By the end of this year, almost every working adult in the western world will have had some experience with remote work. Some of us were forced into it, some of us had to change our dealings with colleagues or clients because they began working remotely. As a result, the current scope of what can be done without being in a physical office has completely changed.
As some businesses are preparing to bring workers back into the office, there are some who would like to remain working from home. They’ve discovered a level of autonomy and job satisfaction they never had before and are reluctant to let it go.
It might mean that employees will begin looking for remote working opportunities rather than return to the office. But what does it actually mean to work remotely full-time? How can you do it? What are the challenges and benefits? What does it mean for employers? Read on to find out all this and more.
Remote Work Explained
Remote working is when a worker or employee performs their tasks from a place that isn’t the business’ premises. It’s a form of working that operates with an understanding that some tasks don’t have to be done in one specific place.
Remote workers can basically work anywhere they like; all they really need is a connection to the internet. They can arrange their time and lives around the tasks and projects they need to complete and don’t have to sacrifice, at times, hours of their days just commuting to an office.
Within the concept of remote work, the idea of a ‘workplace’ becomes a bit more meta. It can be at your home, in a cafe, on a farm, on a beach; you can work anywhere you feel like and still get paid like normal.
How Can I Work Remotely?
Before Covid, many people discovered the concept of remote working and longed for a way to make it happen. In a post covid world, we now know that not only is it realistic to think you could have this kind of working model in your life, it’s also way more accepted than ever in human history.
There are a few ways you can get work on a remote basis.
As a Full-Time Remote Employee
When you’re a full-time remote employee, you are employed by a business or enterprise, but you work 100% of your time outside of their offices. For example, you could be working in data entry for a company based in London, but you actually live on a farm in Wellington, New Zealand. This is probably one of the biggest extremes to use as an example, but it’s way more common than you think.
This can involve a company employing the remote worker directly or using something like an Employer of Record.
Some full-time remote employees live in the same city as the company they work for and perform their tasks from a shared coworking space or their own homes.
If you’re considering moving over to this mode of work, you will need to have some honest and realistic conversations with your employer, manager and team. You will need to show them that your job can be done off-site effectively. In some ways, you will need to convince them that it won’t just be as good; it will be better.
As a Freelancer
Working as a freelancer is possibly the most ideal situation to enable you to work remotely. Many freelancers already work in a largely remote capacity. Transforming to a 100% remote job just requires some small questions being asked. If you look at the nature of your business and see that more than 80% of it can be done without the need for face-to-face interaction, then you could probably experiment with a remote working structure.
One suggestion would be to see how it goes working purely remotely for one week. If it works, make it two, then keep adding weeks until you have ironed out all the creases and have a fully remote job.
As an Entrepreneur
You’re probably already geared for remote work if you’re an entrepreneur because you naturally know how to work autonomously. However, the critical thing to focus on before you head down the remote working lane is the nature of your business and if it can indeed be conducted online.
Think about your customers and clients and if they need a physical location to go to. Obviously, for example, a nail technician will at least need to be present with a client, but if your business conducts English lessons for corporate types, they don’t necessarily need to be in person.
You also need to be aware that if you are working remotely, you should aim to make that option available to your team wherever possible.
Where Can I Work Remotely?
The whole point of remote working is that the physical location of the work takes a bit of a back seat. You can literally choose to work wherever you like; you are only limited by the technology available to you.
When your work location is up to you, you are in a better position to work in a way that fits into your life. If you are 100% remote, you don’t necessarily need to take up your annual vacation if you just want a change of scenery. You could do your everyday tasks from the comfort of a summer house in the Icelandic countryside. You could spend some time at an Airbnb in the south of France, working during the day and enjoying the Seabreeze and cocktails in the evening.
Of course, not everyone likes to use remote working to combine work with vacation. Some people find working from home helps them to manage their work-life balance better. Others use shared coworking spaces or even just set up shop at a cafe (which works as long as you keep buying stuff).
The point is that the location of your work is entirely up to you. It can change depending on what you have going on in your life and business.
Why Do People Work Remotely?
There’s a multitude of reasons why people work remotely. As stated before, some people do it because it fits better with their lives outside of work.
Some people just don’t enjoy working in an office environment and find they are simply more productive when other people aren’t around.
The list of reasons why people choose this kind of work is as extensive as the number of industries that now allow for it, which is growing every day.
How Does Remote Work Benefit Employees?
So we know the possibilities of the where and the why regarding remote work, but how specifically does it benefit employees? There are several perks and positive side effects that come from remote working.
This is probably the main reason why people get into remote working in the first place. For some, the most attractive thing about remote work is the ability to make your job fit in perfectly with your life.
Some people want to travel more, take up hobbies, or even just spend time with their kids. Remote working allows for the elements of everyday life to exist with your job harmoniously. You don’t have to worry about what to do when your kid is off sick from school when you’re a remote worker. You also can schedule your time better because you no longer need to commute.
Remote working also lets you work at your own pace a bit more. Some people thrive under the 9 to 5 model; others like to start working at dawn and get a day’s worth of stuff finished before 2pm.
Flexibility is a crucial ingredient to job satisfaction and work-life harmony.
Better Health and Wellness
Experts have known for some time that remote workers experience less stress than those who work onsite. They also tend to have a better feeling of morale than non-remote workers.
Stress is one of the most significant contributing factors to poor health. It has become more prevalent in the last decade. Many would assume that work-related stress is purely about tasks, deadlines, pressure and other things related to a job; however, there’s a level of stress that comes from simply leaving the house to head to work.
A study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK found that up to 55% of its participants experienced heightened stress levels from their daily commute.
Another study by PGi in 2014 found that companies that implemented remote working practices reported a drop in absenteeism for 69% of employees. To put these numbers into perspective, people who don’t have to waste hours every day getting to and from an office are happier. Happier people also tend to only call in sick when they are genuinely too unwell to work.
Improved Passion For Your Job and Work
We have begun to see in recent years that remote workers often outperform non-remote ones. They often see the control they have of their time as a reward for outstanding work. The autonomy they are provided also enables them to have a sense of ownership and pride over their role and work.
Remote working will usually help an employee to realise the potential they have and assist them in establishing bigger career goals to hit.
How Does Remote Work Benefit Employers?
Remote working provides some incredible benefits for employees, but it’s not just a one-sided situation. There are just as many benefits employers can reap from allowing for remote work.
Improved Employees Productivity
We now know that breathing down an employee’s neck is rarely going to increase their productivity. Just because you can see them in your office doesn’t mean they are doing their best work.
Remote workers are more likely to put in extra effort. As a result, they will regularly outdo their own level of productivity and that of in-office employees. A recent survey found that 65% of employers and employees feel they would be more productive if they were allowed to work from home.
In addition to this, another study found that 66% of managers noted a marked increase in productivity from employees who switched to remote work.
There are many costs we tend to forget that come along with having onsite employees. The most immediate is that you need to house them during office hours. This can mean forking out large overheads for things like rent, electricity and maintenance. It can also hinder the possibility of expanding your team.
Business might be good, and you would like to take on some new team members, but this might mean you have to move to a larger office. Sometimes this can mean a workforce is stuck, waiting for more profit just so they can afford to house the new staff that they could technically hire right now. Remote work can significantly decrease overheads.
Even if you don’t have a completely remote team, it’s possible to save money. A survey by Flexjobs found that the average company can save up to €19,000 per remote employee every year.
Empowered and Engaged Employees
It has become increasingly evident that, as technology develops, businesses will have to understand that if they want to keep the top talent, they will need to cater to some of their needs as employees.
Offering the possibility of remote work to your employees is a great way to empower them, keep them engaged and ultimately happy.
More and more employees would happily quit the job they currently have for one that allowed them to work remotely. It would appear that remote work could be the ace up your sleeve you need to secure the best team members.
According to Linkedin CEO Ryan Roslansky, “I think the fight for talent will get harder by the minute for companies not offering a remote or hybrid working model.”
Misconceptions of Remote Work
Even after so many of us have spent months working from home, there are still a lot of misconceptions about remote work. The most often ones are listed below, along with a little bit of myth-busting.
Simply being physically in front of someone doesn’t mean that the standard of day to day communication is going to be the best. There are some aspects of in-office working that help people bond with each other, like lunchroom chat and office happy hour; however, these don’t dictate the success of office communication.
The advent of work-based communication software like Slack has made it easier than ever to quickly fire a question to a coworker, often quicker than it would be to walk over to their desk.
The transfer to an online work environment also tends to make coworkers communicate more effectively. Simply put, they get the chance to see what they’re saying before it’s sent to someone, which can decrease the likelihood of wires getting crossed.
Video conferencing has more than proved its worth in the past two years as a stand-in for ‘in-person’ meetings. Studies have also shown that relying on this kind of meeting style has decreased the amount of ‘meetings that could have been emails.’
Remote Workers Don’t Really Work
This is a very old fashioned attitude that doesn’t really bear any grounding in reality when you look at the statistics. This comes from the idea that a remote worker wakes up whenever they want and makes a few little clicks on their keyboard throughout the day, in-between snacking, online shopping and watching Netflix.
Remote employees definitely work. It’s a matter of opinion as to whether they work harder or smarter than in-office workers, but it’s certain that they are, on average, more productive.
Several studies during lockdown found that remote workers tend to spend 10 minutes less per day being unproductive than their in-office counterparts. Employers also seem to get a whole extra day’s worth of work out of remote workers each week, and they are generally about 47% more productive.
Remote Workers are ‘Always On’
This is a fear that most people have, whether you are an employer or employee. The last thing anyone wants to happen when switching to a remote or hybrid working model is burnout.
Generally speaking, an employee who is going to be ‘always on’ in a remote situation would be the same if they were working from the office. It’s more of a personality trait than one that is associated with a kind of working style.
Most employees who wish to work remotely do it because it gives them the freedom to control their own schedule. Someone who places this level of importance on their personal life is not likely to give it all up to work non-stop.
The easiest way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to be clear about when working or contactable hours occur and stick to that.
Key Challenges For Remote Working
We know the benefits of remote work for both employers and employees, but it’s not all smooth sailing. There are, of course, some challenges to look out for as you embark on the remote lifestyle.
This is probably the key challenge for most remote workers, especially when they are first starting out. If you are working from home, you might notice some distractions that never seemed to catch your eye when you were working from the office.
The laundry needs to be folded, the dishes need to be done, it’s sunny outside so maybe an hour on the terrace in the sun would be nice. The truth is that the same distractions you have in an office can be present when working remotely, and there are even more that might get in your way.
A successful remote worker is able to plan a realistic timetable of their day and stick to it. If you find that you are likely to open a browser window and get sucked down a Facebook wormhole for an hour, there are third-party applications that can limit your access or even track your movements throughout the day.
You also need to figure out how your rhythm works in remote work. Do you like to power through tasks in the afternoon without being interrupted? If that’s the case, perhaps you should conduct your video meetings in the mornings.
The best remote workers learn their working habits and schedule their day around that to work smarter.
It’s a given that if you’re working for a company that has a combination of remote and non-remote workers, there are bound to be some in-person conversations, exchanges and impromptu brainstorms that you simply won’t be there for.
There are some things you can do to make sure you don’t feel like you’re ‘the last to know about everything. One of the first points is to make sure you are as available as an in-house worker. One of the biggest complaints managers have about remote workers is that sometimes they have to wait hours for a response to a simple ‘yes or no’ question, something they could get in seconds from someone in the office.
As mentioned earlier, workplace communication software can help with this, but the remote worker also needs to take ownership of the situation. This can be as simple as making sure your camera is switched on during meetings.
When your daily commute may involve walking from your bed to your desk, it can be tough to establish a clear separation between your work life and your personal life.
We can add our work email inbox to our smartphone and keep our communications apps right next to Facebook, so the temptation to keep working long after the office is closed will always be there.
Another unfortunate mental challenge for remote workers is that they often worry that their boss or coworkers might feel they aren’t working enough. They need to make sure they respond immediately to every email, so they end up overcompensating to make sure they are proving their worth.
The first thing to realise here is that the guilt is most likely in your head. Clear and explicit communication should always be in place when working remotely. The second is that perhaps you could benefit from external help.
This can be as simple as asking a friend, family member or spouse to hold you accountable for switching off when the day is done.
Not Feeling Visible (FOMO)
For some remote workers, the lack of face to face contact can take its toll over time. Of course, it’s great to be more in control of your daily life, but sometimes we miss the chat around the coffee machine or just talking about the latest episode of a TV show at lunch.
Working in close proximity with others also helps form a strong camaraderie that is difficult to facilitate remotely.
A way to combat this is, if you are able to, you can choose to work from the office occasionally or make sure you show up to non-mandatory work functions when you can. The easiest way to make sure you avoid an ‘us and them mentality is to not give colleagues a reason to feel there’s a divide between you.
Another FOMO related issue is that sometimes you can come across a manager or senior staff member who has the old fashioned attitude that remote workers don’t really do anything. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to constantly justify precisely what you do on a daily basis.
A great technique to deal with this is to establish regular online meetings with your team leader. Go over tasks you have completed and communicate what it is you are working on. If you maintain regular contact in relation to your responsibilities, then you are less likely to miss out on incredible projects or promotions.
The working landscape was permanently changed in the wake of the Covid-19 health crisis, and it will continue to evolve as we move into the future. Businesses are changing their attitudes towards remote work, and this means more and more employees will begin to see it as an option.
If you are interested in taking advantage of the gig economy or doing some remote work in Iceland, Swapp Agency can help you to connect with companies looking for your specific skills.
Remote working might not be for everyone, but whatever your feelings about it are, you have to agree it’s pretty awesome to have the option to get stuff done without wearing pants.