Remote work or back to the office?

Which is better, remote work or going back to the office? Here I present an analysis of telecommuting and the future of the office.

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If you surf the Internet for a few minutes you will find social media posts, memes and much debate about the value of going back to the office - or the hatred of those who say going back to the office is for dinosaurs. This article delves into several aspects related to remote work or telecommuting and the advantages of in-office work. And I anticipate, there is no one better than the other.

Let's start with the easy part: the benefits of remote work. Some companies may offer remote work or even "work from wherever you want," such as SpotifyBut is all that glitters gold?

Benefits of remote work

boy in yellow t-shirt sitting on blue and black camping chair

When I talk about benefits, I am referring to benefits for the worker - employee or contractor. Something that is perceived as a benefit to the worker is not necessarily a benefit to the company. For example, someone might think that having 50 vacation days a year is a great benefit, but anyone who has led work teams knows that having too many vacation days makes team management and work planning very complex and affects productivity.

1. No travel time to the office

The main reason for many to prefer remote work is the high cost of commuting to the office. And this is most evident in large cities where the commute (travel time to and from the office) is longer. That, for example, is the case for those of us who live in Bogotá, Colombia. Bogota is one of the cities with the worst world traffic. So imagine instant time savings, just by working from home.

2. Peace of mind

This psychological benefit is difficult to measure, but several surveys have highlighted the calming effect of knowing that you have to stay at home. Also, knowing that you have more time for yourself - because there is no travel time - you can sleep better. So there is an increased sense of well-being. You sleep better and feel calmer.

3. Personal or quality family time

If you have more time, you can better invest it in what you enjoy or in spending time with your family. For those with children, working time at home offers a unique opportunity to reconnect with more traditional family values - such as breakfast, lunch or dinner as a family.

4. Opportunities for minorities

Something that perhaps some people did not anticipate is that the virtuality of remote work opens doors to minorities or people who would not have been able to take office jobs. From people of historically discriminated ethnicities or groups subject to conscious or unconscious bias, to mothers with small children who cannot - or do not want to - move too far away from their children. This happened in Goal, where diversity and minorities now have greater representation in the workforce.

5. Work from anywhere

This is one of the benefits most acclaimed by young people - and some digital nomads. If you can work without going to the office, why stay in the same place? Citizens of wealthy countries, and certainly without travel restrictions in their passports, have shown that it is possible to work from anywhere. Of course, as long as the time zone allows it or the work can be done on flexible schedules.

Of course there are many other benefits of remote work. There are also benefits for companies. Such as increased employee retention or higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction - directly related to people's productivity.

We have seen interesting cases such as Spotify and Meta, with their remote work policies. But if remote work is so good, why are there discussions about it? Why do companies such as Apple or Google ask their employees to return to the office?

The dark side of remote work

white concrete building with white walls

Remote work has many variables. However, the geographical and legal distance between the worker and the company can work against the worker - rather than the company.

Let's take it one step at a time, being a worker is not the same as being an employee. So, if you do "remote" work for a company without legal representation in your country, you are likely to be exposed laborly or even legally. In short, you trade long-term benefits for a few extra pesos each month - for example, pension savings, medical payments or even vacations. In this article on income in dollars I talk a little about it.

1. Risks associated with the company

I like to assume that companies do the right thing, honor their word and comply with the law. But that doesn't mean that a legal or responsible practices validation check is unnecessary. The reason is simple, your remote work can't be more expensive than work done by someone on site. From a manager/coordinator's perspective, it is simpler, more productive and efficient to manage and coordinate people physically located in the same place - and that's just as important. co-location and don't forget the agile principle which states: "the most efficient and effective method of communicating information to the development team and among its members is the face-to-face conversation" and the richness of the communication channels Scott Ambler.

Therefore, if you work for a company with no presence in your country as a remote worker, this company only assumes the risk of having you because it has a savings or access to your skills that may be very difficult to find and therefore expensive. If you work through an intermediary company - now very popular - it must also manage a profit margin. In the search for these "savings" or "better margins" someone might try to "save" you money.bending the rules". And these are not isolated cases, or of very small companies, remember the problems he faced. Apple outsourcing its work.

From a management standpoint, distance makes all the difference. And although long-distance relationships exist, they are not the rule, are they? From a "team spirit" standpoint, distance works against it. From a labor regulation standpoint, there is still a way to go.

2. Exchange of benefits for money

Imagine you work remotely for a company in the U.S. What if your back hurts from sitting so much? What if you trip, fall and hurt yourself while walking through a café at home? Who is responsible for that injury? Do you have medical insurance? Do you get recognized for your leave days?

If you make a lot of money, maybe you can take on the management of these issues on your own. But if the difference is not substantial, is it worth the risk? Again, I invite you to read my articles on:

  1. What is it like to earn in dollars and spend in pesos?
  2. How much does a project manager earn?

In these articles I address important issues to consider about salary, emotional pay, money (income) and benefits.

3. Long working hours

This issue is a double-edged sword. If you are orderly and the company you work for is respectful of your time, then it is a benefit. If, on the other hand, the company is chaotic, or you have a bad boss, you know, the "flextime" becomes the endless work. Studies show that finding the balance is not simple to achieve.

4. Absence of a sense of belonging

This is, in my opinion, the most sensitive issue of all. Working remotely for some people is synonymous with being at home in your pajamas, doing some video conferencing and sending emails. It doesn't matter if you do that work for company X, company Y or work team Z.

The absence of worker ownership results in:

  1. High personnel turnover
  2. Lack of commitment and accountability
  3. Demotivation
  4. Depression

Is going to the office so unproductive? Is seeing your co-workers so boring? We are essentially social animals, and as such, the absence of relationships makes work monotonous and ultimately, we become mercenaries of a remuneration.

An outstanding video by Malcolm Gladwell discusses this - and many other things, in an emotional interview in "The Diary of a CEO". - I super recommend this interview, but if you don't have all the time to watch the full interview, you can skip to 1:17 "Feedback & Meaningful Work" and listen to his interesting conclusions.

What to consider for a remote job?

Having a remote job can be a significant improvement to your current conditions, and you can access better salaries. But it's not always the norm. For some, the difference is not significant and they unknowingly sacrifice benefits.

1. Employment relationship

To simplify, we speak of remote work as all work associated with your job - or the task entrusted to you by a company - that is performed away from the workplace or even when the workplace is not fixed or established in the relationship.

Examples:

  1. You work for a company that does not have an office in the city where you live.
  2. You work for a company that has offices, but does not require you to attend the office.

The reality is a bit more complex than this, but I will try to keep it simple. However, I present you with other examples that are more difficult to classify as "remote work" or "office work".

  1. You are a health visitor
  2. Your job is to visit clients in their offices or homes.
  3. Your job is to drive a truck and deliver goods.

So it's not that simple.

Remote work: employees or contractors

I reiterate, it is possible that the word is used for something related, but not to denote exactly the same thing in your country. Pay attention and try to answer some of these questions!

  • should the company pay to adapt your workspace?
  • can a company require you to attend any company location?
  • if you suffer an accident in connection with your work, who is liable?

These simple questions are very important because they establish the relationship between the company and the employee.

If you are a contractor, the answer is one: there is no obligation on the company other than payment for the result of your work. What happens in between is, more often than not, your responsibility (and problem if it goes wrong).

2. Desk

The workstation refers to the place from which you perform your work, including, in the case of employees, all the equipment and supplies necessary to do your job. For example, if you are a programmer, you will be assigned a place, desk, computer equipment, chair, and devices that support and favor your work - including ergonomic issues.

If you are a contractor and the chair where you work breaks, or is not very ergonomic - like local coffee bar chairs, it is your responsibility, and yours alone, to solve these problems. If your back hurts, it's your responsibility.

3. Workday and working hours

I've already talked about it in this article, but basically, how you perform, get paid and how much you can be required to do is key. Do you have to go to the office? Do you have to keep a schedule? Are you required to work a certain number of hours? Is it more or less than an office job? Have you done the math?

4. Taxes and other payments to be considered

The employee enjoys all the legal guarantees and benefits that make up the salary in your country - for example, health insurance or pension savings.

The contractor, on the other hand, is not considered an employee of the company and therefore does not enjoy - directly - the benefits granted by law. Almost always, their relationship with the company is more similar to that of a supplier. That is to say, you issue invoices and the company pays them, but you do not make contributions to medical services or consider additional benefits such as savings for pension purposes.

Many of us want a better place to live and work, but very few are willing to pay taxes for it. And the fact is that being an employee implies payments under labor legislation. Which is different from the relationship between a customer and a supplier (such as a contractor). Paying taxes in countries perceived as corrupt and inefficient is painful - I know from experience. There is a "Corruption Perception Index"And to give you an idea, here is a ranking of the region for 2021. Maybe this explains why we are so reluctant to pay taxes.

CountryPosition
(180 countries)
Rating
(over 100 pts)
Denmark188
Uruguay1873
Chile2767
U.S.A.2767
Colombia8739
Argentina9638
Mexico12431
Venezuela17714
Corruption Performance Index - Transparency International - 2021

Why is remote work not such a good idea?

Before continuing, it is important to clarify that not all work can be done remotely. If you need immediate medical attention, remote work is not an option. The person driving an ambulance cannot do it from home.

Can you imagine arriving at a restaurant and being attended by chat? Surely it is possible, even today you can do market without the intervention of individualsBut would you go to a restaurant on a recurring basis to enjoy a special meal if all the employees do their work remotely? Not surprisingly, the most popular cliché of romantic movies is going to a restaurant.

A world of virtual experiences, where everyone works remotely, is not only impossible, it is very boring. A sad world, without relationships, without friendships, without belonging. I don't even want to think about a Champions League where the players are robots or remote representations of people at home in their pajamas.

Much of the joy of life is sharing with others, and that includes - whether we like it or not - the time we spend at the office.

Office work is part of social life

It may not be the case for you, but how many people have met their partners at work? How many friendships? How many future business partners? How many of your current colleagues are referrals from other colleagues?

Social interaction is fundamental. An essential part of who we are. Of course, we all hate exhausting traffic and its long lines of cars. But in a good company, we make friends, we find loves and, of course, we argue and hate - some more strongly than others. Experiences and emotions are part of life.

The future of the office

Remote work has its advantages. So does working in the office. How can we get the best of both? A few months ago at a video conference someone asked me how I envisioned the workspace in the future.

The office has evolved with mankind: from repeatable production lines, to cubicles, to open spaces, and now to flexible spaces. - spaces that can serve several purposes.

So the challenge is to offer spaces where connecting - joining in, building relationships, empowering teams and, of course, discovering synergies - is possible, simple and practical.

Against this we have traffic, geographical distances and the best home workspaces - it is worth noting that, in the world of technology, the famous "setup" is part of the magic of working at home.

So I leave you with my bet.

  1. Smaller offices - for no more than 150 people. If you think that number is arbitrary, I invite you to read a little about the "Dunbar number".
  2. Flexible spaces. If you can't be more comfortable than at home, what's the point of going to the office?
  3. Work teams associated with offices. If you have a team, it would be ideal to have your team close together, like orbiting a sun - and that sun can be the office. That way it would be easy to establish "team schedules" and attend the office together.
  4. More than one office for large companies. If the company has many employees, it would be good to have more than one office in the same city, thus reducing commute time - bringing the office closer to the employee.
  5. Offices and housing offers. This is a riskier bet, but not new at all. And before we get into the historical and scary details, let's look at the idea. Imagine that in your company there is the possibility of taking an apartment or house within a 5 or 10 minute walk from your work. Imagine that's a perk you can take. Would you do it? Let's assume it's a nice, comfortable and good place for you and those who live with you.

Together, but not mixed up: work and personal life

Work is an essential part of life. But it's not everything. So the hard part will be maintaining the balance. Companies don't have it easy. Spotify is betting on what they call Hubs, and surely giant offices like Apple Park will be the exception. But you have to be careful, the concentration campsbefore all the bad things happened, were a simple and innovative idea, similar to the foundation of industrial cities: "...the idea of a new industrial city, a city of the future...".come to live close to work".

It wasn't a bad idea, it isn't now. Of course, what happened was terrible. But the idea of living close to a job that offers welfare for you and your family is not a bad idea. In the case of the second war we know it was an open lie. In Colombia, many of the victims of the so-called "false positives" left their cities with promises of work elsewhere and we know what happened - I refrain from posting links to evidence of this claim, but I invite you to google about Nazi concentration camp propaganda or understand a little about the ongoing armed conflict in Colombia and the horrible meaning of "false positive" in that context.

What is the responsibility of companies in the search for this balance? Difficult to explain. It is not exclusive to private enterprise. Nations are also responsible for this mobility. That is why the European Union has mobility between citizens of member countries. Companies have to offer spaces that are conducive to work and promote better performance, and workers - us - have to let go, share, support, learn?

Remote work: responsible decision

Work is work, and we get paid for it. But that doesn't mean it should be understood as something separate from personal life. They have common areas and separate areas - many friends of mine today have families with (former) co-workers. It is the responsibility of individuals, governments and companies to build safe and beneficial offerings for all.

Economics and time management may be important factors, but they are not the only ones. Remote work is not good just because it is remote. Office work is not bad just because it is face-to-face. And the debate should not be simplified, it is not a black and white situation.

It is important to consider the value of your work, the contribution of your presence and the importance of the feeling of belonging. The increase in mental illnesses associated with isolation and remote work is evident and cannot be taken for granted that it belongs to only a few people.

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Alberto Dominguez
Alberto Dominguez

Leading teams from theory to real and sustainable delivery of innovative IT products and services.

Articles: 37

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