Why Remote Work is Here to Stay
The demand for remote work and flexible schedules was there long before the pandemic forced employers to let people work from home. Now that it's proven as a possible, and often beneficial, option, many workers are not willing to go back to that archaic 40-hour work week structure. -- If you have a topic you'd like to hear about on this podcast, let me know at email@example.com or DM me on social @aardvarkgirl. -- When I first started consulting, I noticed a common theme amongst employees. They were annoyed by the standard 40-hour work week, having to be in the office every day, and being forced to work in an environment in which they weren’t particularly efficient. And this was in 2015, long before the pandemic forced businesses to allow people to work from home. At the time, I worked in an office full-time, too, and was equally irritated by what a total waste of time it was. It was an issue with a lot of people I knew, in different positions and industries. Why did we need to be in a specific space for a specific schedule that was based on archaic factors? We know I’m a logical person, and there is no logic in this framework anymore. I can accept Monday through Friday as a work week. That’s pretty much engrained into the American ritual and it’s fine. I think we should have more than 2 days off, but that’s not always feasible. But the 8am to 5pm with lunch from 12pm-1pm schedule doesn’t make any sense. For most of us, sometimes our work is going to take more than 40 hours a week and sometimes less. We need to be able to manage that time based on our workload. Our time working should be dictated by how long we need to get our jobs done, not based on a pre-determined and irrelevant number of hours. Also, chances are that the most efficient schedule is not going to be that regimented. It’s going to utilize pockets of time throughout the day, not just in that one big 8-hour chunk. If you have kids and you want to take them to their after-school activities, you should be able to do that. It might mean that you stop for a few hours in the afternoon and then work a little bit after dinner, but then you’re going to be much happier because you’re getting that important time with your family AND still doing your job responsibly. If you have personal appointments, or friends in town, or you’re not feeling well and need to rest for a bit, or if you’re not a morning person and spend the first few hours of the day not getting much done because you’re not fully alert yet, or whatever the case may be, it is counterproductive to try to force a work schedule that doesn’t actually work for your life. There are times when a team needs to be together for meetings to discuss things as a group. Some people are extroverts and get the energy they need from being in a room with other people. Others are introverts and that energy actually takes away from their ability to work well. Most are somewhere in between those two. So as the boss, if you are forcing one or the other, meaning everyone has to be there every day or no one has to be there any day, you’re preventing an entire group from being the best employees they could be. And the common thing I sadly heard from those owners back then was “I need them to be in the office so I can make sure they’re doing what they are supposed to do.” Most people are self-motivated when given the opportunity. Some do need to be managed or told what to do, but if you hire the right people, and communicate with them properly, you should never have to micromanage. A short conversation can reveal everything you need to know about them and their working styles, and how to create a schedule that maximizes the benefits to you and them. It’s not that hard. There’s a reason why, when I’m doing an evaluation for a company, I ask to speak individually with employees and not just the person in charge. It’s important to get all perspectives, and the employees tend to be more forthcoming with me because they can talk freely without any recourse. I use the information they provide to help with my suggestions, but don’t reveal who told me what unless they want me to. In nearly every consultation I’ve done, I’ve uncovered that the employees are unhappy because they feel confined to a situation that doesn’t make sense. Their energy is diminished because they are trying to fit their work into a schedule instead of creating a schedule around their work. They’re stressed out because they can’t find any balance. They’re missing out on personal and family obligations due to work, even if they could still get everything done on time. They’re feeling disrespected. They are willing to work extra when needed, but then they aren’t allowed to leave early in the times when they’re able. They’re always expected to give more, but if employers aren’t giving back, that’s when these employees spiral into burnout. Their quality of work often suffers as a result, and that hurts the company in a way that could’ve been easily avoided. When I had my Office Space moment and decided I wasn’t going to go to the office anymore, my theory was instantly proven. I saved so much time because I didn’t have to get ready and commute across town and deal with the frustrations of rush hour traffic which never really starts the day off with the right energy. I could have a proper lunch at home and didn’t have to go sit in my car just so I could have a few minutes to myself to decompress. I got my work done way more efficiently because I could focus without the constant interruptions and conversations in which I did not need to be involved. I could schedule my time around my volume of work and deadlines instead of the hours I was supposed to be in the office. That meant I could make more time for meetings with clients and other important appointments that helped the business. And I was much happier because I was in a comfortable environment. I didn’t have to freeze all day, or smell people’s microwaved lunches, or waste time staring at the computer when I was done with everything I needed to do that day but the clock didn’t read the right time yet. That decision, even if it wasn’t approved by my employer, changed my life. For those last 4 months, I only went to the office one day a week for a few hours. I still did everything I needed to do. I was still available to the other employees and clients and anyone who needed me. It didn’t negatively affect anyone. If anything, it saved the company some money because I wasn’t there all week using their power and Internet and office supplies and drinking their water. If that had been under different circumstances, without all the baggage from that previous year, and if I wasn’t already committed to leaving that company because of it, if they had allowed me to work from home, I would’ve been likely to stay much longer. It was part of my compromise… I say “my” because they didn’t actually agree to it… but my compromise for agreeing to stay when I told them clearly I was unhappy and wanted to leave, was that I would need to do it on my terms, and that meant working from home. They didn’t uphold their promises to me, so I didn’t feel like playing by their rules anymore. It never had to end up that way. I think this is why so many people go into self-employment or freelancing. They don’t want someone else dictating when or where they do their work, or what work they have to do. Working as a contractor allows you to build partnerships with your clients, hiring contractors allows you to build partnerships with your vendors, and all of that usually leads to more beneficial relationships where everyone feels respected and actually wants to do the work. If that’s not happening, you’re hiring the wrong people or you’re acting the wrong way. Remember, this was all an issue pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic, people just aren’t willing to put up with it anymore. 2020 proved that work from home was possible, and in many cases, beneficial. People learned that virtual meetings save time. They saw that people can be trusted to do their work without being in the physical office with someone watching over them. They realized that people are happier being comfortable and focused. Without the commute, many were able to move to the places they always wanted to but couldn’t because they had to be close to the office. It opened up opportunities to work with people from all over the world and not just their geographic area. It gave people back some ownership of their own time. For employers who have embraced the changes, and will continue allowing work from home, they have workers who feel more appreciated and are more willing to go the extra mile for them. There’s more of a reciprocal working relationship based on respect vs a boss telling an employee what to do all day. Some bosses might prefer that old school way of doing things, but those who are stuck in that are losing the talent and they’re not going to be able to hold on to good workers for very long. There’s been a huge shift in the power dynamic, one that favors the individual over the company. It used to be that the hiring person held the power. They had the job and the money that the employee needed. Not anymore. The employee has the talent and skills that the company needs to thrive. A job interview now isn’t just about the company finding a good fit for the available position, it’s also about the person finding out if the company is worthy of them. Similar to those of us who are self-employed, talented workers have learned to value their skills. They’re making demands, and it’s not all about money and benefits. Flexibility is a huge part of all of it. People need the freedom to do what they need to do, in the way that works best for them. They need to trust that the people they work for care about their well-being, and they need their bosses to trust them. They will get their work done on time if you give them the chance and don’t confine them to a time or place that doesn’t make any sense. Remote work is not going away. People are not going to forget what they learned during the pandemic. Some are ready to be back in the office and amongst people, but others prefer to stay home where they can be more comfortable and efficient and spend more time on the life part of the work life equation. The great thing about owning a business is that you get to hire the team you want and create the environment that works. Some jobs do require people to be in a certain place at a certain time, but if there’s room for flexibility, honoring some of those individual needs will benefit you in the long run. If you’re looking to hire some people for your company, keep in mind that you need to give as much as you want to receive. People will work harder for you and be more committed to you if you offer them some basic respect and trust. If you can’t trust them to do good work without constantly looking over their shoulder, there’s something wrong on at least one side that needs to be addressed. If you’re looking for a job, make sure to prioritize what’s important to you and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Compensation isn’t just the dollar amount they’re willing to pay you. And if they aren’t willing to meet your needs, move on to the next one. Or, maybe it’s the perfect time to start your own business so you can make the rules that work for you.