The Fallacy Of Remote Working
Everyone these days is working remotely in some ways. What people assume (both companies and employees) is that remote working is about working at distance from the office, and most of the time, from home. The notion of location here is a very important trope carried by the word "remote".
There is an assumption from corporations that time on site is equivalent to one of these:
- Work quality
- Work consistency
- Control (covering many different layers of trust)
- Salary for hours, another important trope in the corporate world tied to the time clock
As a note for managers, it makes me grin when a company is able to hire another company for a service or a specific deliverables without control on daily hours, locations, etc. but freak out when discussing with its own employees cohort about relaxing the constraints of the office location.
Criteria For "A-Localized" Work
So let's create a term for it. I prefer "alocalized" instead of remote. Remote too often induces the meaning of a central location, where some of the employees are working as satellites. Not all profession can be alocalized. Some jobs require someone to be physically on-site to be able to act on the task (in-house offices cleaners, receptionists, assembly line workers). Some jobs are done outside of the central location by their nature themselves (carpenters, high power lines workers). It's not usually the type of works we consider when we mention this topic.
Everyone who can execute their task in a distributed fashion, still cooperating with each other to be able to advance the work is a possible candidate for alocalized work.
If you are an employer, stop worrying about the abilities of your employees to work in an alocalized fashion. Before you need to assess if the company is able to work that way. Here some criteria that will make the environment friendly for workers.
- All work items must be accessible, traceable and documented
- Using emails? Create mailing-lists. Get web archives with unique urls for the emails, that you can point to. Learn how to use emails.
- Doing physical or video meetings? Create an agenda, scribe the meeting, and keep the minutes.
- Make sure you have control on your communications infrastructure OR make sure you can export the data in the case the service goes down.
- All work must be planified based on task management first (above time management). Think issue tracking.
- Have, Build trust in between everyone.
- The evaluation should not be based on how long people stayed at work. But on how the tasks are effectively done.
Management must be part of it. Everyone should be included in the new way of working. The location is not important. Work in or outside of an office should not matter. That's critical.
Real Problems Of Not In An Office
There are issues, where this way of working will fail. But not necessary, the way most employers think about it.
- "How do I control the person is working all hours?"
- Does it matter if the work is done properly with quality and on time?
- Usually the system of trust is based on the wrong criteria.
- "The person is young and without access to answers…"
- An office doesn't necessary mean the person will get an answer. The support, the onboarding of someone is as critical on-site or off-site. Skills, age doesn't matter as much as personality.
Many of the issues for people working alocalized are often created by the work organization in the company itself.
On the personal level, the employees should assess their ability to work outside of an office. It's unrelated to the skills level. Some employees with 20 years of work experience will always be unable to work outside of an office. See below.
My Own Experience
I have started working in a distributed environment very early. In 1994, when I was studying for my DEA in Astrophysics and Spatial Techniques, I was also doing my national service (mandatory at the time) at Observatoir de Meudon in France. The work included working with people and data across the world. Probably my first experience of having to deal with alocalized, asynchronous tasks.
But my skills of really working in a distributed environment was when I landed a job at W3C from 2000 to 2008. There is a specific culture at W3C which is first class in terms of working in a distributed fashion. This is essential. I worked both from offices and from home (or cafes or airports). Location didn't matter that much. I had years where I worked only in offices, and years working exclusively not from an office. I insist on saying "not from an office" compared "from home".
Then I worked for Opera Software from 2010 to 2013, again not in an office. And the same for Mozilla from 2013.
W3C is still the place which fares the best in terms of working in a distributed, alocalized fashion. At Mozilla, for example, too many people relies on slack discussions, closed google documents or private email threads for working. This should not happen.
For my work self-organization, things which worked.
- Create a working schedule. At the opposite of the employers thinking, working at home means we often work more hours without noticing.
- Morning, have breakfast, dress up, exactly like if you were going out. No pyjamas work.
- If working from home, have a dedicated space for working.
- If you need human contacts, recreate it. Go to a cafe, to a shared working space, to another place with a regular schedule (It's amazing how you will discover people are doing the same thing than you). The habits will create opportunities of encounters. Encounters will create the office "coffee machine" chats.
- Keep a record of your activities. Basically create a trust system for yourself.
- When you have finished your work schedule, your work is finished.
- Don't put your work email in the same account than your personal email.
- Request things to be documented. A culture is built by shared values. You need to remind people of these values and adjust them together.