Remote work or “working from home” is often touted as the “future of work.” Does the “remote work is the future of work” statement have any legitimacy whatsoever? And if so, what are the pros and cons of working remotely?
This shift to remote work has been made possible by advances in technology. While remote work is becoming more common, it is still far from a standard model of employment. In this article, we’ll review the pros and cons of working remotely. Some are good, and some are so-so. But all in all, they’re pretty eye-opening.
How Common Is Remote Work?
Short answer: Remote work is more common these days than you’d think.
For more context, IWG, a serviced office provider based in Switzerland, found that 70% of professionals work remotely — at least one day a week. Meanwhile, 53% of people surveyed worked remotely for at least half of the week.
Remote work (or telecommuting) has grown by over 91% over the last decade. According to the results of a survey from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, 3.4% of the U.S. workforce work remotely. Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report found 99% of people surveyed would be open to remote work during their careers.
Those are some compelling numbers — numbers that already prove that remote work will be part of the future of work. But we all know numbers by themselves don’t paint a fuller picture. That’s where personal insight comes in.
The Pros of Working Remotely
As someone who’s always optimising his life to be more efficient, there are three tangible benefits I’ve witnessed almost immediately after working remotely. Each has resulted in a drastic improvement in my baseline happiness and productivity.
It’s Just Convenient
Among the pros and cons of working remotely, the most significant advantage for me hands down has to be convenience. No more waking up at 6 am to catch the subway, which arrives at 6.30 and then doesn’t show up for another 20 mins.
Plus, you get to work from anywhere. I’ve worked from cafes, restaurants, hotel lobbies, parks, airports, beaches, and even on vacation (I would probably stay away from my laptop on my next vacation, however).
Being a remote worker comes with a massive perk: the ability to mix business with pleasure by working and traveling at the same time.
In large part, this is because technology has made remote work easier. Video conferencing and communication has become a breeze with tools like Glip. You can run a video meeting with RingCentral tools. All you need is a stable internet connection, a good laptop, and a “get things done” attitude.
Commuting to work costs money — a lot!
If you happen to live in the States and drive to work — you’re probably spending in the region of $2,000 per year just commuting. And this figure is on the conservative end.
In the UK the figure is lower. Commuters travelling into London, on average, spend £305 per month. It’s quite a bit of money. What would you do with that? I’d probably spend the money on learning some new marketing chops, hiring a personal trainer to keep me accountable, or perhaps even taking an extra vacation (this time with my laptop at home).
Save Time, Skip The Commute
On average, you will spend almost 4.35 hours per week or a whopping 200 hours per year commuting to work and back if you live in the US. For the UK the figure is lower. Yet the average commute time has risen to 48 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, one in seven of us spends two hours or more commuting to work.
Talk about significant time sucks.
While some people find ways to make the most of this commute by listening to podcasts, reading a book, or even planning their day — nothing is a more efficient use of your time than “not commuting to work.”
If you begin to think of all the ways you could spend those extra 2-4 hours per day, the possibilities are endless. On the same note, working remotely also allows you to set your hours. You can work at a pace you’re comfortable with — I love working from 7 am to 3 pm, which then gives me plenty of time to enjoy life outside work.
From A Business Perspective
But what about the pros and cons of working remotely from a business standpoint? Allowing your employees to work remotely is not just a fancy employer branding tool but has tangible benefits that come along with it. Here are some off the top of my head:
- Reduced operational costs
- A more diverse workforce
- Improved employee productivity
- Reduction in sick days and personal time off
- Improved employee retention
Allowing your employees to work remotely is just one of the many tactics a business can employ in building an amazing employee experience.
Allowing your employees to skip the commute and work from a place they’re most comfortable in results in happier and more productive employees. And at the end of the day, happy employees always outperform burned out ones.
The Cons of Working Remotely
As I said before, while remote work has a lot going for it — it also comes with some cons. The cons come from both an individual standpoint as well as a company standpoint. So if you’re considering remote work or happen to be a business owner wanting to take your company remote, read on.
Potential Communication Bottlenecks
Remote work, while convenient, has its disadvantages. The main problems are bottlenecks arising from poor (or sometimes a complete lack of) communication.
In my past remote work experience, I worked on a different continent to my employer. The resulting difference in time zones was the most significant communication bottleneck — something I struggled to overcome. Now working at Venngage and living in the same city couldn’t be easier.
But If you’re considering working from home — you better get your software game on point. There are plenty of tools for remote teams. But to keep things simple we at Venngage swear by this holy trinity:
- GSuite: Everything our team does lives on Google, namely: Drive, Docs, Sheets. We also use Meets for all our video meetings.
- Trello: We manage all our projects on Trello with specific boards for every department.
- Venngage: We use our product for creating slides and infographics for our team meetings when developing presentation ideas, and for weekly stand-ups. We even use it to communicate something complex visually.
If there’s one major drawback of remote work for me, it is the infrequent or lack of meaningful human interaction with colleagues. The dream of escaping the hustle and bustle of the office and your sometimes noisy coworkers is legitimate. However, I realised I needed some form of interaction with my coworkers around me to preserve my sanity.
Being isolated can become a roadblock if you’re solely working from home, in which case I’d advise you to try a coworking space. But if you’re someone like me who works from home infrequently, this shouldn’t be a huge deal.
Lack of Effectiveness
Are you working hard, or are you hardly working? Remote work can often result in the latter, at least in the initial days.
While I’ve been efficient with my time working remotely, it has also resulted in occasions when I’m less effective. But what do I mean by this?
My college professor once told me, “efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right things.” I didn’t think much of it, but in this context, I now realise what he meant.
Ideally, you should aim at being effective over efficient. While you can do more things by saving time and working remotely, the question remains, “Is it even the right thing to do in the first place?”
The key to being productive is fairly simple. It is something I focus on getting right every day: plan a clear schedule for the day with 2-3 main tasks to focus on, follow it, and learn to stop working when done. You can use the 80/20 rule to review your progress and improve your productivity.
The other thing to consider is that when you work remotely, the line between work and free time can blur. I have found you must learn when to stop working.
From A Business Perspective
Variable time zones, poor employee performance, lack of accountability, and unforeseen logistical nightmares are just some cons of letting your employees work remotely.
If you hire people across multiple time zones, the lack of standardisation can be taxing on team communication and can even hurt productivity. The most effective solution would be to reduce the variation in time zones as much as possible so that everyone is on the same page at all times.
Remote working can be empowering for your employees, but at the same time, it can result in poor performance or even a lack of accountability. Focus on establishing clear agendas, daily schedules, or conducting daily standups with your team. Having clear points of contact will allow you to set tasks and ensure you know what your team is working on every day. Clear lines of communication will keep everyone accountable.
These are cons from my personal experience. However, Buffer’s survey in their State of Remote Work is more comprehensive in terms of outlining the challenges people face when working remotely.
Remote Workers on The Pros & Cons of Working Remotely
While my experiences are singular, I also reached out to other fellow remote workers to get them to share their pros and cons of working remotely (& some practical tips):
“After 10+ years of working remote, the pros: I have tons of free time, no L.A. traffic to deal with, and I get to make my schedule. The cons? A lot less human interaction than I’d like and no more happy hours with my colleagues.” — Will Cannon, CEO at Uplead
“I recommend implementing a remote work policy in stages so you can ease into it. Initially, I worked in a company office 9-5, then the company went remote, then I left the company and freelanced remote, then started a remote ad agency. Every one of these steps is a scary jump. Holding yourself accountable and staying on top of tasks and meeting deadlines is important. But you can choose the level of remoteness you want in today’s world. So taking that opportunity and ask your boss, “how about remote Fridays?” — Jack Paxton Founder of Vyper
“It was cost-effective to hire developers outside of Israel, hence remote work made sense for biz like Poptin. It is important to consider where your team is based. Initially, we were covering lots of timezones which caused plenty of delays, but we narrowed it to one-time zone based on Israel. Now, product bugs and problems are solved faster than ever.” — Tomer Aharon, CEO at Poptin
“It took me some time to understand that even though my schedule can be flexible, I can’t really expect to be as productive in the evenings as I am first thing in the morning. So unless that you’re wired differently than others and can be more productive during the night, I would recommend sticking to office hours schedule. I tend to work between the hours of 10-6.” — David Campbell, Digital Marketing Strategist at Voila Norbert
“To me, the pros of remote work are the ability to spend a lot of time with my family. We can go on vacation whenever we want to or even take a nap in the middle of the day without it being weird. There are also cons: it is a bit hard to separate work from fun. My four-month-old son is somewhat absorbing (I’m still happy that I can be there for him). Another downside of remote work is inferior communication with my team.” — Wojciech Jasnos, CEO at RocketLink
“Working comfortably within my own space has increased my productivity. It has allowed me to save time traveling to work as well as given me the option to work from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection. The cons for me have to be the lack of socializing with coworkers. It is more difficult to communicate my ideas over calls effectively. Time zone differences can require me sometimes to work offset hours.” — Nick Dimitrou, Head of Growth at Moosend
“In my experience, employees are happiest and most productive when they’re comfortable. And sometimes the best candidates for the job doesn’t want to relocate across the country. We leverage digital collaboration tools and have a flexible work schedule so we can hire remote employees when necessary to hire the best people possible.” — Jonas Sickler, SEO Manager at Terakeet
Is Remote Work Right for You?
So now that you a more fuller picture of the pros and cons of working remotely, the question remains — how do you make remote work, work?
The answer is simple: “It depends.”
Chances are your commute to work is only a little over 10 minutes, or your company does not allow you to work remotely (maybe you should start by getting a remote job). You could be a freelancer who works from home but often gets distracted with what’s new on Netflix. In these cases, working from home is a tough sell.
Every situation is different, and while remote work has a lot going for it, it’s still not the ideal way to work for most people. There are also lots of jobs out there that require an in-office presence at all times.
My only recommendation is to experiment.
Working remotely or working from the office doesn’t have to be a binary choice. If you happen to be working in the same city as your company or if you’re an in-office worker who has the option of working from home a few days a week, the best bet is to opt for both.
If you’re an employee, you can start by working from home once per week to get a general feel for how productive you are and how comfortable you feel. From there, either adjust the number of days or keep them the same based on what works best for you.
What’s worked for me is working from the same time zone and moving closer to my workplace. I used to commute to work for ~4 hours every day, but now I live just 45 mins away from my office. I currently work from home two days per week while also working out of our offices. My work hours provide me with the dual benefit of being able to enjoy happy hour with my team and also tune out all the noise when I’m working from home.
Because as the great Peter Diamandis once said, “When given a choice, take both.”
Aditya is a content marketer working at Venngage, a graphic design software platform based out of Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for all things growth hacking, content and search.
Originally published 18 Mar, 2020, updated 20 Mar, 2020