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The Future of Work: The Infinite Possibilities of Remote Work

Phillip
I find the idea of working from home an interesting proposition. Let’s face it. Who doesn’t love the idea of skipping the daily commute, avoiding soul-sucking traffic, spending more time with our families, and enjoying a more flexible work-life balance? And these are just the benefits for employees, right?

Employers have the opportunity to reduce their payroll and office overhead, recruit from a more diversified talent pool, benefit from more productive and happier employees, ensure the continuity of their operations and more. Working from home is on the rise. As I write this episode of Innovators in June of 2020, the world is in the midst of a global health pandemic, only hastening the need to apply our best thinking behind the question of whether remote work really is the future of work, and if it’s ultimately the right solution for you.

To explore this fascinating subject, I decided to invite Brie Reynolds to the show. Brie leads a team of outstanding career coaches who help professionals find flexible remote career opportunities at FlexJobs. FlexJobs is the leading job search site, especially in offering the best remote, part-time, freelance and flexible jobs available.

As a coach, speaker, educator, and content creator, I knew she would be perfect in aiding our exploration into the intricacies of remote work, and help us determine what it is, its benefits, its risks, and ultimately, its destiny. So, to begin our exciting adventure, let’s listen in as Brie first shares with us her background, and what exactly she does at Flex work.

Brie
I work for FlexJobs. It’s a job search website where we connect employers and job seekers who are looking for flexibility. So it’s employers who are offering things like remote work. A lot of the future-of-work topics that we’ll go into surround that, for sure. So remote work is the big focus that we have, and then job seekers are coming to find that remote option on our site.

And so, I’ve been working remotely since about 2010 and absolutely love it. Can’t imagine going back to an office every day. And what I really enjoy is helping employers and job seekers make that connection, so coaching job seekers to be excellent applicants, and teaching them what employers really look for in remote workers and what skills are going to make them particularly hirable, but also successful once they are working remotely. So that’s some of the work that I do.

Phillip
As someone who clearly had a depth and breadth of knowledge about what matters most when it comes to successful remote deployments, I decided my next question was to understand what drove her passion for the remote industry to see if it could help others determine whether it was the right fit for them.
Brie
And what I really enjoy about remote work, and I think from the employers’ perspective, what is most interesting or exciting about remote work is how it impacts the workforce that they’re managing. So, whether it’s, you know, their freelance contractors that they’re hiring or their actual employees, remote work does things like allows people to be more productive, more effective in their jobs. Surveys show that remote workers tend to be happier and more satisfied in their work, and that leads to being more loyal to their employers. So it actually helps reduce turnover, improve retention.

And then it actually impacts the health of workers, so remote workers can make healthier choices throughout the day because they just have more control over their environments. And a lot of times when we do surveys, we see that remote workers are working in things like exercise and healthy eating into this new lifestyle that they’re creating by working from home. So from the employers’ perspective, there are so many good things about remote work, and that’s just the impact on the workforce.

I mean, when you look at remote work’s impact on their overall bottom line, it reduces operating costs, you don’t necessarily have to have large offices, you don’t have all that overhead that goes with managing an office setting. So there’s a big impact there, of course, and then there’s the environmental impact. Remote workers allow employers to reduce their environmental footprint, and just be better stewards of the environment wherever they are.

So, there’s so many benefits and it’s not to say there aren’t downsides and, you know, pros and cons to working remotely, which I’m sure we can talk about. But overall, there are really a lot of good benefits that for both the employees and the employers make sense to adopt remote work.

Phillip
As I started to listen to Brie more carefully, it became clear to me that remote work as an industry had an air of momentum behind it. And as I write this episode now during the age of Coronavirus, where millions of employees are transitioning to more permanent work-from-home arrangements, I believe we can say without a shadow of a doubt, this moment is poised to accelerate even faster.

But what exactly is remote work? What are the different variations deployed by leading organizations today? And which variation makes sense for your business or lifestyle? I decided to ask Brie to give us a simple definition of remote work to help us as both employers and employees better understand our options as we explore this exciting topic.

Brie
The definition of remote work is not as clear as you might think. You might think, “Oh, it’s working from home,” and that’s a simple way to describe it. But there are so many different variations of it, I think it’s really important to define what exactly we’re talking about. So, with remote work, there are a few different scenarios that may occur.

So there are the 100% remote types of jobs where you are working from home all the time and you don’t set foot into the office. And from our data, the job listings that we see, that’s about 30% of the remote jobs out there are remote only jobs, where you are at home all the time, you don’t set foot in the office. And then the biggest group that we see are hybrid remote jobs, where you are working from home sometimes and you’re working either in an office or meeting with clients face to face. You’re doing some sort of in-person interaction as part of your job. And that’s about 40% of the listings that we see are that hybrid type of remote work.

And then there is the other kind, which is remote work optional, which essentially means that an employer says, “Yes, we do offer remote work, but there isn’t a standard schedule or set practice for the company as a whole. It’s really individualized to each particular role.” So someone might be able to work from home one day a week, and other people work from home 50% of the time. So the option for remote work that’s about the other 30% of the remote jobs that we see.

So it really depends on the employer and how they want remote work to integrate with their overall workforce, but also, you know, as a worker, they — people have control over what types of remote work they’re going after. So when you’re searching for remote jobs, that’s really important to know is like, how much do you actually want to work from home because that can impact the types of work that you go after or the specific, you know, the amount of options you might have.

So those are some of the main ways that we talk about remote work, but also, you mentioned at the beginning, co-working spaces and things like that. And that is a big part of remote work, too. I think the rise of co-working spaces has coincided with the rise of remote work and the rise of freelancing for a reason because even if you’re working remotely 100% of the time, you may want some in-person interaction with other human beings. That’s kind of a natural thing to require for yourself. So, co-working spaces are growing to fit that kind of a need, where you don’t necessarily want to go all the way to the office, but maybe you could find a local place to go and interact with other professionals and just get that human connection that we all crave a little bit.

Phillip
I found this data-driven insight fascinating. As you explore your options when it comes to remote work lifestyles, it’s not all or nothing. If you’re looking for 100%, remote position, that’s available. If you’re also looking for a more hybrid solution, that’s available. Flexibility and understanding the needs of your business as an employer, and your lifestyle preferences and strengths as an employee, is how you can make smart and successful decisions as you navigate a strategic choice that’s in your own best interests.
Brie
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s kind of up to you, in a way, to fit what you’re comfortable with, and not everybody wants to work from home every single day. You know, for some people, that’s just like, they like that in-office interaction and they just kind of get the energy and the buzz from the office. And then from the employers’ perspective, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to have everyone from home every single day. And so, you know, they can be strategic about who they want in the office and when and for what purposes. And we’ve seen employers get really creative about how they integrate remote work, whether it’s fully remote work or partially remote work, to make the business strategy align with that and actually have it support their business goals, versus just be this side perk that they offer people. So, yeah, it’s nice to have some flexibility there.
Phillip
All right. I’m sold on this remote work stuff. Granted, all our products and services at C9 are designed to help the remote industry have a more frictionless experience. But I genuinely believe that flexibility, distributed teams around the world, sprinkled in with innovation and tech are the future of work. Let’s listen in as Brie gives us her formula on how employees can best position themselves to become highly attractive to remote employers around the world.
Brie
Oh, I love this question because you’re right. It’s not just about getting the job, which these, you know, demonstrating these types of skills will help, but it’s about being successful in the long term and making sure that remote work really makes you happy too. So, a lot of times, people just focus on, “I need to work remotely,” or “I want to work remotely,” but then they actually start doing it, and they realize, “Well, I’m not really sure if I’m equipped for this.” You know, their skill set might not be quite aligned with that way of working.

So, some things that people should consider when they’re both applying for and starting to work remotely, the biggest skill that we find makes a successful remote worker is communication. And that’s verbal communication and communication in writing. Employers — when we do surveys of employers, every single time, almost without exception, the employers will say the number one skill that they’re looking for in remote workers is communication. And it’s across the board, doesn’t matter what your actual job is, like you were saying, the functions of your job. It is communication. You need to be able to communicate because when you’re not in person, you lack body language, you lack other visual cues, and you need that written and verbal communication to be a stand in for the stuff that we don’t get when we’re not face to face.

And even video, you know, you can do all sorts of video meetings and things like that, but it’s still there’s that piece of it missing when you’re not in person face to face. And so, communication is key. And that includes things like, you know, phone calls and emails and just being clear and concise in your writing, being clear about what you need from other people, but also, not being afraid to speak up for yourself and ask questions when you are in need of information or you aren’t sure which way to go with a particular issue. You know, being open to starting conversations like that is a really key piece of it because that’s–

Phillip
Yes.
Brie
–everything. Remote companies talk about a lot is working out loud. So you have to be able to demonstrate what you’re doing, what you’re working on, where you’re getting stuck, and actually working out loud that way, communicating really regularly with your co-workers and your managers is a big piece of that.

Some other skills that really come in handy with remote work are things like time and task management, really being able to–

Phillip
Yes, mm-hmm.
Brie
–manage yourself, stay on track. It’s amazing. I always think about this when I’m working remotely of how interesting doing laundry becomes when you have a really difficult task that you don’t want to do on your plate for the day. I’m like, “Oh, there are, you know, a few loads of laundry I could get done.” You have to be able to stop yourself and keep yourself on track. The ability to focus is a key piece of that.

And then really figuring out ways to get your people fix and understand how you operate best. So for me, I like to work from coffee shops or libraries or things like that every once in a while just to get out around other people. Some people like to do that every single day. So really evaluating yourself and figuring out, “What level of interaction do I prefer? How do I work best?” You know, “How much alone work do I need versus working around other people?” And that will give you a sense of the type of remote work arrangement that you might be suited for.

Phillip
Now let’s shift gears as Brie helps employers better understand whether hiring remote workers really makes sense for your business, and how to go about the process of doing it wisely.
Brie
Yeah, I think it’s a good question to ask for, especially for those employers who are on the fence like that, because that’s — the majority of employers I think, are like, you know, “This could be interesting. It could be helpful, but we also have some concerns or some questions,” and that’s, that’s great. I think one of the worst mistakes that an employer can make is just diving in full force and saying, “Okay, we’re going to go remote now,” and not putting thought into it or parameters around it to really make it part of the overall business strategy and make sure it works for that particular employer.

So the first thing I always recommend is employers look at their overall workforce and what their biggest goals are, and try to start thinking about how remote work could help support those goals. So if it’s a recruitment and retention issue, if it’s a cost savings issue, like what are the potential benefits of remote work for your particular situation, because that’s important. One of the things that only about 3% of employers do is track the ROI of remote work program that they have. So a lot of people put them in place, but only 3% actually track what that does to their overall workforce, what that does to their strategy. So thinking about that first, thinking about, you know, “How could this potentially impact us in positive ways? Where could it potentially benefit us?”

And a lot of that might be the specific people who are tasked with looking at this, talking to other companies who have done remote things and what does that look like? How has that helped them? How has that been a downside? You know, that kind of stuff. But thinking about tying it to the business strategy and what you could get out of remote work is important.

The other thing is to, along the same lines, start thinking about what level of remote work are you talking about? Is it fully remote work? Are you trying to go office-less? Do you really want to just, you know, close up shop and have everybody be working remotely? Or is it kind of a hybrid situation? And is that for every team or is it for only certain teams? So you’re really drilling down into what does this look like in practice at our company? And then tying it again back to the strategies and the business goals, so that there’s always the reason why you’re doing it. And that way, it’s very defensible when you are explaining this to your workforce because especially for those hybrid situations where some people get to work remotely, other people might not get to, you have to be really clear about why you’re making those decisions, and why some jobs are remote-friendly and others are in-office friendly.

And getting clear about that from the start and tying that to every step of the process can really help you when it comes to keeping your workforce working together, even if some people get this benefit and other people don’t. So those are just some of the key first steps.

Phillip
So, don’t just dive in. Ask yourself, what are the primary goals behind your remote staff initiatives? It’s easy to get excited about lower overhead and payroll cost, but there’s also some really strategic advantages to hiring remote staff, such as gaining access to a highly specialized and global talent pool. Let’s listen in as Brie helps us understand some of these exciting benefits for employers.
Brie
Yes, so one of the things that we do find people using remote work a lot for is to find pools of talent that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. So whether it’s highly specialized people or people with just a certain skill set or the volume of people that they need. You know, a lot of times when you’re looking at your own geographic area, and you are hiring, you know, hundreds or thousands of people for a particular type of role, they’re not all going to be available right there. So remote work can be really helpful in tapping into the high volume types of hiring that some companies do. So, yeah, there’s a few different benefits in terms of like the actual talent pool.

The other thing is the makeup of your talent pool gets more diverse when you hire remotely, especially when you get outside of your geographic area because we tend to, depending on where you are in the world, live in pockets where people are very similar. And so, going outside of those pockets, looking for people either around the world or in different parts of your country, whatever the best solution is for you, can help you open up to more diverse groups of applicants.

And also applicants that maybe for remote work or because of remote work, they’re able to actually work and without remote work, they wouldn’t be able to be in the workforce. So you’re looking at people with either disabilities or health issues, people who are for the — one example, military spouses or other people whose spouses’ work doesn’t allow them to stay in one place for very long. They’re moving a lot either through, you know, military moves, or because their spouse is simply on a career track that — where they move a lot for their actual job. And so those trailing spouses, as they’re called, oftentimes can’t hold down one particular job because they’re always on the move.

And then people, you know, caregivers of all varieties, parents, people who are caring for elderly parents, and anyone in between, they might not be able to get to an office every day, but they’re certainly capable professionals who, if given the chance to work remotely, would be able to do that pretty easily. So there’s lots of different specific groups of people who remote work brings them into the workforce, and employers who offer remote work or look for remote workers can actually tap into those new talent pools to find great people.

Phillip
Okay. I know what you’re thinking. There are valid use cases for hiring remote staff, but there are some also valid issues, right? For example, how can you even tell if someone that’s on your payroll is actually being productive? Let’s tap into Brie’s experience as she helps us navigate these issues and more.
Brie
Yeah, that is — that’s a big thing. And we’ve seen so many different approaches to this. So on the one extreme, there are ways that employers can monitor pretty much everything that their remote workers do in terms of like monitoring their computer usage, and you know, there’s lots of policies that have to be brought into this so that the employees or the worker is very aware of what’s going on and how they’re being monitored. But if that’s — you find that that’s necessary, that’s certainly an option.

But for the most part, there’s this middle ground where employers really focus on the results. So, instead of focusing on the time they spend in the office, exactly when they’re getting to work and exactly when they leave — and that is an indicator of how much this professional is working or how dedicated they are to their job — they really focus on what is this professional accomplishing? What are their goals? Are they reaching those goals? Where are they getting stuck? Where do they need more resources or knowledge or whatever it might be? And that kind of management can be really helpful with remote work. So it’s looking at the specific needs of that job, the goals that you have for that particular person’s job, and are they being met? Is that person actually working towards meeting all those and producing good results? And so that’s one piece of it.

And then of course, you can monitor things like communication. Is this person communicative? Are they, you know, around when they say they’re going to be around? Are they easy to find? Do they work well with other team members? Are they open and clear with their communication? And how they, kind of, function as a part of the whole team, that can be another component of the evaluation of a remote worker. But the biggest thing is really results, and that’s a shift in management that can help you manage people regardless of where they’re working, whether it’s your in-office workers or your at-home workers. If you’re focusing more on what they’re getting done, what they’re accomplishing and being really clear about the goals and the requirements of each person’s job, and then as a manager, being a support for them and helping them reach those goals and make those results, that is the key piece that we see across the board with companies managing remote workers. That’s what they’re really trying to focus on.

Phillip
I also wanted to ask Brie her thoughts on the important question of team building and leadership. How do you build effective work-from-home teams and lead them in an organized and accountable way? Brie, as you probably guessed by now, did not disappoint with her answer.
Brie
It’s not only up to the manager, you know, for creating this team environment. It really should fall to the team itself, the people who make up the team to be a part of that, to really develop the team. So I think, I mean, the manager can lead by example. So, open communication, being available, regularly being very clear about, you know, when they’re available and how they like to be contacted. And then encouraging the team to do the same, to talk about how they prefer to communicate, when they’re typically available, if there is a typical. Sometimes, people are all over the place with when they’re working, but if there is kind of a common trend in their schedule, that can be important.

But really, just, as a manager, being able to ask questions, and then let your team come up with the ideas, the answers, the changes that they want to make, and really involving them in the process can be helpful. Another thing that we found really helpful, especially when these teams are newer, is pairing people up with a buddy. So one of the things with remote work is that it can be really isolating, especially if you’re just starting to do it and you’re brand new to a team and you don’t know anybody else. And bringing those people on and really integrating them into the team is critical to their success.

So, if you’re going to bring on a new remote worker, pairing them up with somebody who’s already been on the team, or it could be somebody at a different team at the company, so they get some exposure to different areas, but giving them kind of a best buddy to start their remote work experience with and this buddy is responsible for, you know, saying hello to them every morning or whatever it might be, that really just makes them feel a part of a team. That can be really beneficial too. And it also helps develop bonds between the workers themselves because they kind of feel responsible for each other, and making sure that everybody’s really cohesive on this team and that they’re working together and they know each other.

But then another thing that we find really helpful is just making space and time for non-work conversation, so you can actually talk about like your life, you know, the things that you might — If you ran into somebody in the hallway, you might say, “Oh, how was your weekend?” You know, “Did you go to the game? Were you away?” And people just get into conversations about what they did. “We went camping. We, you know, cooked a really delicious meal,” or whatever it might be. And you learn more about your coworkers in such a casual way that way. When in a remote environment, you don’t run into people in the hallway, so you have to kind of make purposeful events to talk about that.

So if it’s virtual coffee, where you, you know, say, “Hey, everybody. Let’s meet,” you know, “Bring your beverage of choice and we’ll just sit down and kind of talk about life and what’s going on outside of work.” That can be really helpful too, to just say, “Hey, it’s okay. We can talk about this stuff.”

Phillip
As my interview with Brie drew towards its conclusion, I knew I would not forget to ask her about the question of technology. For those considering remote work, what are the best tools and technologies available to create the most frictionless experience possible?
Brie
So a couple things that we use now that seem to be really helpful, one of them is Slack. It’s, I think this is probably an answer that most remote teams would give. It really allows for quick, instant communication. It allows you to really easily share things, whether it’s files or videos or links. You can conduct quick phone calls, you can do all sorts of stuff. It’s really just a nice way for when you’re doing quick, casual interactions, or you need to send something to somebody superfast. That’s a really good way.

One of the things that we use that’s really interesting and has recreated the feel of an office in a good way, is a program called Sococo. And it’s like a virtual office environment. So when you are looking at it on your screen, it looks almost like you were looking down at a building and you’ve taken the roof off of the building so you can see inside, and you see all sorts of different offices and hallways and there’s break rooms and even little office plant icons and all sorts of stuff. It’s like a blueprint, but with really nice detail, and you can see people working. So you see anybody who’s working synchronously at the same time as you in their little office, and you can pop in, you can click to knock on their door and “walk in” into their office.

And it just kind of feels nice because you see everybody in one quick snapshot who’s currently working at the same time as you, and it makes you feel more cohesive and more together. And so that’s been really nice. And it’s also just helpful for, like I said, you can kind of knock on somebody’s door, pop in for a quick meeting, or for larger meetings, they do things like that for, you know, web and video conferencing and screen sharing and that sort of stuff. So Sococo has been really interesting.

But just overall for other remote teams, the biggest thing that helped us was testing out different options. So we’ve tried Zoom, we’ve tried GoToWebinar, we’ve tried BlueJeans, we’ve tried all sorts of different webinar and video conference types of software, and just decided which ones the vast majority of us thought were the most helpful, which ones where the least buggy or the quickest or just allowed for seamless communication as best as possible. But we would have teams, individual teams, sometimes test out one program. Say, “Hey. Will you guys try this for a week or two, see how you like it?” And that way, you get a sense of what it is good for, what it’s not going to be good for, for your particular company, which is really helpful. So, yeah, those are some of the tactics we’ve used, so far.

Phillip
Virtual reality workspaces – what a perfect transition into my final question for Brie. The world is rapidly changing. If you haven’t already, make sure to watch my podcast episode where I discuss why I believe the technological singularity is near. As my final question, I decided to ask Brie a big-picture question of where remote work is headed, and how all of us can prepare for the future of work.
Brie
Yeah, this is such a good question because it is, you know, we talk about it as the future of work and what does that really mean, especially when work has so many different cyclical things that it goes through and ebbs and flows. And like you said, with remote work being this potentially borderless global phenomenon, how does that play into these really local or national issues that are going on. And so, with remote work, one of the interesting things we’ve seen is as we tracked remote work, from the time FlexJobs was founded back in 2007, we went through the Great Recession back into kind of the economic recovery. And each year, almost, I wouldn’t want to say regardless of what was happening, because it went up and down a little bit, but each year, remote opportunities grew. Even during the recession, we still saw more remote job listings year over year.

And that was really interesting because it sort of showed that even if the overall job market is trending one way, that remote work, in particular, is growing. And I think that’s what we will continue to see over the next, you know, 5 to 10 years is that continued, steady growth of remote work. And it’s by so many different indicators, whether you look at — like, I’m in the U.S. You look at, like, U.S. census data, it shows that more people are working remotely every single year. And it’s very incremental and steady, which is kind of nice to see. It’s not huge spikes, and then one year it drops and there’s another huge spike. It’s very steady year over year.

And then if you look at it globally, you see the same trend. So, from lots of different indicators, I really think that it’s going to continue to grow at a steady rate. I don’t think we’re going to see a huge increase or anything like that. But I do think that it’s going to become more the norm. And specifically, that hybrid option where some — you’re working in the office sometimes and working from home other times, that seems to be still, especially for employers who are just getting into this and kind of dipping their toes into remote work, that is the way that they do it. They have those hybrid situations. So I think that’s going to still be the biggest pool of remote jobs. But then those options where you’re able to work from home 100% of the time, I think those will continue to grow as well. And yeah, I really do think that growth is the direction that we’re headed for remote work.

Phillip
FlexJobs helps employers in their recruiting efforts, and job seekers in their job searches and career development. If you’re an employer interested in hiring work-from-home staff, or an employee interested in exploring a work-from-home career, make sure and check out their website by going to www.flexjobs.com and learning more.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Innovators, where your future is now. My name is Phillip Lew, your host, and thanks for listening as we bring you, the listener, on a journey from panic to power.

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ABOUT PHILLIP LEW

Phillip Lew is the host of Innovators, a podcast audio experience that decodes the mysteries of exponential technology and the coming singularity. Phillip Lew is also the CEO of C9 Digital — the #1 firm specializing in building dedicated Philippines-based teams for clients across 9 core industries.

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