I have a lot of experience working remotely, as I have spent the last 18 months travelling the world while running two businesses (Mäd and Blue) that have a physical office, as well as working with the UNDP in a remote role.
I had implemented remote work and flex-time in my companies years before the COVID-19 pandemic, so we didn’t face any difficulties adjusting to the sudden shift in working conditions.
That said, I think the whole idea of remote work is a very nuanced topic and something that leadership needs to spend a significant amount of time thinking about.
Get it right, and the rewards are great. Get it wrong, and it just leads to zoom fatigue and burnout.
I’ll go out of a limb and state what may be an unpopular opinion:
I don’t like remote work.
Speaking and working with other people, who are represented by just a small patch of my MacBook’s screen real-estate, does not spark joy in my life.
However, there are definite upsides to working remotely that I have come to appreciate.
It is a weak and diluted alternative to real human interaction.
I like some of the outputs of remote work. I like that I don’t have to be in one place all the time, I like that I can sometimes work in bed.
But, I’ve also found that because meetings are easier to set up, as one just sends out a calendar invite and everyone just via Zoom, there is a tendency to have more meetings.
And the types of meetings are also changing. I have noticed more meetings with a larger number of participants, and this is not something that I believe works.
Having 17 people on a call means that 2-3 people are having a conversation, and everyone else is doing their work while half-listening.
You would rarely do that with in-person work. You rarely cram 17 people in a conference room.
The other big issue with remote work is the social aspect. We are social animals, and we need to interact with others regularly. I am an introvert by nature, so I do enjoy some amount of solitude. But even for me, there is a limit. I think the biggest challenge with remote work is creating opportunities for human interaction without feeling forced or artificial.
One point that is often mentioned is how working from home is more productive, but I rarely find that is the case. The days quickly start to blend into one, and without the presence of colleagues, I find that I can easily get sidetracked or distracted.
But, I think this is a wider issue with the layout and structure of many modern office spaces. At Mäd/Blue, the office is meant to have a library-like feel — and we do have hundreds of books! — where it is a space that is comfortable and thoughtful. It is designed to enable deep, high-quality work.
There are 300sqm, and rarely are more than ten people in the office at any given time, so it is quiet, and plenty of space is available for everyone.
And something is coming into an office, seeing all the equipment and other people working, that connects an individual to the bigger picture.
This is more difficult to attain if you stay home all day long in your pajamas working in your room.