Remote Work Forever - Now What?

🚀 Some observations on what is to come - Issue #175

People have conflicting points of view on what to do about the quarantine right now.

  • Do we continue to shelter in place?

  • Do we re-open entirely, and act as if nothing has happened?

  • Or is the answer somewhere in between? Re-open with protocols in place to reduce the risks of additional outbreaks?

Regardless of your opinion, we all must admit that the extended quarantines are significantly impacting the global economy. Researchers now estimate that 42% of the layoffs caused by this pandemic will result in a permanent job loss.

The unemployment rate in the U.S. hit 14.7% in April, the worst since the Great Depression. It may rise to 22% to 23% by the end of May.

This is a moment in time that tests Nassim Taleb’s concept of antifragility

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We’ve all noticed numerous companies that are suffering right now. Many businesses refused to adapt to a world were physical transactions became almost impossible.

They believed that this pandemic would quickly pass. Unfortunately, several companies have shut their doors and have no revenue coming in at all.

Other businesses have already closed their doors forever. More companies that cannot adapt will fail if the quarantines last much longer.

However, have you also noticed that some companies are doing even more business than usual (e.g., Amazon, delivery services, online services like my career coaching)?

They aren’t just getting by during this quarantine. They are thriving because their goods and services are in high demand.

That’s what it means to be antifragile.

You become more powerful and better under stress. What these business owners do and the services they provide becomes even more valuable in this current crisis.

Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.” — source

Companies and individuals must embrace remote work to survive. Those that do so ahead of the unemployed masses will thrive.

The millions of jobless people and shuttered businesses that are waiting for someone to “save them” will suffer and fail.

If you are already working remotely, then you are one of the lucky ones. Some of you may be enjoying this time because you’re experiencing the benefits. Some of you may hate working at home, and I understand that.

Remote work isn’t always preferred. Working at home can be very hard for many people. That’s one reason I created a community to help support each other while we work at home.

However, some of you may have been furloughed, laid off, or forced to close your business. You haven’t been able to work from home. If so, you don’t have time to wait for a promised vaccine or a miracle to happen.

You must find a way to get back to work or translate your talent, skills, and knowledge into an online job or business that thrives despite the quarantines.


Let’s start with empathy and compassion

We all need to understand that this current situation is not normal. It is so very far from normal. This is not an example of what remote work is like, at all.

  • When you work from home, you usually are not also trying to educate your children at the same time. At some point, kids will return to school.

  • When you work at home, you’re not typically stuck at home all of the time. When the world returns to some sense of normality, you can go out and work wherever you like. I sometimes work in coffee shops, at a ski resort, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, or even outdoors in the woods.

  • Even when you work remotely, you’re never forbidden to visit the office. Most remote teams schedule regular meetups and all hands where everyone gets together to work and have fun too.

So, be kind to yourself. This is a stressful time that shall pass. It also takes time to learn how to work well remotely.

Also, be kind to your coworkers. They are struggling too. This hasn’t been an enjoyable time for anyone.

Perhaps all of the extroverts that miss the workplace — and the hustle and bustle of being around coworkers — now have more empathy for their introverted colleagues too?

For years, introverts have been trying to explain that open office plans and a lack of alone time interfere with their preferred style of working and getting things done.

Just as extroverts are being driven crazy by being forced to work alone at home, introverts are driven mad by being forced to work around others in an office.

We need to find balance and respect each other’s needs. I hope that is one positive outcome from this experience.


Smart companies are embracing remote work

Large and small companies are scrambling to let their employees work from home. They know that they need to make it work since we don’t fully understand when this will all be “over” (if it ever really is over).

These companies announced that their employees could work from home forever.

Forever. What does that really mean?

Some people are interpreting remote work forever as meaning working at home alone forever. It won’t be like that.

You can look to companies that have been remote-first for years as an example of what life will be like if you work for such a company. For example:

  • Buffer says, “In order to have deliberate face-to-face time together to bond and have fun, we have regular teamwide Buffer retreats each year where we gather the full team, and we hold mini-retreats throughout the year for smaller teams and areas of the company.”

  • Zapier says, “twice-annually, we come together for an all-team retreat that includes activities like crafting, basketball, karaoke, and rock climbing.”

  • Automattic says, “We get the whole company together once a year for seven days so that Automatticians can create bonds that influence them all year long.”

However, I think most companies will adopt a hybrid model. They will downsize their main campuses to save money. Some employees will prefer the office environment and choose to work in that workplace.

Many employees will love that they no longer have a commute. They will also enjoy the flexibility and solitude of working from home most of the time. They will probably visit the office or campus for collaborative sessions once in a while.

I also envision companies having smaller workplaces distributed in other communities and cities around the country and even the world. These will be local coworking-types of spaces for people who want to work in an office environment but don’t want to relocate or commute long distances every day.


Many people see the silver lining

When this all began a few months ago, the quarantines thrust people into working from home even when they didn’t want to do it. This has been the most significant “remote work experiment” that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

I’m relatively active on social media and friends with people in Tech and folks who are knowledge workers. So, many of them were posting about their experiences. A few seemed to enjoy it (e.g., no more commute!). But, many were irritated and frustrated.

However, I’ve seen a shift occur over the past few weeks.

  • People realize how much time they’ve recovered in their days by eliminating a commute.

  • They are enjoying time for activities they’d put on the back burner forever (e.g., learning how to cook well, making time for exercise, getting more sleep).

  • They are spending more time with their families and getting to know their children better.

  • They’ve also realized that their working world didn’t end. Even though everyone hasn’t been able to gather in an office, work is still getting done, and people are actually more productive.

  • The wheels of commerce continue to turn, at least for the companies that were able to make this transition to remote work.

  • A few people now see that they could be hired by any company anywhere in the world. The local job market no longer restricts them.

While some people are more than ready to get back into an office, many would be happy never to return. They are asking, “Why can’t we work from home forever?”

Three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted.” — Source Gallup Panel


Will remote work “destroy” our lives?

Someone mentioned to me that this is a sign that “our world is becoming too distanced.”

I’ve witnessed a slightly different outcome with what remote work enables.

When you live in a big city and work 12–14 hour days, you have a limited social life, you don’t even know who your neighbors are, and you are not a part of your local community.

I don’t know. Maybe that was just my experience. But, I did notice that most people were only friends with coworkers.

When you run a local business or company that is entirely dependent on physical transactions (i.e., brick and mortar stores, personal services that require a physical presence), you are at the mercy of local economies and government actions that restrict physical commerce.

However, we now have a chance to undo the damage caused by the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions with this transition to remote work and work from home. We are in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and everyone must find a way to participate in this new economy before it’s too late.

If we manage this well, jobs, wealth, and economic opportunity will be more broadly distributed into smaller communities and formerly-dying cities across the world.

You will no longer have to “move away from home” to find work like I did when I was young.

Now that I’m working remotely near a small town, I’m becoming part of the local community and building friendships outside of my old “tech bubble.”

My income flows into a rural community vs. a large metropolitan area. I’m supporting small business owners vs. big chains.

This type of work gives you the freedom to work anywhere you please, on your terms and schedule, and in a way that is more harmonious with your life.


Growth is always painful

This shift to remote work won’t be smooth, and it might be painful for some (e.g., those in metropolitan areas), but I think that it could be a good thing in the long run. It is long overdue.

Not all companies, jobs, and services will lend themselves to fully remote teams and work-from-home environments.

  • Hardware still needs to be built in factories.

  • Biomedical research and pharmaceuticals will still have to be in labs.

  • Physical travel (e.g., airlines) will still require employees on the ground and in the air.

But, the jobs that can be, should be (e.g., the majority of tech jobs, knowledge workers, etc.).

The positive impact on our quality of life, our public health, and the environment is too significant to ignore.

It’s a shame that it took a global crisis for us to admit that this was possible.


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