At The Agile Monkeys, we’ve been working remotely for 10 years. From the start, the founders of the company always challenged every business convention that did not make any sense to us. Spending a lot of hours in an office was one of those. We always thought that is important to be able to work focused and at the time and place that you find more productive. Working from home (or wherever you like) was a part of it. Now we see a lot of companies struggling to implement that philosophy, and chances are they’re struggling because they didn’t have the time or motivation to build a culture around it. Maybe the Coronavirus pandemic will help to change some misperceptions about remote working that we’ve been hearing for a very long time.
It is very common to see companies getting paralyzed if their employees cannot get to the office. This is often seen when there is extreme weather or even major traffic jams. Companies seem to just accept that paralysis, probably because it does not happen frequently enough. But a lockdown of a couple of weeks? Well, that’s a different game.
It is very easy to imagine why companies that embrace remote work have a competitive advantage. They will not stop working just because their employees can’t go to the office. They will not be forced to negotiate to extend deadlines or contracts with providers or clients, because they will keep working at full throttle. This is the kind of thing that seems so obvious from the inside. Yet the average company has typically refused to accept remote work.
It turns out that sometimes this kind of crisis is the boost needed to force these changes in society. Acme Corp. and the rest of the companies who are so proud of their open-plan offices will have to reconsider whether remote work is a good option for them. If for no other reason, they will have to, because while they are on hold, their competitors will be able to go on with their work.
It is true that not all jobs can be performed remotely, but it's also true that those would also benefit from a general shift to offsite work. Think of how traffic would be affected by removing all those commuters, not required physically anymore, from the roads. And I haven’t even mentioned the ecological benefits of such a decision.
Unfortunately, establishing a remote work policy for a company is not as easy as sending a company-wide e-mail (although that can be a good first step!). This kind of work requires the company and employees to think carefully about how they will alter their work habits. Everyone will need to change how they approach challenges and especially how communication and documentation are handled. It won’t be possible to just stand up and go over to your workmate to ask them about how they dealt with an issue in the past.
Often, that scenario is considered a drawback when remote work is being discussed. But what if we look at it from the other side? That workmate has just been saved from an interruption. Now multiply that by the number of times it happens in an average workday. That workmate is now perfectly able to focus on their work and, once they feel like they can stop and attend to other matters, they’ll get to your question. Or even better, they might just share the solution as an internal document so that no one gets blocked waiting for them to respond. This is why asynchronous communication works so well for remote environments.
As offsite contractors, we have worked with several top-notch companies and institutions like eBay, Harvard University, Rent the Runway, Zara, and many others, always with a think-remote-first approach. And we know that working remotely has been one of our secret sauces. When properly done, remote work can make you better: more productive, more efficient, happier, you name it. But to take advantage of it, you must start thinking as a remoter because, suddenly, documentation and communication are key aspects of your organization. And it will pay off.
From our beloved Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, we have been able to work while our clients suffered from extreme weather. Or power outages. We can also continue working even if transport or traffic blocks our clients on the way to their headquarters. And we will keep doing it if they are forced to stop working due to a lockdown. We will always be there. And we hope the current worldwide difficulties will be the catalyst for other companies to experiment with remote work and discover its many business benefits.