Why Remote Work is the Future

dilbert telecommuting

Remote work is becoming more and more mainstream as companies are realizing that chaining their employees to a desk in front of a laptop for 8+ hours/day in fields that are intellectual in nature, as opposed to value being time-oriented (eg. manufacturing and menial minimum wage jobs), may not be the most productive way of squeezing output out of their employees.

Companies like GitHub, Automattic (makers of WordPress), Mozilla, 37Signals, Canonical, and Buffer are already proving that 100% remote teams can be just as effective, if not more so, than traditional workplaces. Remote job boards are springing up as startups attempt to gain a foothold on the trend.

But despite the rising prevalence of remote work, most employees still look at remote work with disdain, something relegated to outsourcing cheap Indians.

There are most definitely benefits to having your employees in the same room. Communication and overseeing your employees is easier. But there are benefits to remote work that are often overlooked:

Benefits of remote work

  • Cheaper due to not having to purchase office space, a desk, chair, free food, etc.
  • Wider talent pool to hire from
  • No time wasted on a commute (or at least less time if you go to coffee shops)

    • The average work commute in the U.S. is 25 minutes, which means 50 minutes is wasted everyday. For someone worth $50/hr, that’s $41.67/day, or $10,000/year.
  • Employee has more freedom, and thus is happier

    • More freedom with time
    • Freedom of geographical location (can nomad around Europe if he/she is inclined)
    • Most kids grow up only seeing their dads/moms at night and on the weekends. I’m not a father, but based on what I hear from parents, I can only imagine how much happier I’d be having the opportunity to watch them grow up

I’ve realized that I’m most productive when I move to a different location every couple hours or so (and I’ve read other similar accounts). I’ll be at a coffee shop, and then walk to another coffee shop. In the 5-10 minute walk, I’ll typically gain some bigger picture insight that I didn’t see before. At the new location, the differing environment keeps things fresh and exciting. On a more macro level, working at the same desk in the same office for months and years can get stale and uninspiring.

Separate although closely related to the issue of working remotely is the concept of time = value. A 9-5 job is not identical, but very close to trading time for money, like being paid by the hour.

Obviously time is not the same as value, especially in intellectually demanding fields. When you’re being paid by the hour, your incentive isn’t to work as efficiently as possible, but to take just long enough to where you can get as much money as you want while still performing adequately enough to reach your goals (whether that’s to get a promotion or not get fired).

In a traditional mandated 9-5, there’s no incentive to bust your ass off and finish the day’s work by noon because you’ll still be stuck there until 5pm. Your reward for working harder is just more work. Showing up and staring at your laptop is equated to working. Whereas if you were to work remotely, you’re judged entirely by the value you produce.

The biggest obstacle to hiring remotely is that it involves a greater level of trust. Who’s to say your remote employer isn’t slacking off all day and doing the bare minimum? That’s why someone who hires remotely needs some way to track the employee’s output aside from just seeing that he’s in the office and looks busy.

Anyways, I believe that remote jobs will continue to become more and more commonplace until they become the norm. Right now companies entice prospective applicants with perks like ping-pong tables and free food, but in 5 years that perk will be the ability to take their laptop wherever they want. The workplace is evolving due to the increasing intellectual nature of jobs. On a separate note, automation is eliminating away most of our work, but that’s a post for another time.