Anti-Remote Work Is About Ego

…and micro-managing
…and lack of organization
…and lack of a plan
…and fear.

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For the third time this month and twice today I have had people tell me stories that “remote work doesn’t work, so they brought them all back in house.” Every time I hear that, it’s usually from two types of people. Older corporate persons that are pining about the past and how the office used to be more productive or insecure and disorganized bosses that use the office as their daily ego boost. Remote work takes WORK and if it’s not working, you’re being lazy, probably micro-managing and focusing on the wrong metric.

Currently, I work in an office with a great team and it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done, but for over ten years I worked remotely and it was fantastic. The secret? You have to be set up for it. There has to be a process in place with how you talk, share information and work through problems. Most importantly, everyone has to be on board. People and companies that try to wing it or brute force it without getting buy-in from the top, will fail.

Humans are a funky bunch. We tend to blame others first for our shortcomings. In business, the office is dying, so as older, less organized businesses fail, the office is a favorite scapegoat. Truth be told, as more and more avenues have evolved for us to connect, our ability to communicate has started to really suck. We celebrate briefly worded emails as efficiency and texting from our vacation destination as multi-tasking. When those connections deteriorate, we panic and head for the office screaming, “If we are all in the office together, we’ll communicate more!” No, what really happens is, people tend to rely less and less on being organized because we can just get answers in the next office over. Which means, now we’re interrupting that person. This happens five or more days a week, all day long. Months from now, we’ll wonder how come it takes so long to get things done?

Quick Test:

Grab someone and quickly dictate to them instructions to do a task. Next, open a Google Doc and write down the same task. Most likely you are having to provide more detail and context. This, in turn, will ensure the task is completed more efficiently because when we write things down, we tend to be more descriptive and it also provides a record that can be referenced again and again, which will also increase the likelihood the task will be finished as requested. 

The office doesn’t scale

Whether you are in the office or not, you have to get organized. If you don’t, tasks start falling through the cracks. Most, if not all, project and task management software is available in the cloud these days, which means it can be accessed online from anywhere. Square feet in the cloud is tremendously cheaper than square feet on the ground. This trend of family-style seating in offices is not just to show how companies are cool and modern, it also saves space. A lot of space. (Its also a way to skirt city laws around offices and parking spaces, but I digress.) To get good talent, companies are setting up shop in cities where people are moving in search of higher-paying jobs. Finding floor space in cities is expensive and now that roomy supply closet is under-utilized (true story: Another programmer and I worked in a supply closet at a startup). At some point, the merry-go-round of more desks+more space+bigger building, loses its shine and the once homage to your companies success, becomes it’s biggest liability.

Yes, it can be for everyone

I’ve heard many people say that they like the idea of working remote, but not all people are self-starters and need to be in an office to have someone tell them what to do. In addition, some employees homes aren’t conducive to a home office environment and they literally don’t have space. Training can easily fix any issue with someone wanting to go to an office for motivation. If people need to be around other people, then they can join a coworking space like WeWork or go to a coffee shop or even go to a library, remember those!?

Moment of truth

The cold hard reality is that the office has jumped the shark. The office is dead and should be looked to as a meeting place. An area to come together, briefly meet, socialize, strategize, organize and disseminate information. Rent it out on weekends for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Continued paltry attempts to stop that train is purely the definition of insanity. Here’s the most important piece of all, no one wants to be there. You can see it in everyone’s behavior and body language. The hallway conversations, the busy work of doing anything except their job, it’s obvious. Next time you’re in the office, stop and take a look around. You’ll see it.

Or get rid of it altogether. Several high profile companies have ditched the office and been very honest about it. Is the transition perfect? No. Are there a lot of growing pains? Yes. Are employees eventually happier, healthier and more productive? Absolutely.

What’s the alternative?

Make it about the work. That’s your new metric. It’s as simple as, was it done or not. If it’s done, it moves the company that much forward, if it’s not, the goal wasn’t achieved and you need to do an audit to see if the goal was the correct goal in the first place. Was the employee set up for success? Was the expectation realistic? This is where the communication comes in. If the work wasn’t going to be completed in the allotted time, then that should have been communicated earlier in the process and not waited until the end. Maybe it’s a training issue. Do the task givers and the task receivers know the process for correctly giving out a task and providing routine updates? That’s where the organization comes in. Training is essential.

Exploring remote work

It’s not too late. Start organizing yourself and your staff with a simple spreadsheet that can be shared with Google Docs. Even better, sign up for a free account with Basecamp, these guys literally wrote the book on Remote work! Start at the top. If your executive management team supports it, then it will be successful. If they don’t, then wait to implement it. The bottom-up approach won’t work here. The value has to be obvious and shared among the whole staff. Having dissenting opinions among the team will certainly doom your foray into remote work right at the start.

There is a myriad of ways to implement a remote work program into your office. Just Google it. Everything depends on the type of company you have and the culture you’ve created. You just have to come up with a plan and start. Test new ideas. Fix broken processes and then do it again. One thing that will happen for sure is that your company will become more organized, communicate better and have clearer goals than ever before. What have you got to lose?

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One thought on “Anti-Remote Work Is About Ego

  1. This post rings true. My husband works for *large-telecom-carrier* on a team where the boss is constantly frayed. His mantra? “I want butts in seats!” On office days (P. works from home two days/week due to building construction), he is compelled to listen to the boss’ personal stories and hand-wringing: hence your point about ego. Also, this “superior” engages in and seems to encourage high school hallway-talk about fellow employees not present. It’s a highly toxic environment. Far more actual work gets done on the home days. I can see the value of spending a day or two a week with colleagues, keeping everyone on the same page, but releasing them under their own recognizance to complete the actual tasks would speak for itself. Either the work gets done or it doesn’t. Your point that training, setting up cloud based communications, and setting realistic goals is a recipe for a happy team. When you and I worked together, the energy you mentioned was palpable: no one really wanted to be in that space. We made the best of it and enjoyed our team. But the environment made highly-focused work difficult and the stratification obvious. When every team member feels valued for their effort and accomplishments, they will take pride in their work. When the results are personal, work-from-home slacking is self-defeating. Any kid who tastes the victory of a gold star wants another one. And another. Butts-in-Seats hollers, “I don’t trust you.”

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