Why Remote Work has Not Exploded yet

All the requirements are given since several years. The hardware with phone, internet, video chat and collaboration software is ready since years and the work, which is possible to accomplish remotely is there since decades.

So, why is remote work still niche instead of normal?

1. Fear of managers

Liz Ryan wrote a great article for Forbes this March: The Real Reason You’re Not Allowed To Work From Home.

The best statement of the post is: “The real reason you’re not allowed to work from home is that managers at all levels are fearful of change and especially fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone.”

She explains further, that fearful management is the key problem in organisations. To not allow staff to work from home is one action that exposes this fear. The managers are often talking of trusting people, but who’s actions are reflecting that? I know middle manager which even fuel the rumors that the remote working collegues are not really working at home.

2. Missing leadership skills

So, the first major blocking point is the managers fear and their trustless behaviour. The second point is the need to rate team members with looking at the work results instead of counting hours at work which is indeed much easier. This type of measurement needs more time and knowledge, what the managers do not want or even are not able to spend.

Commonly that worker, who made technically a good job and was nice to his boss, will be promoted as team leader in the companies I attended so far. That lack of leadership skills is a big problem, but it is logical if the ability to lead is no part of managers selection process.

Key solution: Select managers with good leadership skills and train them on managing remote teams!

3. Companies struggle with organizational changes

All companies I know, are struggling hard with organizational changes. And it is no surprise that it is even harder if the company is big. But also companies with a few dozens employees and a few years in the market have lots of written rules and processes and many unwritten ones in addition.

It is easy for workers to follow these rules and it gives them security even if the rule is stupid. After realising that, the company will start an organizational project to fix that glitch – enabling remote work is only one example of many. The main problem of such projects (next to the workers fear of change) is, that always the operational / customer projects are winning over the strategic ones in the everyday competition about resources.

We have many organizational projects in our 780-people-middle-sized company right now, because lots of processes should be adjusted, after the company tripled in the last 10 years. As the head of project management I’m involved into a lot of them and believe me – you need month or years to change even smallest things in a middle-sized company.

Is the change coming nonetheless?

My hope is, that the situation will change when more millennials are reaching C-level positions. The remote work possibilities seams to be much better at startups – probably because of the younger executives. The risk with millennials climbing the corporate ladder at bigger companies is, that they have learned the ‘benefits’ of onsite working and collecting teams in cubicals from their mentors.

But the circumstances for the big companies are changing recently, too. Years before, there were only the remote work benefits of saved money on offices and more productive employees. Now they have to deal with exploding housing prices in every metropolitan area worldwide.

What I am experiencing in southern Germany, where we have a very low unemployment rate, is, that so many vacant jobs cannot be staffed over month. This huge financial loss due to open positions and the cost of recruiting would justify every effort into remote working. Even with this highly different employment situations in Europe, the workforce is not so flexible to bring enough workers to my region.

Short example: the district office hold a small job fair in my next town Lindau 4 days ago. Attendees were representatives of 13 local companies and only 30 (!) students of two German universities.

Exploding cost of living in cities and skill shortage will drive the movement to remote work drastically. A major factor of success of companies is already the adaptability to the future of work!

What do you think? Are there other reasons? Let us know in the comment section below!

4 Replies to “Why Remote Work has Not Exploded yet”

  1. As someone who became a remote worker for a large corporation about a decade ago, it seems to me that this shift is inevitable. I agree with most of your points.

    One barrier in my experience was the poor quality of videoconference technology, which does prevent distant coworkers from getting to know each other adequately. As an employee I found that a distributed workforce that got together for quarterly meetings worked well enough.

    I do hope that, as you predicted in another article, this movement can allow economic revival in rural areas. I’ve met numerous young tech workers who want to live where they can avoid crowds and pursue a passion for outdoor recreation.

    See https://livingdubois.com/2017/05/21/in-remote-dubois-a-quiet-revolution/

    1. Hi Lois,
      thanks a lot for your comment!
      I had just a short sneak into your blog – I will definitly feature it with Remote Projects Twitter and Facebook accounts.
      Bye, Nick

  2. Loved the article. And all of these are legitimate fears. All of our employees work remote, its really our thing. We’ve found showing trust with holding strict accountability keeps everyone productive and happy. Although we do have a small operation, as grow we hope to maintain the complete remote lifestyle. Hopefully the rest of the world catches on! http://www.livfreweb.com

    1. Hi Andrew,
      thanks a lot for your comment. I think you can stay fully remote if you manage it carefully. All the remote work benefits are not coming w/o trade-offs – that is mainly higher coordinating effort, but it is manageable, maybe look for good remote project managers. Good luck with your business!
      Bye, Nick

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