Working remotely is theoretically one of the new waves of business. It makes perfect sense. Technology is fairly advanced and, in the western business world, Wi-Fi is everywhere. Why must be shackled to desks and cubicles in the name of “seat time” when we have family and other needs to meet? There are some stats out there saying we’ll go from 16M to 55M freelancers in the next decade or two. That’s a big deal. It’s a lot of working remotely. Please don’t ever tell me “The Gig Economy” is a fad.
Now, above I said “it makes perfect sense.” Let me edit that quickly — it does to me. There are hundreds — probably thousands — of managers in the world who still believe in seat time as akin to religion. “If these peons aren’t in front of me,” the theory goes, “how will I know if they’re productive?” In reality, most managers have no idea whether their charges are productive. They could be sitting in Singapore or Pittsburgh, and all the manager is doing is firing off a bunch of no-context emails and turds over the proverbial fence at them. How’s that for assessing productivity? It doesn’t work well.
In the last couple of years, there’s been dozens of studies pointing to the popularity of working remotely. This has been attributed to dozens of different elements, most notably “the millennial mindset” creeping into the work world. Sure, sure. That’s part of it — although generalizing about entire generations is pretty dumb.
There’s a big part to the appeal of working remotely that we all kind of ignore. Let’s hit that now.
Working remotely: Some stats
This headline blared on Forbes this morning: “93% of workers say they’re more productive working remotely.” It comes from this FlexJobs study. You can find dozens of similar numbers around working remotely if you Google. Point being: it’s popular, and apparently productive. We good so far?
Why would working remotely be more productive? Shouldn’t you sit near your co-workers to get stuff done?
Nope. First off, when you work in an office, your time is predominantly assigned to:
The most reprehensible thing about most offices is that nary a soul prepares for any meeting or call. As a result, they’re all essentially no-context handjobs where people just trade info back and forth that everyone already knew. Then, everyone rushes to the next meeting and does the same thing. You do this about 20-24 times between Monday and Friday, call it a work week, and pour yourself a Scotch before collapsing at 8pm in a heap. Life is truly glorious for many.
So that’s the core reason why working remotely is more productive. You still have to take meetings, be on calls, etc. But it’s not the basic currency of your life — and in an office, it is. Meetings and calls sap productivity faster than almost anything. Ironically, they’re viewed as the way “work gets done.” Our incorrect assumptions about the office world could choke an entire nation of horses.
But now we’re about to hit the dirty little secret of working remotely.
Working remotely: The dir-tay little secret
Here’s where we’ll start: no one really knows how long things take at work.
Think about it. Your boss assigns you some “project,” which is probably some low-priority horseshit they handed you because they don’t understand their own job aside from “kiss ass and prove revenue growth.” (That’s a good one-sentence description for “middle management,” as an aside.) You might finish the project in two hours. Your boss assumes they just handed you enough work for two weeks. This happens a lot. People just don’t know how long different tasks will take — and given that only 34 percent of managers can name a single strength of their employees, this shouldn’t surprise us.
This is the dirty little secret of working remotely. No one knows how long it takes you to do X, Y, or Z. You have mobile email, right? So watch The Night Of. Go grab a drink. See a movie. Walk your dog. (I’ve done all these things in the last month.)
Your boss honestly will barely remember you — out of sight, out of mind — until there’s some “sense of urgency” deliverable he needs help with. Hop on the right calls, check the right boxes, and the rest of the time is yours. No one knows that you’re chasing HBOGo as opposed to working.
That ability to alternate between being productive and being lazy — i.e. the 52-17 ratio — is the glory of working remotely. In an office, it’s impossible. If you’re just sitting around, someone’s gonna toss you a project or run you into a meeting. At home or a coffee shop working remotely? You’re tossing yourself on the cross via email about how you’re grinding, when in reality you’re listening to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast in between tasks. (Done that too.)
You win back the time equation when you’re working remotely. In an office, you almost consistently lose it.
Working remotely: Flexibility vs. stability
IMHO, your whole career is a trade-off arc between:
The former category would involve working remotely. You’ve got flexibility and you control some of your time. If you still work for a company, you probably do make less money — because bosses are terrified at over-paying people they can’t physically see all day. And if you work freelance, yes, the stability is sometimes not there.
The latter category is doing it the way it’s “supposed” to be done. You hit the targets, climb the ladder, kiss the man’s ass, become the man, demean other men, and retire to a life of avoiding eye contact with your wife and hastily booking travel. That’s a world of stability, and it has its benefits too.
If you look at the rise of “The Gig Economy” or those freelance numbers near the top, though, the “stability” category ain’t doing it for people anymore. The basic life path is changing. People are comfortable trading stability for flexibility, in part realizing that happiness is more about time than money.
You may not have the sickest car or the sweetest Insta vacation photos on the flexibility side while working remotely, but I bet the majority of your days are a lot easier and less stressful.
What else would you add on working remotely?