The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons

No matter who you want to convince, your boss, your employees, your partner or just yourself, here are the ultimate arguments for remote work.

For Employees

pros

  • no time for commuting
  • no money for commuting (fuel, car, insurance, parking, train tickets)
  • lower stress and reduced possibity of accidents while commuting
  • improved health due to lower stress through commuting and busy city centers
  • more productive work in less time
  • no distractions by collegues and loudly cubical farms
  • no long water cooler talks
  • no useless face-to-face meetings
  • work where and when you are most productive
  • you are managing your schedule, that is not done by your manager
  • you are measured by accomplished work and not hours spend at the office
  • you can’t be micro-managed by your manager
  • more time for family and hobbies
  • time and flexibility to take care for family members (the young, old or disabled)

cons

  • risk of loneliness and isolation
  • the need for self-motivation (which is easier if your job fits to you and hard if not)
  • sometimes lack of good communication tools
  • no short water cooler talks
For Employers

pros

  • infinite talent pool / higher qualified employees and saved time while hiring
  • the skill shortage in your region will not slow your business down
  • you will get self-motivated people instead of bored 9-to-5-staff
  • good employees will most likely not relocate if you are a startup or a small company
  • you are getting work done by the employees and not hours spend at your office
  • your employees are spread over lots of different markets – so you get a lot of market information and trail opportunities for your products
  • relaxed employees, because they have no commuting or office stress and better work flexibility (for collecting kids, doctors appointments, dog walks, etc.)
  • more productive work in less time
  • possibility of an easy around the clock customer service
  • save cost on office space, furniture, energy, cleaning service, janitor
  • availability of divers cultures which can be respected at creating products
  • availability of native speakers of different languages while finding a name for your product or creating user documents
  • products are better specified and documented, because the remote work requires it
  • you are disaster ready: you are still online, if there is an internet or power blackout, flooding, snow storm or flu season at one location

cons

  • work in different time zones need to be managed
  • misunderstandings because of too less or bad communication
  • you need good remote project managers to create a successful product or service
For the Environment

pros

  • no pollution through commuting
  • less demand for new freeways and railroads

cons

  • pollution from travelling of digital nomads

So it is no surprise that the remote movement is unstoppable. My personal opinion is, that it will even accelerate and that we will find empty office towers in big cities and flourishing small towns and co-working hubs spreaded all over the counties. That will increase companies efficiency and our all quality of life.

Please let me know what pro or con I have missed in the comment section. Thanks!

Is remote work just possible for software and marketing companies?

Let’s resume at first the difference between partly and fully remote companies (read also that blog post: What is remote work, a digital nomad or even a remote-first company?). The partly remote company has offices with co-located workers on one hand and remote workers on the other hand. The fully remote company consists only of remote workers, also if some are co-working. The term ‘remote worker’ includes permanent employees, freelancers or contractors and is independent of their location (remote office, home, co-working or travelling).

Partly remote company

You can imagine every traditional company here, because a lot of them are enabling their workers to work from home partially. Needless to say, that this is not possible for people who are using tools or other equipment which is located at the companies property. So remote work is possible for everyone who needs only internet, laptop and phone for work. There are also positions where you need equipment only at some days. Imagine a tester, who is setting up a test jig at some days and programming test sequences and running tests with online access to its already functioning test rack on other days.

The companies are sending all their workers home these days, may it be engineers, accountants, lawyers, purchasers, managers, marketers and authors for sure. But is it even possible to have a fully remote company beyond software, marketing and journalism? My optinion is clearly yes!

Fully remote company

We said before, that everyone who just needs internet, laptop and phone can work remotely. So every company which employs more than 80% of those workers can go fully remote. Why are still so many people co-located at offices? The biggest point is, that the manager (middle and top management) are not used to it and are afraid of losing power over their staff.

But it is possible nowadays – the famous examples are showing it: Basecamp, 99 designs, Buffer, Trello and others. That are all software companies? Is the headline right in the end? No! My theory goes like this: it is much easier to build a fully remote company from scratch than transform an existing one. And with that knowledge ask yourself, which industry is fast growing and creates lots of new firms?

Thought Experiment

We will soon see fully remote companies in every industry. Lets make a thought experiment with a company which develops and produces components for construction machines.

A sales person will maintain contacts to customers remotely and personally like in the past. He or she will make an offer after consulting engineering and production people. After getting the order, a remote project manager will clarify all the open points with engineering, production and the customer and will start the developing. Mechanical engineers have a 3D-printer for fast samples or will get printed parts overnight.

Electronical engineers are soldering easy parts by their own or get SMT assembled modules in a few days (to wherever they work). Software engineers are developing inside simulations and can get hardware in a few days, as well. The industrial engineer, who manages sourcing, the kinds of manufacturing steps and the grade of automation can also work remotely. The only one who is linked to a location is the assembly guy. He is the one who manages prototype assembly and organizes everything for series assembly, may it be manually or partly or fully automated.

If you make something completely new, it will help if you arrange face-to-face integration weeks, where mechanical parts, electronical modules and software will be integrated by the developers. It also helps to work closely with the test laboratory which conducts mechanical and electrical environmental tests to avoid extra loops.

And of course it is great to meet the customer with the key people of the team. All the rest of the work – and I am pretty sure here – is possible remotely.

Please question yourself: how many of your tasks can you do from home?

For sure everything I write needs proper remote project management and very good collaboration and has trade-offs on top – but the benefits are clear (Why your company has to go remote). You have simply not the best talents for your jobs next to your office. If you are an employer, deal with that and start the transition of your company (How to start the transition to a remote company) or start your own fully remote company now. If you like to be employed, look around for remote work opportunities.

Please use the comment section for any suggestions or objections. And if you need a remote project manager for the scenario above, please let me know.

 

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!