"Full-time remote work? Sounded impossible to me."
Mar 20, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic grows to increasingly worrying levels, companies have been forced to reexamine their team structure and introduce remote work, which, while not a new concept, is still not fully embraced by the majority of businesses. While the State of Remote Work Report shows that just over half of all companies allow telework of some kind, only 16% of global companies are staffed with a fully remote workforce. Here our writer talks us through his recent, very rapid transition to working from home, and all the pros and cons…
The set-up has its benefits. Joanna Foster is a recruiter for InVision, which has a fully remote team of roughly 700 staff. She says that one of the biggest advantages is saving on commute time, which adds hours back onto your day. “Most of us live in large cities where the commute time could be upwards to one and a half hours,” she said. “The ability to dictate how you will prepare in the morning is very freeing. I have never been a morning person, but now I enjoy my time. I wake up, take a shower, relax with a coffee and then I walk to my office and begin my day.”
Plus, there’s work-life flexibility when you need it—and not being stuck in the office. “Working from home allows us to fully embrace work-life integration,” said Foster. “There’s no need to announce that you have a doctor’s appointment, or anything else for that matter. We trust that everyone is contributing to making InVision a success.”
However, that’s not a reality for many businesses with a more traditional mindset—my own company very much included.
How could a company like mine, that is so set in its ways, possibly work remotely on a large scale?
I work as a content editor at a large fashion brand with an old-school, bureaucratic environment. It’s a big team that’s heavy on meetings, overlapping roles, emails with dozens of people on CC, and a high value placed on in-person meetings and presentations to the senior members of the company. It’s crucial at my company that every piece of work is presented and discussed with the senior members before it can go out the door.
For the past few years, we’ve had a policy of remote working, available on a limited basis, depending on your role and its logistics. But few employees take advantage of it. I have tried to do it in the past, but constantly felt pressured to come into the office on my bi-weekly “work from home” day due to important meetings that I felt I had to attend in person, or simply due to the optics of not being at my desk when important projects were being worked on.
When the coronavirus concern reached our area and the situation grew more dire each day, the company started testing out remote work by having certain teams work from home on staggered days. I was dubious. How could a company like mine, that is so set in its ways, possibly work remotely on a large scale?
Emails and Slack messages came and went, as per usual, but I was able to keep my head down and focus on my projects with much greater efficiency.
Day 1 of remote work
It turned out that we didn’t have much choice in the matter. Not long after the trial period, the company issued a notice that all of us were to fully work from home for the foreseeable future.
The first day of working remotely was unexpectedly fulfilling, the deep sense of worry about global affairs notwithstanding. Luckily, I didn’t have any meetings on my schedule (a rarity), and so after my normal morning routine—I thought it was important to still go for a morning run, shower, dress professionally and eat a proper breakfast so that it would still feel like a “normal” workday—I set up at the desk in my apartment, opened my laptop, and was able to move through the large backlog of work I had on my to-do list with surprising efficiency.
…time didn’t seem to drag as much as it did when I was watching the clock in the office.
Emails and Slack messages came and went, as per usual, but I was able to keep my head down and focus on my projects with much greater efficiency. No one was stopping by my desk to gossip, there were no loud conversations two desks over that I had to drown out with music, and time didn’t seem to drag as much as it did when I was watching the clock in the office.
I have to admit that laziness got the better of me some days.
That’s not to say it was without hurdles. At several points, I needed a quick answer to something before I could move on with my work. This would normally involve walking over to a colleague’s desk and asking them a question, or looking at a project together to figure out a solution to a problem I had run into. Remotely, that had to be done via Slack or email. This method still worked, of course, but was not quite as efficient. Overall, I flew through my work much more quickly than usual, and before I knew it, it was 6:00pm and time to log off. Day one: a resounding success.
Not as easy at it sounds
What was new was all of the technical difficulties that came with a Zoom call of 30 people, with 15 minutes of, “Can you hear me?”…
The rest of the week, however, was a different story. I have to admit that laziness got the better of me some days. Without the pressure of having to be in the office on time, I overslept and missed my usual morning run more than once. I also found my attention drifting, which led to household chores distracting me when I had a little less urgent work to do. As for being home alone, I would have loved a little chat here and there. I was lonely without my colleagues, who I’ve grown close to over the years, to talk to in the office kitchen or between meetings.
I did interact with my colleagues during online meetings, which broke up my steady rhythm of workflow, but that was nothing new. What was new was all of the technical difficulties that came with a Zoom call of 30 people, with 15 minutes of, “Can you hear me?” and, “Is so-and-so on the line to speak to about this project?” or, “Can everyone see my screen share?” before any given meeting actually started in earnest. Not only did it waste precious time, but it was just plain annoying.
And some meetings were just not as efficient online as they would have been in-person. I was used to brainstorming with my colleagues and typically sat beside a colleague and played around with designs for digital content until we found something that worked well. With remote work, we had to share our screens on Zoom which didn’t feel as organic.
Time for solutions
For my creative brainstorming, I realised that a decent solution was still very much possible to find, but required me to be more proactive. Rather than expecting to sit down with someone to brainstorm how a project would come together, I took the time to carefully think everything through, look at all of the relevant images and files we had to work with and map out a thorough plan of what I had in mind—with flexibility for input from others, of course. It required a lot more up-front work on my end, but made for much greater efficiency when collaborating remotely, and projects got off to a better start.
I also made more of an effort to get ahead on future projects when I had down time, in a somewhat successful attempt to snap myself back into proper work mode when my attention waned.
Looking towards the future
As of right now, the entire company is still working remotely —and will be for the foreseeable future. No one knows exactly how long this will last, or what the implications will be for our individual roles and the company at large, both of which are scary thoughts.
However, despite the fear, annoyances and occasional impracticalities, I’m pleasantly surprised with how my team has been able to work remotely. Adaptability is key in this situation, a skill that we can learn from remote working and go on to apply in other areas of our professional lives.
Photo: WTTJ @Prêt à Pousser
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