The virus that shall not be named has brought our civilization to a grinding halt, but in doing it has touched a global experiment in remote work that I hope will change the way how businesses view remote work and the need for co-location in an office. At Blue Label Labs, we started as an app development agency in 2011 and have been a remote only workplace since day 1. Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed how the perception of a remote team has gone from taboo, to a barely tolerable compromise for some of our clients, to now the defacto mode of operation for the entire economy. I believe that remote work and distributed teams provide very real tangible benefits for employees and employers alike and the notion of people working in offices is an archaic remnant of our pre-digital existence, one that is destined to join fax machines and dot matrix printers in the dustbin of corporate history. As many companies now adjust to the remote only mode of operation, the growing pains of may leave some yearning for the simple pleasures of a 1.5 hour commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or longing for the pure joy that one feels when hearing about their coworkers weekends while waiting in line to use the break room microwave. However, I assure you that once these initial growing pains are overcome, there a tremendous benefits to a remote-only workplace for both employee and employer alike, some of which I will attempt to enumerate.
You don’t need to be Scrooge McDuck to realize that a remote only workplace saves a tremendous amount of money on office leases, facilities, IT, etc. An office lease is an albatross of a liability around the neck of any company, especially those in high cost real estate areas like New York and San Francisco. A monthly office lease in Manhattan can run $80 per sq foot, which for a team of our size would easily be a $10,000 a month fixed expense! At Blue Label, not having an expensive office lease has allowed us to use that money to buy better computers, invest in more productivity and software tools as well as providing more health care benefits for our employees. We still maintain a small WeWork office for 3 people where anybody can go to work or hold meetings, but instead of paying $10,000 /month, we pay around $1500. Furthermore, not having an office means we do not need to maintain any sort of IT infrastructure, which brings with its own security and operational challenges. We leverage primarily SaaS offerings, almost all of which have business accounts allowing for central user control and licensing and multi-factor authentication for increased security. Through use of MDM software like SimpleMDM, we are able to track all assets given to our employees and remotely track any computer or phone we’ve purchased. Finally, by eschewing a traditional office lease for a co-working arrangement, we have made what is normally a huge fixed cost into a smaller variable one.
You get better talent.
By eliminating the geographic constraint when recruiting new talent, you open yourself up to recruiting the best talent regardless of where they are located. We have team members right across the globe, from Australia to Brazil, and it doesn’t really matter where they are located when it comes to recruitment. Once your team is “remote”, its a binary switch, there are no degrees of remoteness so it doesn’t matter what the physical distance is between any two people. The great benefit of the remote work environment is that we are able to access a global pool of labor, often finding better people at more competitive rates since we are not forced to pay local wages, which in New York, can be much higher than most of the world.
It boosts morale.
Working from home brings with it a measure of freedom that cannot be quantified and one that is worth much more than money. In a remote work environment, everyone can work from wherever they feel most comfortable, in whatever clothes they want to wear, without the soul crushing bondage of a commute or forced social interactions. Working remotely bestows upon employees freedom, which comes in exchange with increased responsibility and accountability to the employer. At Blue Label, this degree of independence and self-organization enables our team to balance their work and personal lives in a much more healthier way. Now, this is not to say there aren’t real issues with morale in remote environments. For people who crave social interaction, it can be an isolating experience and prolonged. Further, heated exchanges over IM could often be quickly dissolved with a in-person interaction and can fester longer in a distributed team. However, ask any parent if they would trade being able to watch their kids grow up while working from home for the social benefits of the office and I don’t think you’d find many takers.
It fosters an output driven culture.
Another tangential benefit to the remote office is that it developers a output-driven culture. Since we are not in the same room together, the only way I know how well my employees are working is by the output they produce. There is no place for ridiculous notions of ‘facetime’ and other non-consequential factors being used to obfuscate poor output. You showed up early for work? Great, I don’t care. You want to take a nap at 12pm at your desk? Go for it. At the end of the day, I can’t see my employees and there is less chance for judgements to be made based on non-relevant factors. At the end of the day, a remote only work environment exposes poor performers early and rewards those who deliver the best output.
One argument that I hear against a remote only workplace is that you can’t get the same energy from being in the same room together. Sure, you may lose some creative efficiency when working over a Miro whiteboard rather than a real one, but what about all the efficiency gains that come from not being distracted by the mouth breather sitting across from you? Or how about the efficiency one gains because they can go to the gym in the middle of the day, shower and nap so they can then work later into the evening at peak performance? When productivity is taken as a whole, the minor trade offs in communication efficiency are more than made up with the personal optimization that each employee can do to create the best work environment for themselves.
At the end of the day, remote workplaces offer tremendous benefits for employer and employee alike. Prior to the COVID lockdown, I often felt like a 3-legged pig when I would tell my fellow business owner friends that our company is fully remote without any real office. Ultimately, I feel the reason why many business owners have been so against moving to a remote work arrangement boils down to simply a lack of a trust in the employees to be productive without the watchful gaze of a manager to oversee them, which I can only describe as a sad lens to view one’s employees through. If a business owner cannot trust their employees to work without them being supervised in person, then I am afraid they have the wrong employees. My hope is that now that most offices have been pushed into the deep end of remote work, when the outbreak is over and we all emerge from these dark times, the economic, morale and productivity benefits of a remote office will have proven themselves and helped to make remote work the rule rather than the exception in our office landscape.
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