Remote Work Creates a Fairer World

We all know the big inequality we have on earth. Your chances in life are highly different depending on your place of birth. Remote work will lower that on a large scale. Have a look how that will work out.

Birth Lottery

The biggest disadvantage on earth is based on the birth lottery. You have less possibilities in life, if you are born into a poor family. The education is worse, the motivation to go studying is less and the connections to good jobs are missing. That is common everywhere on earth and we know it from our western communities.

But the birth lottery is even worse at developing countries. If you are born in a rural area without internet access and maybe without electricity, the way to a middle class life is very, very hard. You have to start real work underaged, have to get kids in your twenties or earlier and cannot even think of university.

The good news is, that it is getting a little easier to improve your standard of life with every year. Electricity and internet are on the rise, i.e. with photovoltaic power generation, in every region on earth.

Remote Education

With the higher availability of the (hopefully neutral) internet comes the better access to education. Everyone who is a little self-motivated can receive free high level education, i.e. from Udacity or other MOOCs (massive open online courses) of high schools and even well-known universities.

This is a big chance for talented, young people in the developed and in the developing world. No matter if you are a young African software developer or a German mom and likes to restart your career without leaving your kids alone too long.

Well-paid Work

And then comes remote work! Because all the education doesn’t help without well-paid work. Electricity, internet, laptop and education are the only ingredients, what a motivated woman or man needs today to increase their standard of living fundamentally.

Take the example of tunga.io a remote startup run by a Dutch founder. They are working together with BITS ACADEMY with sections across Africa, which are training IT skills to students. Tunga tries to link these trained developers to worldwide software projects.

A little bit more on the side of entry level jobs is Sama Source from San Francisco. Their mission is to lift people out of poverty with remote jobs like data entry or data enrichment. If that all is working on a large scale, this will improve the life of whole communities, including better sanitation, increased health, less hunger and a reduced number of children in families (which slows overpopulation).

The possibly increased standard of living is the same for underprivileged people everywhere. A disabled person who can work on a computer but is not so mobile thrives with actual remote work options.

Better Than Development Aid

Nothing bad about good development aid! It saved an amazing number of lives and helps the people who are mostly unblamable for their situation. And it is old news that education is the key for helping developing regions. But a sustainable development starts only if there is enough work.

It is not the best solution for the local people, to bring them work through the big enterprises, with was common for production work in eastern Europe and China, moved through India and looks for its luck now in Indonesia and the Phillipines.

Much better for every country is, to enable a diverse and strong economy. This works not only with international teams, where workers of developing countries are part of the team, it works mostly through the huge number of better trained and experienced young people who will start new endeavours by their own. Remote work can be more sustainable than development aid in this way!

That all is not naturally given, so a stable, democratic political framework is important. An affordable, unrestricted access to an uncensored internet is crucial. A government, which thinks it is better to keep the people stupid, will not help itself in the long run, because a strong, independent economy is the better choice everytime.

Summing Up

Remote work creates exactly the opportunities, which were missing in the past. It gives well-paid work to so many disadvantaged groups of job seekers. Disabled, underprivileged, formerly undereducated, part-time, young mom, rural or remote living and relative caring people have much more possibilities these days. The worldwide inequality between poor and rich countries, between metropolitan and rural areas and between high and low educated people will be lowered dramatically by remote work!

Other opinions? Interesting additions? You know similar initiatives like the above mentioned? Please write that in the comments!

Want to be part of the movement? Want to do something good – better than development aid? Please contact me via the contact page.

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!

Prepare for the Remote Work Tsunami

The digital nomads, who are portraying themselves in the internet these days, are only the spearhead of the movement. Most of them are internet marketers, travel blogger, self-taught digital nomad trainers, WordPress experts or organizers of coworking retreats.

But this is only the beginning, they are only the first row of the protest march. The already raising big mass behind are the silent ones, who do full- or part-time telecommuting or are part of the worldwide freelancing force, which feeds big companies. See details in Diana Mulcahys book ‘The Gig Economy‘.

Why is remote work an incoming tsunami?

Latest since 2011 we all know the characteristics of a tsunami. Small waves out in the ocean are indicating the problem, but you cannot imagine the impact, they will have at the coast. Only next to the coastline, where the water is shallow, the waves will pile up and get their disastrous force.

The remote work movement is in the phase of the small waves out in the sea. The big wave will hit companies and workers in the near future. The obstacle with that is, that humans are not made for fast changes. Mankind is highly adaptable, but only over generations and not in just some years.

What makes it even more complicated, is the raising automation of jobs. What started in the manufacturing industry decades ago, will continue there and will spread farther into assistence, administrative and even academic jobs.

Reasons for the shift to remote work

For companies:

  • get happier employees and increase productivity
  • get higher skilled employees, than the ones living nearby your offices or you can convince to move to your location
  • save money for offices and wages, because your employeers don’t have the expensive metropolitan cost of living

For employees:

  • create a healthy work environment with less stress (at home or on the road)
  • choose your employer worldwide for the best conditions, instead of comparing only the few in reach of your commuting
  • save money while living in a rural area or abroad, compared to an expensive city

See the complete list here: The Ultimate List of Remote Work Pros and Cons

The overall reason for the remote work tsunami is the skill-shortage at the places of the companies and the technical opportunity to work from everywhere.

The reason for the overcrowded cities all over the world is the former necessity to gather people to work together in large buildings. That is obvious for manufacturing processes, where a decreasing number of people work and is not further true for all office jobs.

The result

The economical advantage will be at the companies which adapt to this new work style quickly. The rural areas and small towns will thrive and the big cities will loose residents (although this is still unbelievable with their extraordinary housing prices today). The well educated techworkers from Asia, especially from India, and from Africa can participate quickly from the international business.

Old-style companies (‘what we are doing cannot be done remotely’) and the people who won’t or cannot adapt to the new work style will be on the downside. The last group is paired with the group of people who lost their job to automation and won’t or could not be trained into new professions.

How to prepare?

For companies:

  • implement a remote culture, switch the company language to English
  • send the staff home for some single days
  • adjust rules and agreements
  • send them home more days or 100%
  • employ new fully remote employees from anywhere
  • read: how to shift your company to remote

For employees:

  • check or enhance your technical skills for providing your profession in the remote way
  • arrage a home office
  • participate in remote trails at your company
  • ask your boss for some single days working from home
  • move to a remote position or start your own business (the later was never as easy and cheap as today)

Prepare for the remote work wave and you will not be washed away, but on the winning side of the movement.

If you are employer or employee, facing the above and need some advice, just contact me.

What do you think? Is the shift not as dramatic as I suggest – or even worse? 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!