Chapter 4: The not-so-secret to remote work
Let’s talk about the secret to the work-from-anywhere movement that’s hiding right out in the open. This secret is one of most important concepts you need to know if you want to unlock a better way to work. To kick things off, let’s examine a seemingly simple statement you’ve heard from coworkers before:
"I love working from home!"
When a coworker says they love working from home, someone of you may instantly think, “Is this person taking crazy pills? Why do they like isolation? I need social interaction. I miss the energy of the office, and I like being around people. I can’t spend every hour of the day at home.”
I’ve heard these statements over and over; and, as an extrovert, I get it. I like social interaction too, but this shift is not actually about being able to work from home.
If the shift to work-from-anywhere is about spending every day of the week sitting on video calls and workplace chat in a home office, I will be the first person to go back to the office.
What are the benefits to working remotely?
Why do people say they like working from home? Is this high-level statement a code-word for something else? Is there something deeper here that we need to unpack?
According to a FYI survey, people love remote work because it offers freedom, flexibility, no commute, and increased productivity. According to research from Buffer, the #1 benefit respondents cited was a flexible schedule.
I could share more research and data, but the conclusion is straightforward. People like working from home because of the flexibility it provides. It’s not about sitting in your home office, disconnected from the rest of the world. It’s about having autonomy and being in control of your day more than you were before.
As someone who’s worked remotely for several years, I like remote work because it helps me better integrate work and life. I have more control over my time. I don’t need to commute and waste an hour a day sitting in my car in rush hour traffic. Instead, I can go for a walk, learn a new hobby, or hang out with my family.
I want to drive this point home (pun intended), because it’s critically important if you want to build a high-performing team or company.
High school vs. college
For those of you who graduated from high school and attended college, do you remember what the experience was like?
In high school, you had to stay at school all day. There was a butts-in-seat mentality and you had to be present all the time.
College was different. You had a lot more freedom. While you were expected to show up to class on time, when the seminar was over, you could leave and go back to your dorm and study (or play video games). I thought college was much better than high school because I had more control of my time.
Likewise, the workplace is growing up and graduating, too. Your employees are adults, not high-schoolers. They want more control over their time. They want you to trust that they will get the work done, no matter what their daily routine looks like.
For some, that may be working from home every day of the week. For others, that may be working from the office a couple days and home the rest of the week.
Is this good for business?
At this point, you may agree with me, but you may ask, “Is this change good for the business?” If this shift negatively impacts workplace productivity, a competitor will come along, compete against you, and win.
If implemented correctly, working from anywhere is good for the employee and the business. It’s a win-win for everyone, which is rare.
To illustrate my point, look at what Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant, said in the late 1990s:
"The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers."
He then proceeded to list six major factors, one of which I’ve included below:
"It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual workers themselves. Knowledge Workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy."
The modern workplace is no longer the factory floor. In the past, if you weren’t present, production would grind to a halt. Knowledge work is not a physically demanding activity. It’s about what’s happening in your head. Are you able to do your best thinking? Do you have enough time to do deep work without interruptions? Are you giving your team autonomy to work when they are most productive?
For example, I’m writing this chapter right now at 5 a.m. before my kids wake up. I am much more productive early in the morning instead of the afternoon. A coworker may have the opposite preference.
Everyone has different approaches when it comes to their personal productivity. Working a strict 9-5 p.m. schedule can be difficult for people who have different lifestyles and preferences. People are different. By allowing colleagues to work when they are most productive, the company as a whole can benefit.
This doesn’t just happen naturally
One big disclaimer: this state of work nirvana doesn’t happen automagically. It takes work, especially as a leader. Sometimes your colleagues act like they should to go back to high school. Sometimes people have trouble figuring out when they are most productive. Sometimes teams need to negotiate and meet in the middle.
Making this shift is not easy, which is why I’ve written this book. I want to help you reduce or eliminate the pain that I’ve felt over the years. I want to help you translate this big idea into action. Your employees deserve it.
In conclusion: it’s more than the “where”
To wrap up: when coworkers say, “I love working from home”, it’s about when they work instead of only thinking about where they work from. That’s the secret hiding in plain sight!
Want to keep reading? In the next chapter, we'll let you in on a little secret to the work from anywhere movement.