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So You Want to Work Remotely? Part 1

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Emily Lamia

A figurine of a man hailing a cab on a map.

Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about working remotely.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? The prospect of not having your boss looking over your shoulder from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. everyday, being able to wear your pajamas to “the office,” and either being steps away from your refrigerator, or getting your morning coffee from a different cafe each day as you work remotely from Bangkok or Paris.

It sure seems like everyone’s talking about either wanting to do it themselves, wondering if they can make a switch into a job or field that offers more flexibility, or debating if they should offer the option of working remotely to their team direct-reports.

So let’s break down some important factors to consider, whether it’s you who wants to explore the option, or a member of the team you manage has raised the possibility of remote work.

It might seem like everyone’s doing it, but that may not be the case

In a recent study by Gallup, State of the American Workplace, the number of employees that work remotely increased between 2012 and 2016. In 2012, 39% of employees spent some time working remotely. By 2016, that number had jumped to 43%.

The largest jump over the last four years was among employees that spend 80% or more of their total time "at work" working remotely; 24% in 2012 to 31% in 2016. Meanwhile, employees who spent less than 20% of their time working remotely in 2012 actually saw a further decrease in those opportunities; people who work 20% or less of their time remotely went down by 9 percentage points. It’s worth noting that the overall percentage of full-time employees that work remotely 100% of the time is still only 20%. Additionally, the Gallup report notes that workers in the community, social services, and education fields saw a decline in the number of remote workers today as compared to a few years ago.

Though, if you’re looking for some data to help make your case for working remotely, Gallup references a 2016 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management which reported that 60% of companies do offer employees various kinds of opportunities for telecommuting, which is up 300% from the number that offered this same benefit in 1996.

What the data says about working remotely

Even though the majority of employees don’t work remotely most of the time, this increase still suggests a few things.

First, it shows that both for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations recognize that employee benefits are not what they used to be, and that to attract competitive talent, they need to explore more appealing benefits. Organizations realize they can offer some non-traditional options—think flexible work schedule, options to work remotely, and unlimited vacation days—that make an employer more attractive and competitive, and may even cut down on overhead and other expenses.

Second, it shows that employers recognize that most work no longer ends at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Your phone is still buzzing late into the night, and for many, phone calls on weekends are becoming more and more common. Work no longer fits into a clear schedule, and therefore employers see that it may be time to value the work product and results over face time in the office. Many job postings these days highlight an openness to nontraditional hours, as long as your work is top notch.

Lastly, the data would seem to compliment the many resources out there that are increasingly making meeting, collaborating, and working with remote coworkers just as effective as if you were face to face.

Why do you want to work remotely?

When exploring the potential of working remotely, it’s best to start by exploring why it sounds appealing to you.

Is it because you work in an open-office floor plan and you find it hard to concentrate on your work with all the noise and social distractions?

Is it because you hate commuting and find that the extra time spent in transit eats into the time you could be working?

Is it because you crave the flexibility to organize your day the way you want? Maybe get in a mid-day run or morning yoga without being chained to a firm 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule?

Or is it because you think that it might allow you to travel and fit in more personal time?

Being honest with yourself about why a remote working arrangement is of interest is important. Not only can it help you make your case to your boss if need be, but in the event that you can’t work remotely, you might be able to figure out out how to get some of the benefits that you see in the arrangement some other way.

For managers

If a direct-report is asking for the opportunity to work remotely, your first question should be, “Why do you want to work remotely?” Your employee’s answers should tell you a lot about what’s motivating the request, and if they have the accountability and work ethic to handle more flexibility.

What’s the right balance for you?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years of running my own business and working from home a few days a week, it’s that everyone has a different level of how much solitary work is ideal for them.

If working in an open office drives you crazy, the idea of being able to work in peace and quiet on your couch probably sounds fantastic. Everyone has a different threshold for how much time is the right amount to spend working alone, but striking that balance between productivity and isolation can be tricky. Even people who start out loving their remote setup often find that after a few months, the level of social interaction they need on a daily basis doesn’t mesh with a full-time remote situation.

You may find that working from home one day a week is the best situation for you. Or perhaps spending only one or two days in the office each week makes you the most productive.

If you’re trying to figure the right balance, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How important are your in-office relationships to you?
  • Will these be impacted if you’re not able to communicate face to face on a regular basis?
  • How do you feel when you’ve spent a day or two without much social interaction?
  • Is there a day of the week that you feel most productive or most in need of other people’s energy to motivate you?

A critical question to ask is how working remotely could help or hinder your ability to perform your specific job duties. Do you have a role that requires a lot of writing and research? If so, some quiet time may be great. But if your role involves a lot of conversations with internal staff, then it may be difficult for you to work outside of the office since building those relationships involves time spent in-person with coworkers.

The first step toward a remote arrangement is understanding the “why” and “how” behind your interest. Once you’re clear about these things, it will be much easier to make your case.

Stay tuned for part two of this post where I’ll offer some useful tips on how to talk to your your boss about a more flexible schedule.

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Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

Emily Lamia is the Founder of Pivot Journeys, which offers career coaching, group programs, and organizational consulting to teams that want to build strengths-based cultures that increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

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