Remote Work: Pros and Cons
Remote work saw a dramatic rise in acceptance during the "pandemic." Now that the dust has settled and the "pandemic" long over, remote work has faded entirely for some industries (creative) and has become the norm in other industries (legal, accounting). This distribution has revealed pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look and each of them.
- environmentally friendly: reduced traffic, congestion, fuel
- reduced auto expenses, wear/tear
- reduced commercial office space use
- flexible scheduling/hours
- excellent for individual task-based jobs like legal, accounting, some software programming
- mental health/social isolation
- no team collaboration/camaraderie/chemistry
- limits creative flow, impossible for “hands-on” jobs or creative positions
- heavy resourcing requirements, especially for hybrid formats (some people in the office, some out)
- need for accountability drives things like monitoring software (Big Brother)
- dramatic increase in monitor/screen time is hard on eyes, body, health
- slows innovation
For context: we’ve tried remote positions on three separate occasions, with three different jobs with three different people. It was a spectacular failure and an expensive lesson for us each time. Here’s why:
1. Creative Flow
We use an open floor plan office with task-specific breakout spaces (Media, Prototyping, etc.). This is why/how most of our creative ideation sessions/differentials happen. The creative magic is unplanned and spontaneous, but it is awesome and amazingly powerful. We’ve never found a way to replicate it by staring at screens to stimulate sensory overload while constantly pausing because someone had their mic on mute. Sidebar chat threads only compound this issue. Team members who work remote miss out on 100% of these interactions. This is a huge problem because these interactions form the foundation of the knowledge we use to serve our customers everyday. Missing out on these differentials creates intelligence gaps that are difficult (and many times, impossible) to fill later on, especially via video calls.
2. Dedicated briefer/liaison
Inevitably, remote employee FOMO kicks in. They feel and know they are missing out on the creative energy and learning that happens at our office everyday. In response, they contact other team members (who are at the office and participating in the discussions/creative process) to “fill them in.” The result is a perpetual and never ending need for HQ team members to brief remote team members. Basically, having a remote employee requires a part time employee equivalent at HQ to keep the remote employee in the loop. This increases costs (dramatically, actually), decreases efficiency, slows the team down and places unfair burdens on team members at HQ which drives resentment on the part of the liaison/HQ briefer.
3. High resourcing requirement
Remote employees don’t have easy access to samples or product. This makes it difficult for them to feel, touch, wear and experience the products we design and manufacture. The result: our remote employees were always asking for samples to be sent to them. This may sound inconsequential, but it is actually a big deal when you look at the time and effort it takes to ship a single sample to three people in three different locations where those locations are employee homes that don’t have full time shipping departments. Every sample request requires packing (materials) and shipping (cash and team member time cost) while simultaneously depleting inventory (raw materials, labor, opportunity cost) and adding stress to an already stressed system (for growing companies like ours). Believe it or not, it is common for us to not have a single example of one of our products in the entire building. Sample orders from remote employees only compound this problem.
Here is an illustrative example of the difference in overall effort required for a team of three to put hands-on a new prototype:
- HQ builds
- HQ packs
- HQ ships to employee #1
- Employee #1 tests prototype
- Employee #1 packs prototype
- Employee #1 ships prototype
- Employee #2 tests prototype
- Employee #2 packs prototype
- Employee #2 ships prototype
- Employee #3 tests prototype
- Employee #3 packs prototype
- Employee #3 ships prototype
- HQ receives prototype, returns to Design
- Design calls meeting to debrief
- HQ builds
- Design calls meeting, all three employees test prototype and debrief in one meeting
This is the fundamental paradox of remote positions: if HQ supports remote employees with regular briefings (in lieu of them being a participant in the natural creative flow at HQ) and samples, then we incur substantial additional costs. If we don’t support them with briefings and samples, then we set them up to fail. Setting people up for failure is something we try to avoid at all costs.
This is hard. Plain and simple. The way most (not all) companies address accountability today is with monitoring software and heavy regulation of the work day. Let’s just say that monitoring software and more rules are just not The Qore Performance Way.
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