The Benefits of Working Remotely

In a recent blog post, billionaire Richard Branson discussed the benefits of a flexible work schedule that allows you to work remotely. His thoughts on this were shaped by the fact that Branson himself wanted to work more out of the office following the birth of his first son.

He laid out 4 reasons employers should be more open to this idea:

1. Most people want to have more flexibility in their schedules.

2. Top candidates will want to work for companies who offer flexible arrangements.

3. Working remotely requires lower overhead and higher productivity.

4. A flexible location allows for more social mobility.

Based on their data, it sounds like Virgin has seen benefits in a number of different ways from a flexible work environment.

I can’t speak for every company or individual but I’ve been working remotely for over two years now and have learned a lot about the pros and cons of a flexible work environment. I had never worked remotely before so this was an entirely new set-up for me.

Here are a number of considerations for a remote work setting along with some personal perspective from my experience:

Productivity. I’m sure we’ve all had people in our office who sit down at their desk and immediately put on their headphones. Or the boss who always has their door closed. Some people just like their privacy but I’m guessing most people who do this are trying to drown out distractions in the form of people bothering them.

When you work remotely you lose out on some of the camaraderie and water cooler talk but the tradeoff is that anytime you need to get something done you can do so free of distractions (assuming you can avoid getting sucked into Internet or social media black holes). I work out of an office for one — myself. If I need to get something done, there’s no need worry about Glen from HR hovering over my desk telling me about his weekend plans at Dave & Busters.

You have to be more of a self-starter and a lone wolf to pull off a remote role, but the ability to get things done free from distraction makes for an efficient work environment.

Meetings. I’ve been to hundreds of meetings in my life. The majority of them were a waste of time, took way too long, and didn’t have an impact on anyone’s actual decisions. Most meetings don’t have a reason for occurring beyond the fact that they make people feel a sense of accomplishment.

The other benefit of working remotely is I never get pulled into meetings unnecessarily that have nothing to do with me. I still have meetings when necessary but the fact that most aren’t in person makes it much easier to avoid the time-wasting aspects of them.

Technology. We’ve integrated different technologies into almost every aspect of the firm’s workflow. I’m not sure my remote work situation would have worked as well 10-12 years ago before many of the services we use existed. Technology will continue to play a larger role in the majority of jobs going forward but it’s essential that you know how to get the most out of it when working offsite.

Communication. Working remotely puts you on an island so to speak so it’s important to have effective forms of communication to ensure everyone remains on the same page. Without a good system in place, it’s much easier for things to slip through the cracks. We’ve set up a number of different checkpoints — regular firm-wide conference calls, periodic reviews, group webinars, monthly committee meetings, etc. — to keep everyone on the same page. And the use of Slack has more or less done away with internal company emails and annoying reply-alls.

Talent pool. I live in Michigan. We also have an office in Oregon, California, Florida, Illinois and upstate New York in addition to our headquarters in Manhattan. Offering employees the ability to work from cities outside of the Big Apple has greatly expanded the pool of talent available to the firm. This also helps with the fact that our clients are located all across the country as well, so it becomes easier to segment client service by region as we expand.

Travel. One of the biggest benefits of working in Michigan is I’m centrally located in terms of travel. Because I work in another state, that means I get out on the road to go to New York and other cities where our clients are located on occasion to put in some face time. Technology helps make communicating easier but there’s still something to be said for a face-to-face meeting when necessary.

Organizational culture. I was the guinea pig in terms of working remotely for RWM. No one really knew how it would work but it’s gone better than I could have expected. The biggest reason for this is because the firm has the right culture in place to pull off this type of arrangement. Josh, Barry, and the rest of team have been willing to experiment and I think their openness to a different way of running a firm has made it a smooth transition for everyone involved.

Some firms will probably never make this type of switch because it’s hard to change the way you’ve always done things. I’m sure there are situations where working remotely won’t help much but the old 9-to-5 work schedule should be adapted for advances in technology that allow for people to be more productive outside the office. Smartphones and email have basically made office hours obsolete for many jobs.

Offering this type of work environment will be especially important for those firms who wish to attract young talent in the years ahead.

Why Most Employees Want Work Flexibility and Why You Should Let Them (Virgin)

Further Reading:
How to Work From Anywhere

Now here’s what I’ve been reading lately: