This part 1 of a series on remote work. Check out part 2 for my guide on remote work.
This is a special on remote work, nothing fancy, but hear me out.
In the last few years there has been a sharper adoption of remote work and work from home policies, inside AND outside the tech industry.
You can categorise companies by fully remote, part-remote, and fully on-site. I’ve worked under every of these policies and I can tell you two or three things:
- They’re all valid policies;
- Transitioning between policies is your biggest challenge;
- My whistling and singing are not nearly as disruptive when I’m remote.
Each policy has its subjective and objective pros and cons. With a remote company you’ve got access to a massive and potentially cheaper workforce, but collaboration tools and face-to-face onboarding can make-or-break the work relationship. With a fully on-site company, it’s oftentimes easier to separate work from personal life, but quality of life often suffers due to commuting and living in expensive big city hubs.
Transitioning from an on-site to a fully remote company, however, is extremely hard, mainly because you’re changing processes and tools that people have internalised and automated over many years, and to be honest, it may feel you’re driving into the unknown, it can be scary. It’s also not an overnight change, you have to make two very different company cultures coexist for a while and that can make process a conscious effort for both sides of the field. For example, a good practice for a part-remote company is for meetings to be held online if any of the attendees is remote, so you can end up having 5 people in the office “zooming in” because 1 person is working remotely.
The reason I got off my ass on a Sunday and ended up spending hours throughout the week writing this, is not because of my preference for any of these policies, but because of the cultural shock COVID-19 has caused for companies, event organisers, and health services. For years remote work been this aspirational, long-term goal, that may or may not “work for us”, with comments like “meetings are just not the same when you’re remote” (but never identifying why or how to make them the same), or “it might work for developers, but not for the upper levels”. But after a few weeks of what you may or may not call “The Next Big Scare on the News™️”, conferences are cancelled or turned remote, hiring is now done fully remotely, doctor’s appointments are now remote-first, and it’s suddenly possible to conduct business remotely for all levels of the company.
So let’s look at what I’ve come across just this week, and I will follow this up with a remote work guide, and possible later interviews on how people experience remote work.
Cancelled: Google IO, Mobile World Congress, SXSW, London Book Fair, F8, and many other events and meetings.
What will the impact be? Would you delay or go ahead? How will live streaming fare?
Many of these are crucial networking and sales events. Despite their importance, the odds of disruption aren’t high enough to justify investing into a plan b. Compound with the traditional face-to-face nature of networking and sales, and lack of examples where people have deviated from this model. This is a bit of a brave new world for sales and marketing.
It’s a pandemic, not the zombie apocalypse, so we’ll get back to normal. But COVID-19 is forcing us to run experiments many would rather not.
- Zoom stock if going up as it becomes the default video conference tool
- Some people are buying the wrong Zoom stock, whoops.
- Remote conferences are cheaper, $300 USD for one with 150+ sessions over 6 days and 6000 attendees, and requires VR (yours probably won’t)
- For contrast, stock markets and oil prices plummeted and triggered safety circuit breakers due to the virus impact on logistics.
- Supposedly, for tech companies that manage to adopt remote, productivity should increase, some people seem to think benefits “bosses” more than employers.
- Twitter did its first remote global all-hands, some, people, enjoyed it. - source
- Some dislike remote claiming it benefits employers rather than staff, because it’s easier to burnout, take fewer sick days, and become lonely. Also cited is decreased creativity and innovation, slower decision-making, and lack of team cohesion. They’re all fair points mentioned in the Challenges section, but for every challenge there’s a solution.
- A Googler is struggling with remote as it forces them to live like an adult: make coffee (and buy a coffee machine on a +100k salary), cook, and request adequate work hardware.
- For caregivers and those with disabilities or illnesses, remote is a lifeline, and they can still be empathetic with their remote co-workers by listening to them and caring in general.
- A church has seen higher attendance numbers after going online.
- More religious services have moved online.
- Dress codes may change when remote.
- A GitLab employee found it hard to communicate at first, but enjoyed being able to focus better, getting straight to work and not wasting time commuting, and being able to travel while still being productive. - source
- A person I spoke to (thanks for sharing!), used to chat with people at the office (the water cooler moment), fear they’ll feel lonely at home by themselves, misunderstand or be misunderstood by others through written communication.
- A separate person reports past IT issues (remote desktop security breach), prevents freelance video editors from accessing their powerful work machines when working remotely. Just shows the importance of IT and tools in a remote context, and how certain roles may struggle more than others.
- Finally, for people who deal with discuss sensitive data through phone calls (e.g. clinical patients), coffee shops, co-working spaces (dedicated meeting rooms may be prohibitively expensive), or shared accommodation won’t cut it.
Overall, if you’re transitioning into remote, there will be a period of adaptation before you find out if you can do it or not. Part-remote companies will struggle the most. Some people won’t adapt to remote working, some won’t have the option even if they could adapt. Remote isn’t necessarily the future of work, but it can become the default for a lot more people than it is today, with great productivity, health, and cost-saving benefits.
Who and how are people deploying their remote policies?
- Harvard gave students 5 days to evacuate the campus (knee-jerk policy, people can’t do that on such short notice, it leads to this), and switched to remote classes.
- Universities of Vanderbilt, Rice, Washington, also switched to remote classes. - source
- The MIT has also switched to remote work and classes - source
- The US Department of Education endorses remote classes, and the American College Health Association COVID-19 guidelines recommend remote work and classes planning.
- Joan Meiners, writes for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, making the case for postdocs to work remotely, citing changes in remote tools, and benefits to diversity, costs, and better performance and happiness, despite the challenges. She also writes a generally useful remote tool guide (conferencing, collaborative docs, etc). - source
- More via #covidcampus on twitter
- Coinbase is moving toward online interviews, is preparing to move full-remote, has set well-being guidelines that cover:
- Physical health: body weight exercises at home, good hygiene
- Mental health: in-home entertainment – as if they needed to tell people to get a Netflix account, remote 1:1s, netflixparty.com, and give each other space (Tree Time)
- Also children, supplies, pets, exposure, religious services, deliveries and mail, maintenance, and family members.
- Google stopped on-site job interviews, and recommends North America employees to work from home (unless you’re a contractor).
- Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple have all issued similar recommendations.
- Less pollution in China, especially Beijing (due to lockdowns, not remote) - source
- Less pollution in Italy - source
- Commuting in the Bay Area and Palo Alto (mostly tech workers with digital output) have reduced, and thus pollution.
- Less commuting in Seattle as well. - source
I would assume pollution would go down as remote work increases, especially in the US where most commute by car (85%) an average of 79 minutes.
Buffer: State of Remote
- Cohort: 2,400 people, unspecified age group, 48% US-based followed by Canada+UK (12%) Spain (4%) France+Germany+Ireland (9%), average 4 years remote experience, who produce digital outputs: IT and Services (18%), Marketing (12%), Media and Publishing (4%), Education (3%), E-commerce (3%), Non-profit (3%), Medical and Healthcare (2%), Travel and Tourism (2%), Consumer products (2%), Government (1%), Law and Legal (0.5%), weighted average salary of 86k USD, unspecified data gathering period in 2019, in collaboration with 7 other remote companies.
- 99% respondents would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career
- 95% encourage others to work remotely
- A flexible schedule is seen as the biggest remote perk (40%), followed by working from anywhere (30%), and time with family (14%).
- Unplugging is the biggest challenge (22%), followed by loneliness (19%), collaboration/communication (17%), distractions at home (10%), and other less common challenges like time zones and reliable wifi.
- Even with unlimited vacation, the 60% take 3 weeks off on average
- Most remote workers work from home (84%), followed by coworking spaces (8%) and coffee shops (4%)
- Most have travelled and worked at the same time for one week to one month per year (44%), with 22% doing so less than a week/year
- 91% always wanted to work remotely (up 4% from 88% in 2018), only 9% changed their minds from being against remote work
- 40% of companies have a part-remote workforce, followed by 31% fully remote, and 16% on an as-need basis, and 9% only a limited number of days per week/month
- The average for companies that allow remote on some form, 1-25% staff work remotely (naturally this excludes fully remote companies)
- 25% respondents work for a company of 11-50, followed by 101-500 (18%), +1000 (18%)
- Most companies don’t pay for co-working spaces or internet (Buffer does)
- Co-working spaces tend to cost $100 USD/month
NYTimes: Out of the Office: More People Are Working Remotely, Survey Finds
- Cohort: 15,000 employed North Americans, 2017
- 43% spend at least some time working remotely
- 4% increase since 2012 due to supply-side demand
- Gallup finds remote a key staff hiring and retention factor
- Employees more than employers view remote as beneficial
- Remote helps close the gender gap (think parenting)
- Workers are more productive remotely
- Workers work for longer periods (see Challenges of remote)
- Reduction of remote work since 2012 in: social services, science, engineering and architecture, education, training and library
- Increase of remote work since 2020 in: transportation, computer/IT/mathematical, finance/insurance/real estate, manufacturing or construction, healthcare, retail
- More than half work remotely in: transportation, computer/IT/mathematical
- In 2012 workers claimed on-site was crucial whilst also doing remote, in 2016 that is no longer the case (either due to adaptation or sampling bias)
- People who spend 60-80% remote feel the most engaged with work, cared for, can progress with their career
GitLab: The Remote Work Report by GitLab: The Future of Work is Remote
- Cohort: 3,000 people, 21+ or older, who can or do work remotely, who produce digital outputs, from Jan 30 2020 to Feb 10 2020.
- 43% feel that going all-remote is important
- 56% work in a company where everyone can contribute to process, values, and company direction
- 50% work in a company defaulting to shared documents
- 38% see lack of commute as a top benefit (and 52% travel less as a result), they instead spend time with family (43%), working (35%), resting (36%), and exercising (34%)
- 52% find themselves more productive (ie more time working), and 48% more efficient (ie fewer distractions)
- Besides not commuting, 34% appreciate being able care for their family, and 53% value a flexible schedule
- 14% of remote workers have a disability or chronic illness, for 83% of those people can only work because of remote
- 90% are satisfied with existing tools, process, and leadership
- 86% believe remote is the future, with 84% having no limitations to their work when remote
- 62% would consider leaving a co-located company for a remote role
- Distractions at home are the biggest challenge (47%), co-working spaces help
- Nearly half consider themselves lucky to be remote, less than 10% relate to the terms alone, tired, and misunderstood
- 82% meet in-person through events, summits, meet ups, and more.
- 66% connect with other remote workers
- Most are from the IT+Operations+Accounting+Support department (57% combined), hold a Manager/Associate/Director title (62% combined), have been remote for 4 years (32%), work full time (83%), work in cities (51%), in their homes (86% – similar to Buffer’s 2019 number of 84%), and live in the USA (53%), UK (27%), Canada or Australia (20% even split)
- way more data in the full report
OWL Labs: State of Remote Work
- Global survey, 2018
- Cohort: 3,028 people, 59% between 25-54 years old, across 23 countries in 6 continents, data collected between September 19 2018 to September 22 2018.
- 56% of global companies allow remote, 44% don’t
- 32% respondents cannot work remotely, 29% can only do 1 day/week or month, 21% more than 1 day/week, and 18% are all-remote.
- Top reason for remote: increased productivity
- 24% are happier when they can work remotely at least once a month
- US Survey, 2019
- Cohort: 1,202 people, 22-65 age group, 62% remote, 38% on-site, data collected around September 2019
- US remote salaries average $80k USD
- 34% of survey respondents would take a pay cut of up to 5% in order to work remotely.
- Industries: 15% respondents work for Healthcare, 10% for Tech, 9% Financial services, 8% Education, 7% Manufacturing
- Roles: 18% IT, 14% Support, 13% Sales, 11% Admin, 7% HR, 7% Product
- 80% on-site want remote, 18% remote want on-site
- 22% are happier remote compared to on-site
- Remote workers are 13% more likely to express intent to remain with their employer
- 68% remote workers are confident remote doesn’t impact their career progression
- Top reasons for working remotely: 91% better work-life balance, 79% increased productivity, 78% less stress, 78% avoiding a commute
- Remote workers work more than 40 hours per week 43% more.
- Reasons for working longer include (remote%/on-site%): supporting their team (53%/45%), because they enjoy it (40%/17%), or because it’s required (38%/40%), need to catch-up on work (33%/25%), or to meet unrealistic expectations (24%/22%)
- Meetings: remote workers attend 13% more meetings than on-site, remote senior staff attend 25% fewer meetings than on-site, whereas lower levels attend 14% more meetings. NO data on meeting duration, only count. This goes against the principles of good communication, very interesting results in this survey.
- Biggest issues for mixed-remote meetings are: people talking over each other (67%), followed by IT issues for remote workers (58%), and focus for on-site (52%).
- Comment: This is why it’s important to have good meeting etiquette, talking over each other happens even with all-on-site meetings, you need to practice active listening and be mindful of the attendees. The one-remote-all-remote rule is also useful to place everyone on the same level. At work, we do this with our internal Product demos because our outputs are digital and Zoom is the simplest way to record everyone’s screen in a single file, but we don’t yet do it for mixed-remote meetings, no reason why.
- Remote training is important, especially for managers: 68% of the remote worker respondents claim they received training (84% if you’re a manager), and 38% say they figured it out themselves.
- Remote managers on employees
- worry more about (descending): productivity (82%), focus (82%), engagement and satisfaction (81%), get work done (80%).
- worry less about (ascending): loneliness (59%), career (65%), burnout (67%), management (68%)
- Comment: Interesting to see productivity is one of the top worries, but stats suggest it’s the least of their concerns. Same for other worries, burnout is one of the biggest remote employee struggles, yet, one of the smaller manager concerns. We need more remote training and experience.
- ”(…) remote workers don’t fit into the pajama-clad stereotype.”
I, for one, become so focussed at home I completely miss my Apple Watch stand notifications (1/hour is healthy).
- Gitlab all remote handbook
- Zapier ultimate guide to remote work
- Trello remote work ultimate guide (myths & tips, communication & collaboration, tools, culture, jobs & hiring)
- Doist remote guides
- Doist: Async communication
- Coronavirus Handbook
- Remote Work Survival Kit
- 10 Quick Tips for leading isolated workforces
- 10 Things No One Tells You About Working From Home, Straight From People Who Do It
- Master Remote Workshops (to cut carbon) Guide
- Remote Work Survival ToolKit
- Basecamp: How we Communicate
- How to Work Remotely: The Most Successful Habits and Skills to Put Into Practice
- Miro: Ultimate guide to remote work
- “I’ve worked remotely for eight years. To do it effectively, you: (…)” - source
- Remote companies QA
- Working from home: Getting your team ready for the switch
- Companies who Adopt Remote Work will Replace Every Company who Don’t
- Problems remote work has that need to be solved
- More on Chapter 15 of “Zapier ultimate guide to remote work” (sourced from Automattic, Buffer, GitHub, Treehouse, Help Scout, Groove, Fogcreek, Stack Exchange, WooThemes, Popforms, status pages, iDoneThis, hubspot, remotive.io)
- So You’ve Been Told to Work From Home. Now What?