A Forced Introduction
As I am writing these lines the world is grappling with a Coronavirus pandemic that has put many countries on complete lockdown. As a result, businesses were forced to close their offices and force their employees to work from home where possible.
This change may have come as a huge shock to those who weren’t prepared. This unpreparedness has inevitably caused many businesses, families and individuals problems in transitioning to this new reality of mass working from home. Others may have been better prepared and are realizing the benefits that remote work can bring.
Having worked remotely for the last few years, I can’t imagine any other single benefit that has improved my work and private life so drastically. In this post I will go over all the aspects of why it is inevitable that remote work is the way of the future thanks to the many benefits that it brings. From both the perspective of an individual and a business.
This post is not about how to implement remote work at your company. For a complete guide on that topic check out the excellent book ‘REMOTE: Office Not Required’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.
Freedom of Location
A few years back I moved from The Hague, The Netherlands to London, UK to pursue better career opportunities. In making this decision I had to weigh my options. Staying close to family and friends in the familiar surroundings I grew up in versus leaving it all behind for a significantly higher salary and better career opportunities. I chose the latter.
Once I arrived in London I realized I was not alone. I had joined a trendy startup and literally everyone in my team was foreign born. Wow, London must really be the place to be I thought.
It turned out it definitely was! A cosmopolitan city with more than 10 million inhabitants. I was working on interesting projects, learning more than I ever had and making much more than at my previous job. I was dedicated to give it my best.
Things got even better as I was rewarded for my dedication by receiving a 50% salary increase within the first year. Things seemed perfect. After a while however, I decided to get married and start a family. Well guess what, however great London may be career wise, it definitely isn’t the right place to start a family.
I realized that I had to move elsewhere. Luckily, by having built up a great reputation and thanks the flexibility of my employer, I was able to start working remotely.
I decided to move to Antalya on the Turkish Riviera. The city where my wife is from. By doing that I have moved to a much smaller city where we live near to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea with great weather and loads of sunshine. But most importantly, it is a place where, together with my wife, we feel comfortable raising a family.
The problem with many modern office jobs is that they are concentrated in a handful of cities. London, NYC, San Francisco to name a few. Are these really the places with the best quality of life? Is it really worth spending a significant part of your salary on housing? Is it really worth spending hours commuting? Are people really attracted to live and work in these places because they are great, or do these people simply live there because that’s where the highest paying jobs are?
Personally I believe it’s the latter, it was certainly the main reason why I decided to move to London. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Remote work gives you freedom of location.
Instead of having to move to the place where your employer happens to be, remote work allows you to work from the place you truly want to be. Remote work gives you freedom of location. It offers the best of both worlds, you get to choose where you work and where you live.
Freedom of Time
What is the most valuable resource in your life besides your health? As unfortunate as it may be, the time that each and every one of us is given on this planet is limited. Your time is scarce. Memento Mori.
What is your favorite way of spending your time? Is it by spending 2 hours per day in a dark, hot, sweaty, overcrowded underground train? No? What about being stuck in your car in a traffic jam? Hmm, wrong again? I bet no one would voluntarily spend their valuable time commuting if they weren’t forced to.
Another invaluable benefit that working remotely gives is Freedom of Time. By eliminating the time spent on commuting and lunch breaks you earn at least a few hours of free time every day. Suppose you spend 2 hours commuting and 1 hour on your lunch break every day. That’s roughly 3 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks = 60 hours of extra free time every month!
Time you can spend on meaningful ways to improve your life. Sure, you can spend your time during your commute on useful things. But being able to do anything you want with those extra 60 hours a month is invaluable. You can use them to spend more time with your family, study dead languages, re-read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto for the 5th time, get ripped at the gym, etc. etc. The possibilities are endless.
Remote work brings freedom of time, invaluable time that you can spend however you want!
Freedom of Work Environment
I have to be honest here. I haven’t set foot in an office building for a while and I’m glad I haven’t had to. There is something sterile and alienating about modern offices. The open plan office, which has become the standard in recent years, seems like the worst environment for creative minds to be productive.
How can you expect someone to be able to concentrate deeply and do meaningful work when they’re constantly disturbed by constant visual and auditory noise? Isn’t it absurd to see those huge open plan offices with neatly aligned offices where practically everyone is trying to isolate themselves from their physical surroundings by wearing noise canceling headphones and by surrounding themselves with 30-inch monitors?
Ask yourself the question. What would my ideal surroundings look like to perform deep, meaningful work? Does that picture in your head look anything like the picture of that dystopian open plan office like on the picture above? It sure doesn’t for me.
Another great advantage of working remotely is Freedom of Work Environment. You get to choose the physical environment in which you get to do your work.
You could spend lavishly to remodel that extra room in your house into an extremely posh home office. But there is no need to exaggerate. In my opinion a simple desk with a laptop stand and an external monitor in a silent room is so much better than an open plan office. In reality it’s the small things that make a big difference. Having a coffee machine that makes great coffee, being able to use your own bathroom (hugely underrated!), having the ability to work from that hipster coffee place down the road for a change.
Remote Work gives you Freedom of Work Environment. It allows you to choose your physical workspace based on your own preferences instead of being forced to work in a dystopian modern office environment.
Freedom of Lifestyle
Hopefully you are starting to sense a pattern here. Remote work brings freedom. Freedom of Location, Freedom of Time and Freedom of Work environment. By combining all of these freedoms you gain the freedom to choose your lifestyle according to your preference.
Do you want to go travel through Asia? Sure, you can now do it while you’re working, no need to take a sabbatical. Do you want to move closer to your family? You’re free to do so! Do you want to start a business without quitting your job? You now have many more hours of free time during the day to spend on a side business.
Freedom of Lifestyle presents an opportunity to improve your life. All thanks to the newly acquired freedoms that come with remote work.
That all sounds great, but what about the associated risks? Isn’t it much more difficult to find work remotely? What happens when you lose your job?
Those are valid concerns. But those concerns aren’t exclusive to remote work, they apply generally. If anything, freedom of lifestyle allows you to plan your lifestyle so that you become more robust to setbacks like losing a job.
Freedom of lifestyle gives you the freedom to save up a significant portion of your income and build robustness into your life. It allows you to lower your costs so that if something bad happens, you’re better prepared and have more time to bounce back. It gives you the freedom to improve your skills, so that they remain relevant in an ever involving market. It gives you the freedom to build multiple income streams to reduce your reliance on a single source of income.
Do not just use your newly earned freedom to enjoy your life in the short term, use it to improve your skills and build up buffers so that you can keep enjoy life in the long term.
The Business Perspective
We have discussed the freedoms and risks associated to working remotely from the perspective of an individual. Obviously working remotely does not only affect the individual, it also affects the business. Let’s find out what benefits remote work brings from a business’ perspective.
Reduced Fixed Costs
Remote work allows for reduction of fixed costs. Since our company has moved its workforce to work remotely at least 80% of the time it has been able to move to a much cheaper office. For many businesses, especially startups, office rental costs are a large part of the total fixed costs. Having everyone work remotely eliminates the need for an office. Resulting in huge cost savings.
At the time of writing the world is adapting to life during a global pandemic. How has that affected businesses that have embraced remote work? Well not much has changed really, most of it is business as usual. That’s not to say that remote businesses aren’t affected by unexpected global downturns. But since they can operate at lower cost and do not need an office, they are better prepared, and thus more robust to unexpected events.
By far the biggest advantage to working remotely is having the ability to hire globally. You may have identified the perfect candidate for that specialized technical vacancy that you’re trying to fill, except they live in a different country.. Now what? You either need to convince them to make the move, or you need to limit yourself to the local talent pool. In reality you usually need to hire teams of people, which basically leaves you no choice but to open up offices in expensive urban centers.
These problems disappear when you have the ability to hire remotely. You open up your business to the global talent pool, or at least to the talent pool in a larger geographic area within certain timezones.
I hope I’ve managed to convince you that remote work is the single biggest non-financial benefit that you can offer your employees. Not all business are capable or willing to embrace a remote work culture. Remote work adoption is still very much in its infancy. If your business however is willing to make this leap it puts you at a tremendous competitive advantage to attract world class talent. At the end of the day it’s the amazing people you manage to hire that bring the most value to your business. Being able to attract and retain world class talent by offering outstanding benefits is key. Remote work is the single biggest contributing factor to that ability.
Try it out For Yourself
The great thing about working remotely is that it’s not an all or nothing choice. You can start adopting a gradual remote working policy to try it out and see how you and your business adapt to it and move forward from there. Don’t just take my word for it, try it out for yourself!