In Defence of “Remote Working”

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When did offices become kid’s clubs? I’m comfortable with friendships arising in the workplace, I’m uncomfortable with our closest social bonds developing with people selected by our bosses. It feels like teachers sitting children next to classmates in the hope that they develop mutual crushes with one another. It is forced and contrived and leads to problematic social issues few people have willingly questioned, accept or deal with. So we make excuses.

Remote working is one solution too many people are quick to discard.

What about the isolation and lonliness?
I wouldn’t like not having people to talk to!
How can you spend so much time on your own?
Laughing isn’t the same when nobody else is around!
What about the serendipity you lose having no water cooler chat?

Seriously?

If those are your reasons, I’ll assume that you haven’t worked in an open-plan office or been in one in the last 10 years. Offices have evolved to become factories of distraction where people specialize in appearing to be busy without doing anything of substance the vast majority of the time. The people who complain most vigorously are typically those most likely to distract their co-workers or benefit from the lack of questions about what objective achievement. Work has become about answering emails. Remote work is coming whether most people like it or not. With it will come measurable achievement and tracking of performance. Rather than being productive for 5 hours of an 80 hour week, people will know how much they need to get done.

Give it 3 years and talking about “remote working” will be like something happening “on the internet”. Remote as a mode of operating that will be so universal that it would be weird to talk about it. Anyone who does the majority of their work on a computer will have the choice.

One day, everyone will be a remote worker

This is both inevitable and the best thing that could happen for people and businesses. Of course, there are concerns. I just question whether any of them are valid in almost any way.

Should our closest social contact be with people our bosses decided to employ? Should we waste 16 days a year commuting to an office? I’ll argue passionately against those things being the norm.

Isolation is a feature, not a bug

The space to focus and get work done is a return to what office space was meant to provide

Technological progress has masked the deterioration of productivity in offices. The office space has become a place of distraction, making it harder for people to get stuff done

Do you work to live or live to work?

Remote working gives everyone a private office. Colleagues can’t distract you when you try to focus.

I spend time with my family before they go to school, my partner before she goes to work, I spend more time with them when they return.

I struggle with the workplace becoming the main point of socialization in people’s lives. I see it as a failing of modern living that needs to be addressed.

What about them? Hobbies, the gym, friends, family. I fundamentally have an issue that work has become the main social setting for so many people. Offices were originally designed for isolation, a place of focus to get work done, maximum productivity.

Right now they feel like kids clubs.

Meetings are a terrible way of holding any conversation. And, in my experience, remote working flattens hierarchy and helps people who could otherwise be ignored get heard.

Everyone has been involved in office politics at some point. Remote working lessens the influence of key people in offices. This is a massive benefit.

It’s not perfect. There are problems with it that must be tackled.

Talk of isolation and loneliness for remote workers misses the point though. At a time when these things have never been more prevalent due to smartphones and social media, I take issue with the charge that a shift to remote work will make it worse. It’s lazy, typically done by people who have never operated in that mode of work, and by people who benefit from the current system.

Different people need different things. Offices work for some people and don’t for others. That is fine. Both modes will co-exist and once people receive the choice of which they prefer workers will try both. I suspect the majority will end up choosing the mode that makes them happiest, and in which they are most productive.

Productivity then is a question. It is easy to imagine that because it has always increased, workers have not been affected by the progression of office design.

Go back 40 years, everyone had a private office
Then managers did and cubicles became popular
Then nobody did, and open plan working emerged

Honestly, the last time I was in an office, people pick their phones up to contact people in the same building. You get distracted and interrupted when you are trying to focus on getting your work done by other people. Synchronous working is terrible for almost everything

Remote work is different. You can exit slack while you work, it’s almost impossible to ignore someone physically tapping you on the shoulder when you are focussed on working on something important.

Where do you want to work?

Written by

CEO / Founder / Coach @FirstbaseHQ Empowering people to work in their lives not live at work ✌️✌

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