We are in the midst of a remote work revolution. It’s early, so the concept is not fully understood by many people: most see it as a temporary arrangement, or just a perk offered by some flexible work environments. Some see remote work as a path for the digital nomad lifestyle, where the whole world becomes your office.
But even those among us who are thriving in remote work often miss the full picture. Like the entrepreneurs and executives who still build teams based on archaic 20th-century conventions, some of the biggest advocates of remote work fail to appreciate its full magnitude: that remote work is the single-most transformative labor trend in modern civilization.
Remote work is already helping businesses iterate more sustainably while empowering people everywhere to live more meaningful and productive lives. It’s leading us on a path to a better run society and healthier planet. As the revolution continues to grow, the positive impacts will only become more apparent.
Modern work in the conventional sense involves commuting to an office for the same continuous block of eight to 10 hours every single day. It’s a model of appearances, not substance; input, not outcomes. Workers are ultimately valued less for what they bring to a team and what they can accomplish, and more for how busy they appear to be.
So why does this model of work fail? As it turns out, we may not be wired for it. In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, bestselling author Daniel Pink synthesizes research about the human brain and how it’s wired to handle certain tasks at different times of day - the creative, the administrative, the analytical, the interactive, etc. Not every brain works the same: people perform better in different tasks at different times of day. In fact, most people’s brains are not designed to thrive in the traditional nine-to-five work structure and environment.
In other words, the conventional model doesn’t give workers the chance to do their best work. It likely explains why a quarter of workers experience near-constant burnout, which accounts for as much as $190 billion in healthcare spending in the US every year. How much more effective would companies be if work was structured so that everyone had the chance to succeed? How much more sustainable would that make them?
The good news is people have been asking these questions for years and are already adapting. Since 2009, about 83% of businesses in the U.S. have introduced flexible work policies, and as much as 70% of the global workforce is remote at least once a week.
But the remote work revolution is also about building 21st-century teams of overlooked talent. Teams unbridled by geography, more diverse and better prepared to engineer solutions to complex and evolving challenges. As companies create more diverse teams, it becomes a virtuous cycle - talented people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to be drawn to companies they see as welcoming their differences. Thus, teams become even more diverse and even more capable of solving complex problems.
It’s amazing how a person’s life can change when their job doesn’t require them to get in a car or train to spend eight to 10 hours in the same drab building, with bad lighting, every single day. When given the freedom to work from wherever is most comfortable, people become more creative, more productive, and ultimately, better teammates. Given the parameters to work more efficiently, they are far more likely to spend time with the people they love and do the things that bring them joy.
Taken a step further, remote work becomes a gateway to building global teams of the most capable people in the world. When companies empower talented people in less considered places, they are making themselves more versatile and less susceptible to blind spots, therefore far more equipped to overcome any obstacle.
The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report estimates that if everyone who could work remotely did, it would effectively remove 10 million cars from the road every year. Remote work is also a great way to reduce the spread of disease. Considering the growing threat of superbugs like the coronavirus, having remote working teams will continue to save countless lives.
Perhaps best of all for the sustainability of our planet, global remote teams allow people from everywhere to be more connected. As people learn to appreciate their teammates from other parts of the world, they open themselves up to the world and become more empathetic and understanding of people different from them. Remote work is quite literally leading us on a path to a more peaceful planet.
It’s early in the remote work revolution. There has never been a more powerful tool for businesses to optimize their culture and productivity. Nor has there ever been an approach to work that empowers more people everywhere. And we’re only beginning to see what’s possible when businesses build their teams this way.
Some would say that certain businesses could never be remote-centric. The reality is, remote teams will soon mark a dividing line between success and failure for many businesses, especially considering the labor market is more competitive than it’s been in at least 50 years.
Nonetheless, remote teams present a new set of challenges that are easy to overlook and can make the process overwhelming if you don’t have the right plan and mentality. Success depends on having teams that have the discipline, accountability, and compatibility to thrive together. Also, it’s important to recognize that building a remote team from scratch is not the same as transitioning a legacy team.
At Microverse, we understand the challenges that come with building and transitioning to remote teams. We’ll keep sharing our insights here with you.