Pros and Cons of Remote Work
The tech industry is being revolutionised, with more and more companies considering remote work. How do you know if it will work for your business?
A few years ago, the idea of a company being able to run efficiently entirely remotely was a vague pipe dream. Communication technologies are advancing all the time, to the point where the possibility of remote work is becoming more and more viable across the board, for companies of all sizes. Slack, Zoom and Basecamp are just some of the powerful tools tech startups are utilising to great effect.
But like all innovations, there are always growing pains, and there is no one size fits all approach that is going to work for every single company. With that in mind, we’ve collated the biggest pros and cons to help you make your own judgement.
Pro: Attract more Talent
London is one of the most popular cities for tech startups in the UK. This makes sense, it’s a city with a wide variety of resources right outside your door. The problem, as we all know, is that the cost of living in London is extremely high. It’s not always viable for people to live there, especially those looking for entry level tech work. Likewise, more prestigious, qualified employees may have settled outside of London, have ties that make them unwilling to move to you, and have to make a decision about more time with family, or a long commute. Offering remote work is an incredible pull factor to draw in those with a lot of experience.
In short, remote work is an appealing prospect to recent graduates, and other skilled workers who may not have the resources or ability to relocate to a new city.
London also has the perk of being relatively simple for most people to get to at short notice, if for whatever reason you need to speak to someone in person. Remember that this goes the other way too. If you can’t afford to set up your HQ in London, remote work will allow you to bring in great talent from the capital.
There is an assumption that, without the threat of being constantly overlooked by managers, employees will gravitate towards laziness. A common fear mooted by managers against remote working is the fear that employees will be too easily distracted when at home.
Remote work is a skill set in and of itself, in a way. It does require the employees to discipline themselves, treating it as a job. Point them to resources to help, things that will tell them to get up at the same time everyday, dress as if going into an office, and set up a place to work that is far from distractions
Equally, forcing employees to operate within set parameters is defying the point of remote work. Trust in your employees, use KPIs to measure performance. It’ll quickly become apparent if someone is failing to pull their weight.
People who use remote work as an excuse to get less done are usually not going to thrive in your company long term anyway.
There is an equal counterpoint to this, however, and that is the risk that there are no distractions at all. Employees who set themselves up properly, minimising distractions, may find themselves working non-stop for several hours, which can easily lead to them exhausting themselves, or even forgetting to eat. The human brain is not especially wired to work that way, it requires breaks.
Tempting as it may be to encourage this mindset, instead remind people to take regular breaks away from the screen, whether it’s to take a quick walk outside, or to get lunch, or to listen to some music for a few minutes. You’d encourage regular short breaks away from the screen in the office, this still applies in the home!
“The technology we use to make remote work viable is genuinely incredible…Naturally, there will be times when it fails.”
Pro: Reducing Costs
This one is relatively simple, but still a vital part of the appeal of remote working. If you don’t have as many people coming into the office every day, you don’t need to invest in nearly as much into that office. Costs can be cut across the board; floor space, office equipment, even minor things like stationary and food are all things you can save on. A headquarters is something you may want to consider, as if the majority of your team is remote, you can save costs hugely by having a smaller office with fewer people in it. Likewise, it may be a cost to offer your remote workers tools they need, such as software packages, laptops and scanners, but these costs are far far lower than the cost of running a whole office.
There’s also the fact that your employees will save a huge amount of money on commuting costs, one of the biggest expenditures in many households, next to housing costs. As a direct result, salary packages appear much more attractive, because a huge aspect of the cost of living is effectively cancelled out.
Con: Reliance on Technology
The technology that we use to make remote working viable is genuinely incredible, even compared to what was available to us ten years ago. Tracking apps, chat apps, online meeting rooms and shareable documents are all valuable tools in your arsenal to ensure that everyone in your team is on the same page, regardless of where in the word they are.
Naturally, there will be times when it fails.
Between internet outages, software updates and other technical wobbles, there will be points where someone cannot contribute to the team, or a planned meeting gets delayed, or work is not completed on time. Often, if one link goes, the whole team can be weakened.
Your best bet to mitigate this problem is to have relatively robust internal procedures. For example, consider having a point of contact with a phone that people can reach out to if they’re having difficulties. Backup applications aren’t especially efficient, but it can be a functional quick fix. Tailor your solutions to your needs.
Pro: Reduce Stress
One of the greatest causes of stress in day to day office work comes from the commute. Public transport is variable and expensive, while cars require a lot of brainpower to operate, and are also very expensive. Both of these require money, time and can extend someone’s day by as much as two hours each way, which adds up to a lot of wasted time over the year.
Remote working cuts all of this out of someone’s day, exponentially improving their work/life balance. It’s also good for the environment!
Then add to this the fact that the employee gets to work in a private, comfortable environment where they have complete control over where and how they work. This can work genuine wonders on people’s productivity.
There’s not a way to dance around this. Remote work can feel very isolating. You will not have much in the way of the natural team cohesion that comes with a group working together in the same space. There are ways you can minimise this con, but you’ll never diminish it entirely.
Whether or not this becomes an issue comes down to the individual employee. Some will absolutely flourish without a constant pressure to be social at work, others will find themselves struggling without human contact.
Depending on the remote tools available to you, consider offering up a social channel to allow people to chat with each other. Perhaps considering offering opportunities for optional meetups, to help build team dynamics.
Remote work may not be a viable tool for every company. But in today’s constantly evolving job market, looking into it as an option, temporarily or permanently, can only help you. As with any change to how you manage your employees, it should be approached carefully, and tailored to fit your company as well as it can. Take it slowly, and you’ll improve the efficiency of your staff and their well-being too!