Ah, remote work. We’ve had our fair share of that this year. Whether we wanted to or not, we’ve all had to adapt to a new style of office-based bants and it’s definitely been hard at times. There are various pros and cons of working remotely, and we’ve probably seen both sides to that in 2020 (albeit in the context of a global pandemic, which skews the experience a touch).
Still, it’s unlikely we’ll ever go back to the traditional style of office work five days a week. The pandemic’s shifted perceptions, and remote work in some form is very much here to stay. Love it, loathe it or just see it as ‘meh’, here are a few of the thumbs up and downs we give it!
Ever improving technologies mean many industries no longer require a physical presence in the office – and after this year, it’s likely lots of them will scrap the need for an office entirely. The flexibility of a remote working life can have numerous advantages.
1. The commute
In 2005, a Cisco Systems engineer in California received an award for doing America’s longest commute. They travelled three hundred and seventy-two miles – on a seven-hour journey – to get to work each morning. And then when they clocked off they did it back again.
If there’s one thing we can be grateful for this year, it’s gaining more time (okay, sometimes there’s been too much of it – but when it comes to time saved minus the commute? #gratitude) The mega-commute has become a heavy symbol of modern urban life. In the UK, my home, more than 3.7 million people spend more than two hours a day travelling to and from work. The average commute in Bangkok is two hours each way. Even Japan – with their bullet trains and pinpoint punctuality – average around 90 minutes.
Numerous studies suggest that if you’re nearing those numbers you could be doing significant damage to your physical and mental health.
Remote work takes away this considerable burden. With a decent internet connection you can choose where you want to live, without worrying about your proximity to an office. In fact, during the pandemic lots of people have used this as an opportunity to relocate and base themselves in new cities to live and work. And, if you work across multiple time zones, saving time on a commute is one less hassle to add to your busy day.
2. It's good for the environment
If there’s some positives to come out of the chaos of this year, it’s the improvements to our planet. With everyone remote working and travel restrictions in place globally, there’s been a significant decrease in levels of air pollution – something that’s responsible for millions of deaths each year. In fact, in one of the most polluted countries in the world, air pollution is now at a 20-year low in northern India.
Refusing to contribute to the manic morning gridlock doesn’t just benefit you. A recent study suggests that Americans have lowered their energy consumption significantly in recent years, largely due to a marked increase in working from home. The current remote worker population in the States mean nearly 7.8 billion vehicle miles not traveled, which equates to 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions avoided. That’s a pretty big deal, and as remote work continues, this will seriously help to tackle the growing menace of global warming.
4. You'll learn new skills
When you work remotely you’ll need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to self motivate and self organise. Okay, admittedly it’s been tougher this year – how many of us can attest to waning motivation at points? 2020’s been a drain on all our mental resource. But amidst that, there’s been the opportunity to learn heaps of new skills in communication, prioritisation and time management.
The idea of ‘productive working’ at home has sometimes raised eyebrows – the assumption being it’s all naps, YouTube vids and snacking. Well, sue us if that’s the case from time to time. But if this year’s taught us anything, it’s our means to adapt and just get on with it. And we have. We’ve learned to boss it with new tech skills too. And only fallen down a meme hole once or twice…
5. You can travel!
When it comes to the pros and cons of working remotely, this is definitely one of our pros! #biased Yep, if you’re as travel obsessed as we are, the digital nomad life might be for you. Remote work doesn’t have to mean working from home. I once completed a freelance copywriting contract whilst backpacking through New Zealand. All I needed was my laptop and the generously lent internet connection of hotels, hostels and coffee shops. I’d arise, framed by the mountains of Queenstown, complete a few hours of work, then spend my day exploring the boundless beauty of my surroundings. It definitely beat an office cubicle.
Plus, with everyone embracing video calls and video conferencing as the new ‘face time’ in 2020, you can be based on the other side of the world and still interact with team members. You get those check-ins when you need them but there’s flexibility around how you plan the rest of your day. More excuses for me to go off skydiving….
Alas, nothing in life is perfect, and the remote working culture isn’t for everyone. Although in an ideal world, we’d probably have a bit of both, there are definitely some drawbacks to the remote-work lifestyle. Let’s take a look.
1. Lack of communication
Ah, the perils of comms in a global pandemic! We all know communication is essential to creating good work. And, although technology like video calls and slack make it easier than ever to shoot off a quick message or conduct entire meetings virtually (where would we be without Zoom?), nothing can beat a good ol’ face-to-face conversation.
With distributed teams, remote employees and lack of office camaraderie, we’re left yearning for that all-important connection. Yes, we’ve adapted, but the virtual word doesn’t capture all the nuances of communication you achieve in person. We miss our colleagues! Yes, even the annoying ones.
2. Distractions & discipline
When it comes to comfort, working from home has its clear advantages, but it can serve up distractions that require steely discipline. Your home – or favourite cafe – have none of the inherent social pressures of an office environment. You can rely on no one else to motivate you. So, if you want to make the remote life work, it’s a good idea to rise early, get out of that dressing gown and avoid Netflix like the plague. Itemising your day in “to do” lists and tracking your time effectively can prevent the quality of your work decreasing.
3. Blurred lines
Of all the pros and cons of working remotely, this is one of the trickiest ones to get right. That oh-so-elusive work-life balance. This year in particular we’ve spent more time at home than we care to remember, some of us glued to our bedrooms to work, which makes it hard to establish boundaries.
In theory, remote work can save you time, and you can tip the scales in a more healthy direction. However, it can also be healthy to have a definitive distinction between your home life and your work life. It’s been tricky with that this year. Lots of us have adapted to the circumstances by creating a designated work space, like a home office, where you can plug into work time, and unplug again when it’s time for domestic duties. It’s important to master the art of discipline and know when to truly switch off. We recommend no tech in the bedroom after 10pm!
4. Lack of recognition
When working remotely you may be without direct supervision. You could be unfairly suspected of a lack of productivity, or not credited fairly with good work you’ve done, simply because you’re out of sight and out of the loop. It’s difficult to establish trust and foster smooth working relationships when you never speak to your colleagues and management face to face. Perhaps due to this, studies have shown that remote workers get promoted at a slower rate than in-house colleagues.
5. Diminished social life
It may initially seem blissful to be the king of your own working domain, but its easy to forget that we’re social creatures. Work is a fundamental part of our social existence. Each day in an office we communicate and collaborate with numerous people – we bounce ideas, share private jokes or discuss our favourite series or sports over lunch. If you’re working in isolation every day, make sure you’re also doing non-related social activities as often as possible on weekdays, otherwise you might start to get cabin fever.
But just remember – this year has been testing for everyone. So if this is your first experience of the remote-life, and you’ve hated it, don’t despair! In an ideal world, we’d have the balance of office and non-office work, and we wouldn’t be trying to navigate it all through a pandemic. There are positives to both and as the world slowly begins to normalise, we can hopefully embrace the opportunity to balance the two side by side.