February 5, 2018 by Ed Kennedy
Remote Work Versus Real-World: Your Essential Briefing
Update 2020: The following piece was written well before the coronavirus pandemic’s global outbreak that has so rapidly altered how we work and do business daily. The enduring economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic in the long term surrounding remote work remain debated today, and will not be clear for some time. As a result it is too early in this writer’s mind to make a concrete prediction about what exactly remote work in a post-coronavirus world may look like. However, it does appear impossible to imagine a post-coronavirus world would see a huge decrease in this trend to remote work – as indeed the pandemic has seen a massive increase of it that is more likely than not to sustain in some fashion going forward – and accordingly the writer feels the following piece is still reflective of the foundational trends we’ve seen in this space in recent years, and shall continue too in years ahead. It is just also prudent for this writer to confirm his view the coronavirus pandemic has indeed fundamentally altered this dynamic, and the precise way in which these trends play out going forward. Ed.
“Remote Work: a role that allows you to write a report on your couch, prep a presentation from a cafe, or even work a whole job from a tropical island.”
In the world of productivity today remote work is right up there is the Pomodoro timer and the Getting Things Done as a way to boost productivity and enhance careers. It’s a buzzword, it’s a lifestyle – but it often remains misunderstood. With numerous statistics showing the trend towards remote work rising in the global economy, ensuring you’ve a clear understanding of its pros and cons is vital.
Defining Remote Work
First a brief definition is useful here. In its simplest form, remote work is defined as any work undertaken away from a business HQ. Remote work is commonly an employee working outside an office, at home, or out in the field. It can also mean someone who always works outside the office, such as an employee who works in a satellite location away from the main office, as well as an outsourced employee.
The exact requirements of a remote role vary from job to another, and one business to another. In fact, many freelancers can be defined as remote workers as they usually work across many clients, and outside one main office. What is important to understand is the common differences that exist between remote working roles and the regular ‘in-person’ positions in our economy.
Why Remote Work?
The rise of remote work is the result of two major factors. First, the global economy has grown more sophisticated with the advance of technology, free trade, and the rising education levels of adults in many nations. In turn, the shift towards an online digital economy, and the centrality of computers to the daily duties of many roles has allowed for many employees to work from any location.
The culture of many fields is still evolving on this issue, and certain jobs like being a lawyer will still require you to appear in-person at court even if you can do most of your work remotely.
Nonetheless, just as many employees find the idea of working remotely full time appealing, but many businesses also encourage remote work, as it can save money on traditional costs like needing to rent office space.
Remote Work’s Impact
To really understand the remote work phenomenon, it’s important to understand its impact on a local and a global scale.
Never but for our time and era now have so many professionals been required to handle such a diversity of tasks across their jobs. While a certain job such as a sales professional or accounts director has always required management of multiple clients and tasks, the rise of the digital economy has changed the way so many businesses do business, and accordingly made existing jobs more diverse and complex.
When job titles stay the same but workload increases, it is here remote workers can be really handy. Further, many remote workers are able to ‘hop in and out’ of many tasks, and do so without needing another desk and chair to the office, or require spending time going through the lengthy processes or workplace introductions, HR briefings, training seminars and more.
Remote work has grown organically on the local level. But it’s also a product of the fast-paced business culture internationally. The world is more competitive than ever, and that sees business seeking out any advantage it can to outpace and outperform competitors.
It’s also allowed many businesses to operate 24/7, hiring remote workers in other time zones to ‘steer the ship’ of an enterprise when the boss and day crew is fast asleep.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Remote Work for a Professional?
- Same hours but often more freedom about when you work those hours each day
- Ability to work with less oversight (read: boss not looking over your shoulder)
- The capacity to work more effectively in a distraction-free environment
- If you’re a shy or quiet person this can beat being is a loud and active office
- Remote work is still work and a 40-hour job will still need 40 hours
- If you are a very social person or work best around others it can be lonely
- You have total responsibility to fix any issues that arise (like a wi-fi problem)
- If you’re in a career that benefits from your ‘people skills’ then making use of your confidence, personal charisma, and leadership skills can be harder
- Remote work has been popular for businesses seeking to outsource work and get work done at a lower rate, this can mean lower wages in some roles
How Can I Get a Remote Work Role?
If you have a job already but that is not remote – but feasibly could be (sorry firefighters, we love you for your work but you can’t fight fires from home) – then having a chat to your boss could be a good idea. Some businesses are open to remote work, others are reluctant to embrace it.
If your employer falls somewhere in between, you can ask to try working from home a couple of days a week. If all goes well, it means you can discuss expanding it into a full-time remote role. The issue most employers have with a shift to a remote work is a drop productivity and accessibility. Prove you’ll be productive and communicable, and you have a good shot to shift.
Alongside a current job, many new roles are now advertised as remote. Many fields such as writing, designing, and programming can easily be negotiated into remote roles, either at the start or once you’re well into the job.
There’s also the option to start your own business. Advertise yourself as a freelancer (and if you so wish, you can even be explicit about saying you work remote-only). The competition in these fields can be fierce – especially as remote work mixes full-time veteran industry professionals with hobbyist remote workers just looking to make some pocket money – but for those intent on a remote-work role it is a real path to it.
This is especially because the nature of remote work is also set to change in years ahead. Today having a Netflix and Spotify subscription is second nature, a generation ago the idea you’d pay for streaming on your TV or to listen to music month by month may be beyond imagination.
Today we’re busier than ever before maintaining an online life – from streaming subscriptions to social media accounts to banking and finance – and those new areas of tech require ongoing management.
As digital-only platforms it’s really easy to hire a remote worker to be an online personal assistant. This phenomenon means in the years ahead, remote work and the hiring of remote staff is set to become more popular for personal services, as well as professional tasks. For someone seeking our a new area of business and wishing to be ‘ahead of the curve’ this is a great area.
What to Keep in Mind….
Remote work is growing but the trend is not uniform. It is also not one way traffic.
Many businesses are only now beginning to incorporate remote work into their business model, but some famous companies like Google and IBM are scaling back remote work – some even banning it altogether – and bringing workers back to real-world roles.
So, while remote work is absolutely growing – in the U.S. alone the rate of remote workers more than doubled from 1.8 million in 2005 to 3.9 million in 2015 – notions 50% of the workforce will work remotely by 2020 is perhaps premature. Change is coming, but it won’t be all in one wave, or without some ‘back and forth’.
So What Do I Need to Consider?
As illustrated earlier in this briefing, there are a number of variables when it comes to a remote work. But there’s 4 essential questions to ask yourself:
1. Whether your industry has remote work?
2. Whether your job can be done remotely?
3. Whether you can earn a good wage/find good market demand for your services?
4. Whether the remote work lifestyle is a push or a pull factor for you?
5. Whether you’ve good prospects to get promoted/increase income remotely?
And a Word on Career Progression…
While remote work has many things to recommend it, there’s an important consideration for anyone weighing up a remote role: career progression.
Remote work can be great, but if you are really keen on winning a promotion or moving higher up the career ladder, a remote role can make it harder to win advance if you’re off-site.
Secondly, once you have taken a remote role, it can be harder to seek out an in-person role (and not just because you’ve grown to love working in your pyjamas). There are some exceptions to this – many programmers could care less whether you worked in-person or remote in your last job – but it is a factor to be aware of.
On the other hand, many professionals that want to start their own business can safely ‘dip their toes in the water’ by seeking out a remote role. Sure, you may officially be working for someone else for the time being, but the independence required to succeed in remote work can be a great dry run for hanging your own sign. The time you save on commutes could also be invested in your own business.
So, by no means is taking a remote role a dead end. But if you want to pursue a new job in a few years and keep your options as wide as possible, it may be best to pass on the remote role now, and perhaps look again a couple of years down the line.
Making It Work with Remote Work
Remote work is not for everyone. But remote work is an important and growing trend. That’s why it is important for every individual to know of it. With greater awareness comes the greater potential to use that knowledge to your advantage, and build yourself a brilliant career.
It is important to remember too. Remote work is also not an ‘all or nothing’ choice, as you can switch between remote and real-world jobs across your career. This can take some extra thought and planning to align the stars with your overall career goals, but it absolutely can be done.
And when done well? It can be incredibly rewarding, from a financial and lifestyle perspective. So, if you’ve never tried working in a remote role but want too? Now is a great time to begin thinking about making the change to one, and how you can capitalise on the changes locally and globally with the rise of remote work.
Ed Kennedy is a journalist and ghostwriter from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on Skype or LinkedIn.