What is Remote Work?

What is Remote Work?

Remote work is a way of working that lets people work from a location anywhere instead of having to go onsite to do their job. For example, instead of commuting 45 minutes by train to their office and completing their work onsite, a remote worker can log on anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. You can get your work done from your living room, home office, or sitting poolside. Remote work is sometimes called “telecommuting,” “distributed work,” or “work from home.”

Remote work is intended to give workers more flexibility and give companies a way to attract and retain talent. It lets companies and workers “work smarter” by saving time and money.

Remote work is possible because of major advances in technology—communication, project management, and collaboration tools—that let workers do their jobs anywhere without impacting the quality of their work. Remote work tools help replicate traditional onsite workflows, like a coworker stopping by your desk to talk about a project.

We won’t belabor the point that the pandemic changed everything, but in addition to many other areas, workplaces were hugely affected. Now, at least 25% of Americans are completely working remotely. Industry leaders like Facebook, Spotify, and Microsoft will be supporting and investing in remote work as a permanent option for their workers. Instead of offering it as a perk, many companies now rely on remote work for the day-to-day.

Here's why remote work is here to stay

Remote work is now a long-term feature of the way we work because better technology and tools make it easy to work anywhere. With remote work comes a greater degree of flexibility and autonomy for employees. Instead of commuting to their workplaces five times a week, workers will have more flexibility and autonomy. Companies will save money on real-estate by shrinking their office footprints while their productivity increases because of remote workers’ contributions. Rather than having an unfocused approach to remote work, companies will have comprehensive policies and support which will help them attract and retain talent.

Both companies and workers have found that incorporating remote work into the day-to-day business is a complex change but a positive one overall. It’s now a part of life people will be reluctant to walk away from when they can to safely return to the workplace.

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of remote work. Before the pandemic began to wreak havoc worldwide, many industries were already starting to move toward remote work. With the advent of technology and tools that made remote work easy and comparable to in-office work, companies realized that offering remote work was a way to attract new workers and make their current workforce feel valued.

Many executives expect that remote work won’t ever go away completely and most companies are looking at hybrid working models (if not 100% remote) that rely on in-office and remote work, to varying degrees.

Previously a place where many of us routinely spent 8+ hours of our day, the workplace has ceased to be a place at all. That doesn’t mean that everyone will be working remotely; many jobs simply can’t be done from home or a remote location. However, because technology makes it easy and affordable, remote work is here to stay and it’s here much faster than anyone anticipated.

What are the top 3 benefits of remote work for workers?

1. Better work/life balance

Before the pandemic began to seriously interrupt normal working styles, a survey by Gitlab found that remote workers highly valued their ability to forgo commuting and spent their commute time with their families. Another Gitlab survey, this one released in February 2021, said that 37% of surveyed people reported that they had reoriented their lives to spend more time with families and communities.

2. More Flexibility

Global Workplace Analytics reports that 56% of American employees have a job where they could do some work remotely. That means that those employees can do their job when it works best for them, like shifting their work hours to accommodate a dentist appointment . With remote work as an option, workers can live and work in different cities, states, or countries. Workers can look for new jobs without worrying about relocation. They can also move to a place that’s more affordable or a better fit with their lifestyle. Flexibility is a highly valued aspect of a job, allowing workers to spend more time with family, friends, or outdoors. With flexibility comes a greater degree of independence and self-direction.

3. Cut the commute

Remote workers can save time that they would otherwise “waste” during their workdays. Because they don’t have to go onsite every day, many workers can save hours of their time that would normally be spent on buses, trains, or in traffic. With remote work, that time can be spent with family, on hobbies, or just sleeping in.

What are the top 3 benefits of remote work for companies?

1. Better recruit & retain talent

Before the pandemic threw workplaces into upheaval in early 2020, companies used remote work as a carrot to attract top talent as new employees. People value the ability to work remotely because it gives them a degree of flexibility in how (and where) they work. By its very nature, remote work allows workers a larger degree of independence and self-determination.

2. Boost team productivity

After years of managers worrying that employees working from home were really just lounging around and napping in sweatpants, research has proven that remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts. In a two-year study, Stanford University researchers found that the group assigned to work remotely had a boost in work productivity and took fewer sick days compared to their “traditional” counterparts, although all study participants had no children, good internet access, and space to work from home.

To support their employee’s increased productivity, companies should make sure to support working environment challenges, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remarkably, remote work is also associated with a reduction in the number of meetings, something we can all support.

3. Save money

As companies support remote work and incorporate it into their post-pandemic business models, one obvious perk is cost-effectiveness. Remote work allows for more efficient use of existing office space because it’s only used when there’s really a need for it. Companies can save on high-priced real estate, even if they keep a place for workers who can and want to be onsite when it’s safe to do so. While saving money on office space, companies should offer allowances or reimbursements to help employees set up their remote work environments. That way, the cost of office supplies, desks, chairs, and technology doesn’t become a frustrating burden to workers.

What are the top 3 challenges of remote work for companies?

1. Rethinking some tasks to better fit remote work

A McKinsey study found that some tasks like coaching, feedback, and training may be done more effectively when they’re done in person. This presents a difficulty to companies since some of these tasks would need some serious outside-of-the-box thinking to reimagine them to fit remote work better.

Companies should strive for innovation in tasks like these so they can be better integrated into remote work. Many of these tasks are communication-heavy so companies should focus on making sure that they have the best tools for communication and tasks that don’t translate smoothly to remote work.

2. Leveling the playing field for remote workers

Companies will face the challenge of making sure that remote work is fair to their employees—wherever those employees are. As companies look to switch entirely to remote work or to keep it as part of a hybrid work model, they’ll need to adjust their operations and workflows accordingly. Before the pandemic, companies with hybrid work models that allowed remote work found that remote workers sometimes felt marginalized in the workplace compared to their in-office coworkers. Unlike workplaces, remote work can sometimes have an “out of sight, out of mind” effect.

To prevent workers from feeling neglected, companies need to establish clear communication and discuss their expectations with employees so everyone is on the same page.

3. Retraining managers

Another challenge for companies is adjusting management styles and tactics to accommodate the realities of a distributed workforce. Managers who were used to judging productivity and performance by the “butt-in-seats” method will find that approach is no longer effective. Because the pandemic forced many workplaces to adapt to remote work very quickly, many managers struggle to figure out the best way to manage their remote teams. Over-management and mistrust of employees are common with remote work. It also contributes to employee stress and turnover.

To ensure efficient remote work, managers should set up expectations for how and when their teams should communicate. For example, setting up a weekly check-in for their team in addition to more standard communication methods like emails and virtual meetings. To make sure that remote workers feel valued and supported (and to retain their talent), companies should invest in management training and developing comprehensive policies to give managers the skills they need to manage remote workers.

What are the top 3 challenges of remote work for workers?

1. Setting boundaries

For employees, the added flexibility in their workday comes with some serious downsides. A survey from Gitlab highlighted that 47% of respondents felt that managing distractions at home was a top challenge for them while working remotely. Remote workers struggle to turn off their laptops and step away since the office is also where they would otherwise spend their free time.

This has gotten worse during the pandemic since many people have family and children at home when they normally wouldn’t be, adding stress and more distractions to manage. For women and other people who are often caregivers, other distractions at home often fall on their shoulders in addition to the work from their job.

To address the struggle to keep a healthy work and life balance, companies, managers, and employees should work together to set up boundaries and establish what works best for everyone involved.

2. Feeling isolated

Another challenge facing remote workers is sometimes feeling isolated. That doesn’t mean that remote workers are lonely, although the two feelings are similar. When remote workers feel isolated, they often don’t have access to materials or information that they need. Think of isolation as separation from things like opportunities and information that we’re used to getting easily in physical workplaces—like knowing that it’s a busy day when you’re in the office hearing phones ringing, or having a coworker stop by your desk and bring you up to speed on a project.

Collaboration, clear expectations, and communication are all key elements that companies, workers, and managers need to combat feelings of isolation.

3. Lacking manager support and direction

As we’ve mentioned, for managers who are used to managing their teams in a more traditional, onsite setting, the switch to remote work can be a challenge. It’s a difficulty that workers face too since they need direction, support, and trust to get things done. When people move to remote working, communication can break down, simply because it’s harder to keep people in the loop. A checked-out manager makes remote workers unnecessarily stressed.

Sticking to an organized structure can help combat disorganization and initiating a conversation about the best way to communicate can help too.

Communication is key to remote work

With managers, workers, and workplaces in different places, and sometimes, time zones, remote work relies heavily on communication to make sure things are running smoothly. Since it’s such a big part of working remotely, it’s important to understand the different types of communication, especially when it comes to remote work tools.

What are asynchronous & synchronous styles of communication?

Synchronous communication is real-time, usually involves set schedules, and typically, in-person work. Some benefits of this communication style are instant feedback and workers feeling involved.

A school classroom is a good example of synchronous communication, students and teachers can have conversations in real-time and students depend on the teacher to learn information at the same time. This type of communication is associated with traditional work that ties an employee’s time to a place and certain tasks.

Asynchronous communication (as you might have guessed) is the opposite of synchronous communication. With this communication style, you can work at your own pace without real-time collaboration.

An example of asynchronous communication would be remote-learning classrooms. The teacher provides some structure but students also “self-teach” at their own pace with video recordings and assigned classwork. The benefit of asynchronous communication is that it can typically be done independently and accommodates different schedules.

What are the types of tools needed for remote work?

Aside from the obvious (computer or laptop, internet connection, table or desk), remote work requires that people navigate a wide variety of tools. In traditional, in-office workplaces, communication and tools were mostly centered around employees who worked in a central location. To work with a distributed workforce, companies and their workers will need the right tools to succeed.

1. Communication tools

Communication is critical to sustaining remote work in the long-term because keeping a distributed workforce on the same page takes a lot of effort. Standard tools like email and virtual meeting platforms (Zoom and Microsoft Teams) will help teams stay in touch with each other.

2. Collaboration tools

Tools that support collaboration between remote workers are important to have because working together is an elementary part of almost every job. With remote workers all logging on from their homes or remote workplaces, collaboration can be a daunting task.

Google Drive, Slack, and Dropbox are mainstream tools for sharing information and files with each other, whether you’re in different neighborhoods or different time zones.

3. Project management tools

With people and information in different places, project management is key to success for remote workers. Project management tools often have a to-do list or task board format to track various items. For example, Trello has task boards to make it easier for users to manage projects and tasks. That way, you can update them as you make progress or complete a task or project.

Because project management tools are accessible to everyone in a team or company, they’re an asynchronous way of updating your coworkers and managers on what you’re working on.

Most tools currently don’t work well for working remotely

We’ve highlighted the most common types of tools that remote workers rely on. Most of the tools that remote workers use don’t work well because they’re usually made with a single purpose in mind. What that means for remote workers is that you have to juggle a bunch of different tools just to communicate and work together with your team. Because they’re narrowly focused, these tools make remote work more complicated and they’re an obstacle to flexibility.

These remote work tools are also expensive for companies to use and maintain. Companies are forced to pay for tools that complicate things, don’t work well together, and add stress to day-to-day business for both them and their workers.

What is the ideal remote work tool?

Multimodal tools are the tools best suited for remote work because they’re more flexible and often multi-purpose. Multimodal tools are asynchronous by default and synchronous when they need to be, giving remote workers the best of both worlds. These tools are more multifaceted than most remote work tools. They include a variety of ways to communicate like chats, video calls, and task boards. Because remote work depends heavily on flexibility and communication, multimodal tools are the best kind of tool.

Rock is the ideal multimodal tool for remote work because it’s built for more than one purpose and offers everything you need in one tool. Instead of being stuck with one style of communication (asynchronous or synchronous), you can use whichever works best for you and your team—which makes working with people in other time zones as easy as working with people in your neighborhood. You don’t have to choose between communication styles like you do with email, virtual meetings, and chat messages.

Rock keeps everything you need to work remotely in one place. Instead of switching between different apps and platforms, it offers a place to keep your files, manage your projects with task boards, and chat with your coworker with in-app messaging.

Because you can link a Google Drive folder to Rock, everyone you work with will be able to get the files they need instead of waiting for someone to email or share them. Rock also has a built-in task board to make managing your project easier. Your coworkers and managers will be able to see the status of your projects and tasks without needing to ask you for an update. To make communication smoother Rock has both Zoom and Jitsi integrations for your meetings and in-app messaging for quick questions and sharing information.

Why are multimodal tools the future?

Multimodal tools are the future of remote work because they’re built for the world of remote work. Multimodal tools offer flexibility that older, single-use tools don’t include. As remote becomes a long-term fixture of the workplace, working how you want is a critical part of successful remote work and single-use tools aren’t up to that task.

In addition to providing flexibility for both workers and companies, multimodal tools also centralize functions to make working remotely easier for everyone. There are enough things to juggle while working remotely, especially during a pandemic, and juggling a variety of tools adds stress when it’s not needed. Because multimodal tools keep everything you need in one place, they’ll become irreplaceable to companies and remote workers.

Get ready for an exciting new world (of remote work)

Although the adoption of remote work was accelerated by the global pandemic disrupting workplaces in 2020, remote work will be a long-term fixture for many. Working remotely offers employees a better work/life balance, more flexibility, and saves time on work-related things like commuting. For companies, remote work is cost-effective and boosts productivity while serving as a top recruiting and retaining tool for their workers.

As companies and workers continue to adjust to working remotely, workers struggle to set boundaries and fight feelings of isolation in their work. Companies face the challenges of adjusting operations, rethinking tasks better done in person, and retraining managers to establish stronger trust with their remote employees.

Since communication is the lifeblood of successful remote work, it’s important to distinguish between asynchronous (not real-time) and synchronous (real-time) communication. Because most tools stick with one communication style or the other, remote workers are often limited by the lack of flexibility. Since remote work will be a mainstay in many workplaces, multimodal tools are the future. Multimodal tools like Rock offer better flexibility and organization to remote workers than tools designed for people working onsite.