Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist, has called the past few months as the “Great Lockdown” of 2020. There’s the “Great Depression” (nope, this is not about that time your girlfriend broke up with you) and there’s the “Great Lockdown.”
There’s nothing “great” about these things, really. It just means were stuck at home, wondering if the pizza delivery guy made a wrong turn.
But the curve flattened or not, a vaccine effective or not, we still need to get on with work. And so, many businesses have resorted to remote work for business continuity. To our surprise, many jobs and tasks done remotely can actually be accomplished just as efficiently. (We should have realised this back when email was invented!)
As it turns out, all sorts of professions, from accounting to teaching, can be virtual. A visit to your doctor doesn’t have to find you nesting in the waiting area.
And, you’ll be happy to know that courts around the world are dispensing justice, virtual style. (There was even a surreal incident of “the flush heard around the world” where an unmistakable toilet flush was heard during one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly-esteemed deliberations.)
But, what do you think is the most important job in a world where COVID has driven the workforce into homes?
It’s the job that lets all these other jobs happen.
It’s the system administrator, the network manager, and remote hands who work behind the scenes—the guys whose jobs it is to make sure that the whole tech infrastructure is humming along like a well-oiled machine. These are the new heroes of industry, another set of COVID frontliners with mission-critical jobs that directly affect us.
When everybody is locked inside, there are actually people who leave their homes and drive to work on NOCs (Network Operation Centers)—racking the servers, configuring the switches, cabling the hardware, and updating the software so laptops get connected to the right networks.
As Churchill said of British soldiers fighting in WWII, "Never was so much owed, by so many, to so few." In this age of COVID, we owe our livelihoods to the tech wizards who man the hardware and software that allow millions of others to make a living.
So as a salute to these brave fellows who make social distancing work, we knock down some of the biggest myths about remote work, mental hang-ups that are hindering workers and organisations from making the jump to a remote model of work.
5 Myths Of Remote Work
#1 Remote work is new.
COVID did not impose remote work on humanity. It was how humanity originally worked.
The blacksmiths, potters, and leather makers of old were, in a real sense, freelancers. They worked and sold their wares from their own homes. There was no office to speak of during those times.
When going to the office became the standard of earning a living, technology has always been an enabling agent for people to work away from the office. The first beneficiaries were the bosses—those who occupy the upper echelons in the company. With the invention of the telephone, for example, your boss’ boss can now close a deal while having a round of golf. That’s remote work!
(Today’s technology has so advanced that it benefits everybody in the organisation from entry-level employees to top brass.)
So no, remote work is nothing new, and it’s already been trending pre-COVID.
In 2012, according to Gallup, 39% of the American workforce already spend some time doing remote work. In 2016, this has gone up to 43%.
In 2017, the U.S. Census reported that 5.2% of Americans are working remote, exclusively. (That’s 8 million folks.)
So no, COVID did not bring about the idea. Nor is this trend going away.
#2 You need to go to the office to do real work.
Let me give you a short history of the “office.” The office is an artifact of the Industrial Age when people used to flock to factories and work on big machines. Employees don’t have the machines and equipment at home, so they needed to be where those were.
Factory workers clocked in together and had the concept of “9-to-5” and a workweek. Their comings and goings had to be synchronised especially when they’ll be standing side by side in an assembly line where they’ll be handing off an unfinished item, say a shoe, to the next guy for the next phase of production.
Soon, big factories with hundreds and thousands of employees needed staff to keep tabs on what’s happening on the production floor. They maintained files with attendance records, shift schedules, and client lists. This smaller team often has its own manager who oversees all the paperwork. These are the white-collar forebears of your office workers of today.
But the office is not the only place you can work. There’s WFH or Work From Home, and then there’s WFA or Work From Anywhere. Because of technology, one can work anywhere—from homes, coffee shops, airports, the beach, etc.
In the Information Age when jobs are more geared towards the knowledge industry, remote work is increasingly becoming an obvious option. Because this time, individuals not only have the Apple, Lenovo, or HP machines at their own disposal, most of all, they have the most powerful machine between those ears.
#3 Remote work is unproductive.
This is a major myth that casts doubt on the minds of employers when considering remote work. They ask themselves, “Will my employee still do their jobs when they are out of the office? Or am I paying top money for them to be on Facebook all day?”
“Will I get my money’s worth?”
Forbes thinks so. According to an article, remote workers are 35%-40% more productive than their office counterparts. Doing the job away from the office, it seems, protects them from the travails of the daily commute, the emotional rollercoaster of office politics, and the general distractions of working in an office environment. (A 2014 Harvard Business Review article with the title, “To Raise Productivity, Let Employees Work From Home”—talks of the “cake in the break room effect” where offices came out as extremely distracting places.)
The flexibility of working from home allows people to design their day according to what suits them best. They can work any time they want, as much as they want, as long as the deliverables and expectations are met.
On the other hand, because people are working from home, new issues might crop up, like:
“This kid keeps distracting me!”
“I don’t have the space and the privacy to work at home.”
“Ugh! My shirtless husband nursing a beer walked past while I was Skyping with a client.”
These are realities that all remote workers face. And they often crop up when people are initially getting used to a new situation and environment, very much like when you’re still getting your sea legs.
Any change will incur adjustments and the key here is to devise a system or structure so that you get the most out of remote work while keeping the negatives at a minimum.
#4 Communication suffers from the lack of face time.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the system administrators, network engineers, and “remote hands,” people are able to work practically from anywhere on earth.
But it is said that a remote setup can make personal and professional communication suffer. (By the way, they practically said the same thing about homeschooling.)
“There’s nothing like person-to-person meetings to foster the creativity of a team.”
Actually, working remotely can be even more social than what typically happens in an office setting. With a click or tap, any member of your team is within reach—and this time, you don’t even have to leave your seat.
One is more visible in a Zoom meeting, and you’re also able to see more of other workers, noticing their body language and facial reactions. With in-person, face-to-face meetings, your visual landscape is more limited. You usually only see the people directly in front of you.
A Zoom or Skype meeting has a more democratic feel. Unlike the office meetings where organisational hierarchy is so apparent, virtual meetings are more open, giving members more room to participate in the meeting.
Sure, there’s the occasional technical problem. But these are exactly what they are, technical issues—something to do with speed, connections, etc. They are not unsolvable quirks, nor are they inherent or fundamental to the communication process. With the rapid improvements in technology, issues like latency and the face of your client freezing up on you will soon be a thing of the past.
#5 Remote work may expose your proprietary company data.
Data is today’s gold. And your company’s data is its differentiating edge from all others. Therefore, confidentiality is paramount and security breaches are a No-no.
Many think that workers who use home or public access networks might leave your hard-earned data at the mercy of hackers in their parents’ basements.
The reality is that data is location-agnostic, and it won’t matter much to someone intent on mischief whether they filch data from an office worker or from somebody lounging at the beach.
As you’re already aware, there are plenty of IT solutions and companies that address exactly these issues. But the combination of common sense basics like using strong passwords, firewalls, antivirus, antimalware, VPNs, and two-factor authentication will go a long way in securing company data.
So those are the 5 biggest myths of remote work. We busted each one here to honor the remarkable and brave sacrifice done by the world’s system administrators and network custodians in this age of COVID-19.
Speaking of “location-agnostic,” we’ve never really considered just how remote “remote” is. They used to say, “Location, location, location.” Well, that was before Amazon, Zoom, and the smartphone. With today’s technological convergence, location is losing meaning by the minute.
For example, you can hire all over the world, in places where comparable talents cost a lot less. Tech teams can be spread all across the globe. Some of your guys can be located in Australia, and others working from their home offices/bedrooms in Asia, Europe or the U.S.
One bright spot in Asia that’s capturing the hearts of employers is the Philippines. It’s an English-speaking, technologically-sophisticated population 106 million strong. Their IT talent is deep, and their tech skills, world-class. Tapping this resource will not only win you a cadre of loyal professionals, but the move will also be friendly to your company or organisation’s balance sheet.
Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.