By Jeff Bullas
Things just feel weird.
Sometimes I think it is the minuscule and hidden threat that still challenges our health and lives that emerged just over 12 months ago.
Often the paranoia is palpable as what was safe is now seen as dangerous. A cough in public is viewed with suspicion and averted glances and feeling a bit warm or having a niggling sore throat is a sure sign that our mortality is under threat and death is imminent.
Shaking hands is now socially unacceptable and a hug is to be avoided at all costs. And the current stand-in practice of the elbow tap just feels plain wrong.
But I also think a lot of it has to do with a tinge of fear due to forced change.
As humans, we generally don’t deal well with having our normal routines and habits threatened especially when it is fast and rapid and out of our control.
That’s when the demons show up in the dark of night, during the quiet moments of reflection, and in the early mornings.
When the old normal feels abnormal
Last week I booked in a face to face meeting (like the good old days) with one of my past podcast guests on “The Jeff Bullas Show” to discuss potential joint business opportunities. I crossed the bridge to the city and found a spot to park, fed the parking meter, and walked the 10 minutes to their office through a dystopian city that was missing the energy and buzz that we all love about being crowded together in a metropolis.
We had a great chat about the new year and the exciting possibilities and the challenges confronting us in a world that seems to change almost every month. But as I left and walked back to my car I wondered if what I took for granted a year ago is now an aberration. And maybe unnecessary.
The easier and more convenient option for meetings that is becoming our default habit and norm was the Zoom option and I could have even hit the record button and used it to get some notes by sending the file to Rev.com and producing a transcript.
The old meeting method just seemed to be a bit uncomfortable.
And “that” was weird.
My world used to involve a lot of international travel. It was exciting. Meeting new people and visiting exotic places. It inspired me and was invigorating. That is now on pause but I am looking forward to recommencing that adventure as soon as the world stops spinning.
But even further back in time, my daily commute and work routine used to look like this.
Get up, have a shower and select the shirt and tie to wear with the suit for the day. Grab a bite of breakfast, the black coffee, and then make sure the brief case had the things I needed. Then I raced to the car and confronted the peak hour traffic for the 45 to 60-minute commute. Sometimes I listened to music and the news of the day. But sometimes I just wanted silence.
Occasionally I had an appointment booked and had to try and make sure I had plenty of time up my sleeve to not get caught up in traffic and find that “hard to find” parking spot.
That now feels like a dream from the distant past and I don’t miss that at all. It was stressful and hectic.
But things have changed
My office for the last 7 years has been a 10-second commute. I don’t have to put on a suit and tie. And it’s shorts, a t-shirt, and bare feet. Some days I even dress up and wear jeans and loafers.
I now have a team from around the world that live Hungary, the Philippines, and Australia. And we have tools like Slack, Trello, Google Docs, and Zoom.
It’s not for everyone
Remote work was forced on many of us
We got sent home from the high rise buildings and densely crowded office spaces and work didn’t miss a beat. These are the knowledge workers and are a big part of the workforce.
But factories still need to run and products need to be delivered. Cafes, bars, and restaurants are important businesses that can’t be provided by a person at a desk. The “turn up to work” economy is still necessary.
The maximum percentage of the workforce (as it currently stands and according to research) that can work remotely is estimated to be around 43%.
Remote work is for some, not all, but it is a significant number.
The challenges and benefits of remote work
As we moved back to our homes to work, the reality of the transition from a formal workspace to a home office dawned.
We experienced intrusion and noise from our family humans and furry animal friends that don’t hang with us in the corporate office. The two spaces never collided but now they do.
At the home office, they seem entitled to just randomly pop into your workspace and want to play, have a cuddle or just distract you.
These distractions include but are not limited to the following:
- Children – They do sometimes make an appearance in the office but its not the norm and all parents seem to want them back at school so the begging for attention is minimized.
- Dogs and cats – Well… dogs seem to show up sometimes at the office but not the cats.
- Partners – Unless they are your business partner we mostly want them to distract themselves and not show up half-dressed in the background while you’re on a Zoom call.
- Housemates – Crowded on the same kitchen table with the laptop is often not conducive to focus and concentration.
The imperfect home office
When we were all sent home we also looked at the new remote work desk space and realized that we needed a better ergonomic chair, a desk lamp, and a multifunction printer for printing, scanning, and copying. And that’s just for starters. Then there is the new rug, curtains, and a better coffee machine.
So… working remotely is not always nirvana and it comes with both challenges and benefits.
Here are the results from a survey conducted by Buffer (a company that is designed from the ground up for remote working as a business model) that puts it all into some perspective and found out the challenges and benefits of remote work.
I know that working from the home office isn’t always easy and I do miss the social connections and spontaneous nature of shared ideas and collaboration from colleagues and employees. What I also miss is brainstorming the visualization of ideas on a whiteboard. There is remote work software for that, but it isn’t the same.
So the top three challenges of working remotely are:
- Unplugging after work – 22%
- Loneliness – 19%
- Collaborating and communicating – 17%
Some of the biggest benefits that I enjoy about remote work are being able to work from anywhere and also not wasting time commuting.
About 18 months ago I experimented with a version of digital nomad work and play that was a success but discovered I would do things a bit differently next time. (I will cover that learning experience in another post).
So the top 3 benefits for working remotely from the Buffer survey are:
- Flexible schedule – 40%
- Working from any location – 30%
- Time with family – 14%
For me, the first two are very important and I have been privileged to have been able to enjoy those benefits for 7 years now.
As an empty nester the 3rd isn’t so important for me now but Dads or Mums that leave early and come home after a long commute and hardly see their kids, this is a biggie.
The companies that do remote work well
For the past decade or more, the remote business or virtual office has been slowly evolving. But there are some fears of many traditional companies that remote workers will take advantage of the non-supervision and be off surfing or settling in to watch Netflix. Or even doing the washing.
The last year has seen an accelerated change as businesses have been forced to adapt. We have packed 10 years of pandemic driven change into just 12 months.
For years many people have been wanting to work from home maybe a day or two a week. Now we have all been sent home and many don’t know when they are going back to the office.
That raises a lot of questions.
The HR manager now has their hands full and is assessing things like risk and updating insurance policies and “work health and safety” requirements.
But there are companies that have started with a remote work ecosystem and thrived.
In the main, these are young, tech-savvy, and nimble companies that have designed their companies, remote work culture, and practice from scratch.
The challenge for legacy firms and traditional companies is that reinventing is a big deal and not to be underestimated including culture and the tech tools needed to do remote work well.
I think that we will see the acceleration of the extinction of older companies that will not cope well and the birth and rapid growth of new startups that have no baggage and a clean sheet.
I will take a closer look into some of these in a future post.
9 best practices for a remote business
What are the rules and best practices for this new way of working that most of us wished for and asked for?
Brett Putter researched these top companies and more all around the world and here are his insights about nine remote working best practices that he thinks are vital.
- Build social connections at a distance
- Create recorded processes for your business
- Focus on communication
- Document everything
- Create a structure
- Develop and nurture transparency, trust, and accountability
- Focus on results and output
- Customize your hiring process
- Be deliberate about your culture
Another important piece of the puzzle is managing remote teams. This includes the following entrepreneurs and the platforms for remote management they have built to assist with remote work:
- Jeff Wald – The founder of Workmarket, a platform that manages freelancers (see and listen to his interview on the Jeff Bullas Show) and author of the book “The End of Jobs”.
- Liam Martin – A serial entrepreneur who runs Time Doctor and Staff.com – one of the most popular time tracking and productivity software platforms used by top brands to manage remote work. He is also a co-organizer of the world’s largest remote work conference – Running Remote. Discover his insights about his company’s tool on my Podcast and also on “The Jeff Bullas Show YouTube Channel”.
- Joe Hoolahan – The Founding CEO of JESI, a global software business that manages the safety of remote or isolated workers. JESI is an anywhere, anytime tool solving the mobile workforce challenge of knowing where people are located at any point in time. Listen to my interview with Joe here.
Remote Work Tools and Technology
Another important part of this evolution is to use the tools and technology that allow you to do this efficiently and at scale. And in the last decade, these have emerged and evolved.
So how do tools help?
We need them for the following (and much more).
- Communicating and collaborating – Zoom, Skype and Trello are just a few that need to be considered.
- Documenting – Confluence and Google Docs are both in the mix but at different ends of the spectrum.
This “remote work tools” section is so critical that I need to devote a complete article to these at a future time.
Wrapping it up
The needs of different businesses vary and there is no remote work model that fits all. Every business will have to find its own path.
But the top four elements for me at the moment are:
- Building social connections at a distance
- Documenting everything
- Creating a remote work culture
Also, the tools to enable remote work are both emerging and evolving rapidly and will facilitate and be the technology glue that makes it all work and holds it together.
The future is here about 10 years earlier than we imagined. And we all have some work to do!
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