Remote First : the right way to do remote work

Remote work – the not so new trend

There is no doubt that remote work is on the rise and is not stopping any time. As it started gaining traction especially with titles like The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss sparking general interest in an alternative approach to work and life, remote work started do become a cherry on the top of a cake for big companies trying to attract talent. Not full-time remote work of course, but rather a remote Friday or 3 remote days a month or whatever level of remote that was deemed acceptable in the HR room. But is this really beneficial?

Part-time remote

We are all creatures of habit and whether we like it or not it’s the small rituals that govern our day. That first cup of latte in the office kitchen that always kick-starts the day, the quiet moment at 8 am when there’s no one at the office yet.

Companies have recognized that remote Fridays were essentially an extension of the weekend and started switching to remote Wednesdays in an effort to both offer remote and rescue their employee productivity. But is it really about the day of the week or more about the number of days than a specific day?

When a person gets used to the structure of the day and all of a sudden, one of those days looks completely different breaking all patterns it’s not easy to stay productive. Sure, distractions that one would typically experience at the office are gone but a whole world of new ones show up. It takes tremendous discipline to force the brain to not switch to home-mode when it is given a clear cue that it’s not work time.

What’s more, productivity in the following day also gets the hit. It’s not uncommon to sleep a little bit late on your remote Wednesday. Hey, after all, there is no commute so why not. Research shows that inconsistent sleeping time is a big productivity killer so by getting a bit more zzs might actually hinder your performance for the rest of the week.

Enter Remote First

Remote-first (yes, we have made up this term!) is an approach that reverts the single remote day a week and allows full remote work to all employees. Being at the office is then mostly voluntary and when the need to meet with the team in-person arises, it is always a pleasant and awaited moment.

One of the biggest benefits of being remote-first is the talent pool that this way of working attracts. Without proper self-discipline working remotely is simply not possible as lack of such discipline is not easy to hide. At the end of the day, it’s the results that matter, not the appearance of work being done and looking busy is a lot easier when people are on-site and look at each other.

Having great people matters. And nothing feels better than being able to give back – give back with the ultimate reward – the gift of time. That’s the only thing everyone has the same amount of regardless of who they are and what they do. Returning between 1 and 4 hours of time to one’s life triggers a waterfall of positive effects. Less stress commuting, more time to exercise, spare hour to start that side project, quality time with family that’s not between 7 pm and 9 pm when all you’re thinking is a warm pillow.

The case against being 100% remote

Wait a minute, there must be a downside to all that remote work? I’m glad you ask.

The social side of work or lack of one is usually the number one issue raised when full-time remote work is discussed. Point taken – people are social and stripping this aspect from a third of their lives is not something we should accept. Having an option to work at the office is one solution but people are usually able to arrange their own social environment when working remotely and that’s one that lets them thrive.

And of course these days, there’s a coworking space or a coffee shop popping up every minute making a selection of places to work from when one needs to see people extremely easy.

Another common argument against working remotely is that people will not be as efficient as they are at the office. This, of course, makes little sense in the face of a wealth of research that proves offices spaces are rarely designed to be anything else than a distraction factory. With a minimum of boundaries (which are easier to communicate to family members than a group of colleagues) distractions at home can be limited to a minimum. A good pair of headsets is also a great way to cut yourself off of potential attention killers (now guess what anniversary gifts Ultricians received this year – it starts with Bose ;))

What about Facebook and Instagram and…

Now you’re getting really anxious that people will spend all their time on social media and not get any work done. First of all the days of blocking Facebook in corporate networks are long gone – everyone has a phone these days and unless you are the Pentagon and jam any wireless signal, you have to abandon any hope of control. If a company cannot let their staff go full-remote, then a bigger issue – the trust issue – should be solved first.

8 years remote and counting

As I’m publishing this post, Ultrico is at its 9th year of being remote-first. I’m grateful to all Ultricians present and past that helped to shape the remote culture and to customers that had no issue accepting our remote-first approach and even making a remote, distributed team feel like part of their company. I can only wish ourselves another great 8 years and to everyone, that’s still stuck in the old ways of working to find a great place that will give them back their most valuable asset – their time.