What are the benefits of remote working How does it affect your productivity and approach to work? Could remote working be a realistic proposition for you?
In January 2019, Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic (the business behind WordPress) took to TED to share his company's secrets and make the case for more employers to embrace remote working. He prefers the term 'distributed workforce' and this is more reflective of many businesses today that have teams distributed over lots of offices and countries. So, with teams working collaboratively in different places, often in different time-zones, with the right technology it no longer matters as much where we work.
However, Automattic is already indicative of a growing cohort of businesses (and industries) that have overcome the stigma and technology challenges associated with remote working and who are reaping the rewards. Some of these rewards are well-known; less office space required, more productive teams and increased loyalty all potentially lead to lower costs and higher output. But Mullenweg identifies arguably the most valuable benefit of them all for employers which is the often game-changing expansion in the pool of talent they have access to.
Join a club of 3.5 million Australians
Coincidentally, this has led to a growth in the number of opportunities for people to work remotely without compromising on the quality and breadth of industries. Statistics point to a rapid rise in remote working around the world. In Australia alone, almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed persons regularly work from home in their main job or business, according to figures released in 2016 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Meanwhile, in the UK a 2016 study by the TUC found 1.5 million people regularly work from home and this constitutes a rise of a fifth between 2006 and 2016.
But, for many of those who work remotely, the benefits and advantages of doing so have more to do with flexibility and control. Among those who've embraced remote working is Ben Fairhurst, a Vario who lives in Ibiza but supports Pinsent Masons' UK legal practice on a flexible basis, and control is what led him to work remotely.
"I control when I work and who for, how much work I take on and what type of work I do." says Ben. This leads to several benefits, the "most important of which is more time" Ben adds. "This is not only empowering but also allows me to allocate time to non-work related matters I am interested in which I never found time for when I worked as a full time lawyer."
But, even if you're working remotely full-time you gain more time from not having to commute to the office.
It's this increase in time which led another Vario, Natasha Adom, to embrace remote working. Initially, she was supporting a client of Pinsent Masons on-site on an employment project. But, Natasha explains that having a young family and wanting to pursue other interests led her to ask to work remotely five months ago. Since then, Natasha says she has been "able to attend school events and spend more time with family" whilst pursuing other interests like writing and setting up her own business.
Amanda Reinert, a Commercial Lawyer with Vario, also made the transition from being based in the office to working remotely. She says that "due to the nature of the client's business, remote working [was] an option and [suited] the operation of the legal and business team". This allowed Amanda to claw-back the three hours a day she often spent commuting into central London and allowed her "to concentrate on work, particularly on a large piece of work under deadline" she says.
Being away from the office also has other benefits. This could be avoiding office politics or the distractions of office environments. For Ben Fairhurst, supporting Pinsent Masons as a freelancer through Vario also means he doesn't generally have to deal directly with clients. "As much as I love clients, this is a beautiful thing" he adds.
What's the catch?
Remote working isn't for everyone. Natasha Adom explains that "being disciplined enough to separate work life and home life can be very difficult. Working remotely means you can work at any time [but] it’s very easy to end up working all the time!" Amanda Reinert agrees; those who work remotely "need discipline for work, because there is no strict off-time, it's possible to overwork without realizing it."
Amanda adds that it's important to ensure that you have "sufficient communication and
progress updates with the colleagues in [the] office... to ensure [everyone is] on the same page".
Regular and effective communication also goes some way to alleviating the feeling of isolation some feel when working remotely. "I miss office banter and relationships with colleagues. Working remotely can be lonely sometimes." Ben Fairhurst explains.
Remote working where you work with a variety of businesses or with businesses in different countries can also require the use of a limited company. Ben adds that "as I work through my own limited company I have to deal with the not so wonderful world of corporate tax. It can be a drag." Natasha Adom adds that "making time for not just doing the work but also additional admin - like doing taxes" is a challenge she has also had to overcome.
"Partial to a boozy Friday lunch?"
Whilst working remotely can allow someone to tailor a working day around other commitments, it also offers the opportunity to optimise a working day and week. "Partial to a boozy Friday lunch?" Ben asks. "Then don't work Friday afternoons. It's brilliant."
So, it may not be for everyone, but the popularity and uptake of remote, agile and flexible working systems adopted by organisations internationally along with the increasing appetite to 'be your own boss' through freelancing or the gig economy, are firm indicators that work life balance and more flexibility to work around personal commitments is something desired by many workers around the world. The desire to work remotely has perhaps always been present but technological advances have finally allowed workers to do this in a realistic capacity.