effort to open their minds, achieve greater global understanding and expand their professional network into a worldwide community, they take their remote work to different countries around the world, either through work and travel programs or DIY travel arrangements.

Why do people work remotely?

Now that you understand what remote work is and how people make it happen everyday you might be wondering: why? Why would someone choose to work outside of an office environment and, better yet, why would their boss let them?

There are a multitude of benefits to remote work for both employees and employers, ranging from increased productivity to happier, healthier workers. Let’s break down a few of the advantages:

How Remote Work Benefits Employees

Flexible lifestyle

The most obvious reason for why people want to work remotely is because it offers them a more flexible lifestyle. When they aren’t required to be in an office during a set time frame, remote employees can focus on the things that matter to them outside of the office. If a remote worker is also a parent, he or she has the ability to start work earlier in the day so that he or she can be present when the children get home from school, or take time off during the day for a doctor’s appointment. Another scenario could be a remote employee who wants to attain further education in their field. Because they aren’t subject to a strict schedule in a permanent workplace, a remote employee could pursue a Master’s degree or continuing education course during the day and double down on their work in the evening, or vice versa.

Better health and wellness

Remote employees are notably less stressed and have higher morale than their in-office counterparts. In a report published by Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, it was found that 55% of participants felt more stressed as a result of their commute. By eliminating that commute, and letting remote employees work in an environment that they’re comfortable in, employers are nurturing less stressed-out employees. Just take a look at this stat: 69% of remote workers reported lower absenteeism than non-remote employees according to a 2014 study by PGi. Workers didn’t feel the need to skip out on work without good reason because they felt engaged and focused within their role instead of stressed or pressured. Happier, healthier employees produce better work and feel more committed to their companies. From this perspective, remote work is just good business.

Renewed passion for their job

Remote employees tend to do their best work outside of the office. They are more inspired by their surroundings and can filter out environmental distractions as they see fit. In fact, the opportunity to work remotely alone brings a new perspective to a remote workers’ position. They see it as motivation or a reward for their excellent work and are stimulated to continue to surpass their goals in order to continue living the lifestyle that they’ve come to love.

    How Remote Work Benefits Employers

    Higher productivity

    One of the most touted arguments for remote work is the increased productivity that comes with its flexibility. Remote employees are more likely to put in extra effort intheir jobs, going above and beyond toget their work done in comparison to in-office employees. According to the State and Work Productivity Report, 65% of full-time employees believe that working remotely would increase productivity - and their bosses agree. Two-thirds of managers who were surveyed reported an increase in overall productivity from their remote employees.‍

    Cost savings

    Remote employees are also great for a company’s bottom line. If a team is fully-distributed, companies can see decreased overhead from money saved on costs like rent and office furniture. To put that learning into perspective, Flexjobs reported that employers can save $22,000 per remote worker per year, even if their entire team is not remote.‍

    Engaged employees

    Beyond profit margins and higher-quality, more efficient work, employers offer remote work opportunities to keep their employees happy and engaged. Remote work is not just a flash in the pan for employee engagement - nearly 75% of employees surveyed in a Softchoice study said they would quit their job for one that offered remote work. That’s something that will make employers who are interested in talent retention listen in a little closer. Here’s another: in a survey by TINYpulse, remote employees reported that they were happier than non-remote employees and also felt more valued within their role.

    What are some common misconceptions about remote work?

    While remote work is becoming more and more common, it’s true that there are still some misunderstandings about this working style. Here are the ones that we hear the most often:‍

    Remote workers have trouble communicating

    It’s true that remote employees are not fixtures in in-person meetings. They aren’t ingrained in water cooler conversations or happy hour meetups, but they more than make up for it in their desire to remain connected to the team and be successful in their work. Video calls are the simplest way to hold meetings as a remote employee because it acts as a reminder that both parties are human and allows team members to build virtual relationships. Because remote employees tend to be self-starters by nature, they also tend to put in extra effort to over communicate on project statuses, any obstacles they may be facing and extend congratulations to other team members‍

    Remote workers are “always-on”

    This is a fear of remote employees and their employers alike. Employees value working remotely because it gives them the freedom to make their own schedule - not because it allows their schedule to be 24/7. Employers don’t want remote employees to work nonstop either, for fear that they’ll burn out and lose their passion for their position. It’s important in the beginning of a remote work agreement to work out which hours an employee should expect to be available and which times of day are more open for flexibility. In addition to laying down standards for availability, remote teams should set clear expectations about communication and develop messaging channels for its members.

    Remote workers don’t actually work

    We’ve heard this one enough! The stereotype of a remote worker is that they sit in bed all day in their pajamas, working once in awhile, but not at the same level as those who commute to the office each day. We know that this is simply not true. In all of the time that we have spent with remote workers, we’ve seen a variety of styles: those who wake up early in the morning for a hike, shower off, and hunker down for a day of focused creation; and those who get ready for the day as if they were going to an office setting, polished outfit and all. What we do know is this: remote workers get sh*t done.‍

    Remote Work Advantages and Disadvantages

    Now that you know what remote work is, let’s talk about why you might like it (and why you might not).

    PRO: YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO STAY LONG-TERM

    One of the biggest advantages of remote work is that you’re able to handle most of what life throws at you—including the moments that might have previously put your job at risk.

    Last year, before I joined Skillcrush, a critically ill parent meant that I had to spend weeks aways from my office. Despite an incredibly supportive team and boss, that period of enforced flexibility was a major stressor. It meant I ping-ponged back and forth between cities whenever I felt like I’d been out of touch for too long. And had my company not been so understanding, I would have wound up having to take unpaid leave for all those extra days.

    Not so with remote work. A laptop means you can work from home, on the road, and even (but I hope this doesn’t happen) from a hospital. It’s work that takes into account how unexpected life is.

    Remote jobs also mean that if you’re considering maternity leave or your partner gets a job in a different city, you don’t have to sacrifice the job you love for the person (or future little person) you love. Warm and squishy, right?

    PRO: YOU’LL HAVE MORE TIME FOR DEEP WORK

    Anyone else remember when that study came out that proved that work interruptions cost you up to six hours a day?

    Those notorious “Hey, quick question…”s add up. Here at Skillcrush, we tend to stack meetings in the morning, meaning that the late afternoon is primed for deep work (I’m writing this massive article in uninterrupted bliss right now, in fact).

    Working from home or from a coworking space where you don’t know the people around you means more focus. Another bonus: remote work is built on the belief that you’ll get your work done, not that you need to have your butt in a seat for exactly 40 hours a week. The result is that you’ll focus on quality not quantity, which is good for everyone including the company.

    PRO: YOU’LL LEARN SOME SERIOUSLY IMPRESSIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS

    One could argue that it’s much harder to communicate when you work remotely, but I’d actually disagree. Working remotely means that communication is everything. It’s immediately apparent when the way you’re communicating isn’t working, and you’ll be forced to fix issues much more quickly. This is communication on steroids, and it means you’re going to dramatically improve every technique from how you present ideas to how you voice frustrations about a coworker. All good things.

    PRO: YOU’LL FEEL HEALTHIER

    A 2016 study from the University of Minnesota found that workplace flexibility lowered stress and the risk of burnout. So that’s better mental health. Then there’s the fact that working from home means you’re less likely to encounter this season’s flu.

    Another big benefit of remote work on health: Forbes argues that while people commuting to offices reported that they were less likely to exercise and eat well, remote workers don’t have those barriers. Spoken from personal experience: it’s almost a treat to go to the gym at 5pm when you’ve been at home all day. Almost.

    PRO: IT’S ONE (HUGE) STEP TOWARD ENDING THE GENDER WAGE AND LEADERSHIP GAPS

    Part of the reason Skillcrush’s CEO, Adda Birnir, decided to build a remote company from the start was that it allowed women to have the flexible schedules they needed for personal priorities and successful careers.

    Many studies have found that the gender wage gap is actually a motherhood gap. That gap also affects how many women become leaders within their companies. Time off, especially in a nation that lacks strong parental leave standards, inevitably leads to falling behind.

    From the lens of intersectional feminism, there’s another clear-cut advantage: remote work means that you don’t have to live in an expensive city to work for a big name company or find a role that’s ideal for you. This means more opportunities for everyone, but particularly those who might previously have been excluded because of their location, background, or scheduling needs.

    CON: YOU RUN THE RISK OF FEELING ISOLATED

    This disadvantage of remote work kind of goes without saying. If you’re used to working in a busy office environment, switching to a work from home schedule might get to you.

    That said, many companies offer coworking space stipends or other programs if you begin to feel the monotony of your home office (and there are always coffee shops!). And a remote company done right involves a lot of video conferences and messages throughout the day—so you may find it’s not as isolating as you’d expect.

    CON: YOU’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR STAYING ON TRACK

    Look, we won’t mince words: remote work requires a self-starter attitude. No one is checking to see if you’re working or how hard, you’re just required to get your work done on time. If you have trouble self-motivating, remote work might not be the best job for you. Then again, it might teach you how to take ownership of your work, which ultimately, is a great thing.

    CON: YOU WON’T ALWAYS HAVE IMMEDIATE ACCESS TO YOUR TEAM

    Not to keep picking on Lizu, our graphic designer, but she signs off for the day (or her night) around 9:30am my time. That means that if I realize I need something from her that I haven’t assigned, I won’t get it until I start the next morning. Luckily, remote work means putting processes in place where those kind of moments don’t happen—or at least happen rarely. It’s all about doing proper planning (which we do through Scrum) to make sure everyone knows what’s coming.

    How to work remotely

    Sold on this lifestyle? It is pretty appealing. The idea of waking up and living your life in a way that is most suited to your personal and professional goals, along with your habits and idiosyncrasies sounds almost too good to be true. PSA: this way of living is possible for you, no matter where you’re at in life right now.

    Here are a few things that you can do to start living the remote work lifestyle:‍

    If you’re a full-time employee at a company with a corporate office:

    You have the opportunity to become a remote employee!‍

    What is a remote employee?

    A remote employee is someone who is employed by a company, but works outside of a traditional office environment. This could mean working from a local coworking space, from home, at a coffee shop, or in a city across the world.

    This is a multi-step process and not something that should be jumped into without a bit of thought. You’ll need to consider your current professional role, your working style, and be prepared to have  in-depth conversations with your manager about how remote working could work for you and your team. You’ll need to build up a well-researched business case that is specific to your role in your organization and use the powers of persuasion to get your boss on board. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it alone. We’ll show you how to segue into remote work, whether you want to do it once a week, or for an entire year.‍

    If you’re a freelancer

    You’re probably in the best position to work remotely - congratulations! Think about your clientele and whether it is necessary to be available for in-person meetings. If you think that more than 80% of your work can be done virtually, then think about a trial remote work period. Start with one week and build up to longer stretches of time that feel comfortable to you and your clientele.‍

    If you’re an entrepreneur

    As a motivated innovator and self-starter, remote work could be a great option for you. Before you jump headfirst into a remote working lifestyle, think about whether your business requires a brick-and-mortar location. For example, a salon owner would have a difficult time working remotely, while an online fitness instructor would have a simpler transition. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons, take the leap - and consider taking your team along with you for the ride!

    Remote work is still a relatively new concept in the professional world. With technology advancing at a faster rate than ever before, old concerns like communication and productivity tracking have been eradicated and more companies are looking into offering remote work as an option for their employees. If you’re interested in living a more flexible lifestyle, or want to pursue a new way of thinking about personal and professional growth, look into how remote work could work for you.

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