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!

Fight Skill Shortage with Remote Work

The predictions on the future of employment cannot be more divergent. Some say we face huge unemployment due to the emergence of the robots. Others say the growth of the companies is highly limited to the shortage of talented workforce.

The Problem

Companies around the world list the lack of specilized workforce as one of their top risks. The ‘vacancy duration’, the time to fill an open position, which is a good indicator for the availability of fitting workers, has increased dramatically. The fluctuation rate increases in a more and more stable environment. Unemployment rates are lower than 5% in a number of regions worldwide, what can be called ‘full employment’. The consequence is, that employers have to pay highly increased wages to attract skilled workers.

It is not a worldwide problem and it occures mostly not in a whole country. It appears regionally in the following parts of the world: Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Middle and North Europe. And even in some Asian, Arabian, African and Middle or South American regions.

The Reasons

There are some obvious reasons for that problem. The Baby Boomers (which are born in the 50s and 60s) are retiring rigth now, faster than young employees can follow. The average of work hours per week is declining continously. The automation replaces widely manufacturing and other low skilled jobs but rarely higher skilled jobs (till now).

The Generation Y, the Millennials, are seeking for completely different factors at work with more flexibility, less stress, less career ambition, but they are highly motivated (i.e. they presume to be allowed to have private time for phone calls or Facebook at work, but are willing to be available and checking emails after work). And the employers are very rarely attuned to that situation.

The Actions

What to do about that situation? You can employ less skilled workers and do plenty on-the-job training. Or you can educate workers by your own, i.e. right after school. But the best investment is to change your policies and culture to let your existing staff work remotely and to use the remote workforce.

As a regular reader of this blog you know all the benefits of remote work. It is not only the saved cost for offices and the ability to hire as fast as possible the best talented workers from around the world. Above all it is encouraging and motivating to your workers. That is because they will experience your trust, save time and money for commuting, have less stress and can combine work and family or hobbies in a better way. That results in happier, more productive, less sick and thriving employees.

To get a good summary, read also this blog post: ‘The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons‘.

The Conclusion

The best way to fight the No. 1 fear of the employers – the skill shortage – is to enable remote work. It is a win-win situation for both, the employers and the employees. It is definitively the future of work, so it is a huge advantage in the competition about the most talented workers.

What a good remote project manager needs to know

What is a remote project manager? That’s easy, its a project manager of a remote team. So what is different between managing an onsite or a remote team?

Most articles about this topic are not highlighting, that most methods and approaches are the same. Time, resource and budget planning, controlling or stakeholder management are nearly the same with onsite and remote projects. But if you take the PMI methodology for example, it says that you have to adjust all methods to the specific circumstances of the project anyway. The location and composition of the team is, of course, an important characteristic.

What are the major different topics, the remote project manager has to deal with? They are:

  • Communications
  • Tools
  • Team Management
Communications

The known principle is ‘everyone has to know everything what is important to his / her work at any given time’ – not more and not less.

The diffuculties with remote teams are, that you don’t have talks from desk to desk and you don’t have the informal meetings at the water cooler or coffee maschine. According to the famous book Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, are the employers of Basecamp encouraged to use their chat software Campfire as a ‘virtual water cooler’.

Instead of that you have to assure that all inforamtion will be exchanged in written (i.e. design specifications) or via chat, phone or video conference. The advantage here is, that agreements are more binding, but on the other hand, it is hard to get the mood of the participants and the reading between the lines.

Use the communication tools according to the urgency of the information:

  • urgent: make a call (but think about the time zone)
  • less urgent: reach them via messenger
  • not urgent at all: use email

Be very cautious if there is a little misunderstanding or you sense a bad mood at any form of communication. Normally that is only the tip of the iceberg. Get over this with temporarly even more communication, be it written, via phone or video or even face-to-face if needed.

Tools

We can’t do remote work without a number of tools. Remember that only the tools enabled us to work with distributed teams around the world.

The variety of tools in unbelievable. Its very hard to get a good overview or to make suggestions. Its also continuously envoling as we know the matter with software. Let’s focus on the tasks we have to address with the tools:

  • project management (schedule, resources, timetracking)
  • communication (VoIP, video, chat)
  • document management
  • source code management with version control, if you create software

Commonly you will use the tools which are in place at your company or at the client. If you have the choice, check out tool comparisons and have a close look on what will help the team while avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy.

Team management

Together with communications, managing the team is the most important topic for the remote project manager.

The great advantage of remote work, that you can hire the best talents (for the best price) worldwide, comes with the challenge that you will maybe not work in the same time zone. And even if – you should maintain a plan with the actual (remember travelling digital nomads) time zones and preferred working hours of all team members.

Get a very good overview about everyones experiences, skills, characteristics, position in the company, etc. At best you make longer one-on-ones at the beginning of the project. It is very good, if you have a face-to-face kickoff or get-togethers once or twice a year.

To enhance the collaboration, allow some time for personal conversation. So start every phone conference with some small talk and encourage the team members to exchange some information about hobbies, family situation or about the home or current city or country at other situations.

The project manager is the critical role in a distributed team. He enables all the remote work benefits, if he / she makes a good job and can destroy the project and the reputation of remote work if he / she skews it up.

Contact me if you need a remote project manager or even a coach for your project manager!

Remote Work opposes Nationalism!

The actual development in Europe and for sure extremly in the US politics throws questions in every community and every industry.

So, what is the remote work industry thinking about? The remote work ideology, if we like to name it that way, is the complete opposite of all nationalistic thinking. Most remote workers symbolize globalization, multiculturalism, equality and freedom (of thought, speech, action, religion, trade, loacation and much more).

There are just a few remote workers in the world, who are working from home or in a co-working space for a company or customers, without any connection to foreign nations. All the others have regular communication, collaboration, partnerships and trade (of goods and knowledge) with different countries. And we love that and we know the benefits.

Globalization is not 100% positive for everyone, we are not denying the drawbacks. But nationalism is definitive the wrong answer! To name one example: the jobless production workforce of the North of the USA will be not saved by import taxes or anti-immigration actions. They will only be saved by appropriate educational actions (education has already changed to a lifelong task) and complete opening to the global remote work industry.

To the political leaders everywhere: Think of easier taxes for digital nomads, e-residencies, universal basic income, free travel, working visas for every taxpaying worker and free internet with net neutrality instead of closing your borders!

So in these days, remote workes are Canadians instead of US citizens. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, twittered at 28th of January 2017 ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada’.

Anyway, most remote workers are decribing themselves as ‘global citizens’. Surveys of millennials are showing a rising numbers of people identifying themselves with the global community rather than with a nation.

Sorry, Mr. Trump, there is no place for your ideology in our future communities!

What is remote work, a digital nomad or even a remote-first company?

The remote work movement gains more and more momentum. But what is ‘remote work’ really? And what are all the other terms in its context? See the following collection.

Remote Work

It is any kind of collaborating work, where not all participating members are colocated in one building. The definition diverges, some say all workers on one plant are not remote, but others say everyone who sits 30 meters away or on a different floor is remote. That hard definition comes from the fact, that this 30-meter-collegue will lose the connection to the project without proper communication and documentation.

With that definition you will get one point: you are already working remote in some kind. But the common understanding of working remote is to work part- or full-time from your home office or a cafe or coworking space in your home town or anywhere else on our planet.

Completely Remote / 100% remote

If you are talking about a person, it is someone, who works full-time remote (no matter if in the home town or abroad). This is not excluding project meetings at your company and visits of customers and suppliers from time to time.

If you are talking about a company, all their employees are able to work where they want. The company can even have offices, but some never had an office or headquarter anywhere.

Remote-friendly vs. Remote-first Company

All big companies are trying to be remote-friendly these days. They are offering flexible work hours, part- and full-time home offices and sometimes even single enployees, which are completely location independent. These actions are commonly taken on existing onsite staff.

A remote-first company is built around the remote philosophy with all its tools and processes, even if some employees are sitting together in the same office. These companies are hiring worldwide, with no connection to any location. That constellation is still rare, but there is a raising number of i.e. software companies. One of the first of that kind was 37signals, turned now to Basecamp (http://basecamp.com).

Freelancers / Entrepreneurs

There are 3 major working conditions for remote workers: freelancing, self-employment and traditional employment (permanent appointment). These conditions are often mixed, i.e. a freelancer who has its own side projects or an employed person with part-time freelancing. Anyway, the percentage of freelancers and entrepreneurs is very high under remote workers.

Digital Nomads

are generally people, who are working online with the help of laptop and smart phone (formerly known as telecommuting). While the term is correct for people in the home office and abroad, it is normally linked to remote workers, who are moving from location to location around the globe.

Co-working and -living

With the raise of remote work, some digital nomad hubs emerged (i.e. Chiang Mai in Thailand). In those cities the first co-working spaces appeared, commonly open offices with WiFi where you rent your desk per day or even hours. Co-living came up next, the easiest explanation is: a combination of co-working space and hostel. The co-working spaces are already spreading through our home towns, because remote workers, who cannot work at home, are tired from distractions and bad wifi at coffee shops.

Remote Industry

If you combine all that, you see that we have a rising industry branch here. The related businesses includes co-working and -living spaces, hostels, coffee shops, specialized travel agencies, organized digital nomad trips, specialized online education and blogging, software for online collaboration and a lot more (please feel free to put the things I missed in the comments).

Millennials / Generation Y

Everytime you read something about the future of work you will come across the term ‘Millennials’. The millennials (or ‘Generation Y’ if you live in continental europe) are, according to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennials): ‘the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and ending birth years ranging from the mid-1990s to early 2000s’.

Why are they (wait, I should say ‘we’) that important? Because this generation will have the highest percentage of working people soon and because the needs and desires of that generation are totally different to generations before. Security and stability at only one employer was desired over decades, but the millennials are looking for freedom, opportunities and self-fulfillment. And because that is combined with and enabled by the digitalization, it is the biggest challenge for all industries.

That explanation was helpful? Or do I missed an important point? Please let us all know in the comment section. Thanks for sharing!