Sitting alone in his control room, your boss suddenly wonders if you're being productive. He turns his head to the right to check the CCTV feed of your desk. There you are. In your chair. At your desk. Being a good little minion.
Thank God you hadn't gone to the bathroom just then. Or, even worse, taken a break. Or, worst of all, gone for a walk to think through a problem. If you aren't punching keys at a random moment between 9am and 5pm, how would your boss know if you're doing a good job?
Would you be okay with this kind of monitoring at your office? No? Then why is it okay to monitor a remote team this way?
When a person switches from working in an office to working remotely, they aren't immediately more productive and happy in this environment. Making it work takes time, practice, and the development of new habits.
Similarly, just because a company works remotely doesn't automatically mean that it's free of corporate America's worst habits.
Involuntary Video Conferencing
The above scenario is what the now mercifully defunct Sqwiggle enabled.
Sqwiggle was marketed as helping remote workers collaborate over video and feel less lonely. Sqwiggle also allowed you to look in on your team during the day to see if and when they were working. You can also immediately start a video call with someone even if they're super busy or in a flow state.
Like any tool, Sqwiggle could be used for good or for bad. I don't mean to pick on one company. I'm using Sqwiggle to illustrate how companies can seem progressive by working remotely but still retain the downsides of a traditional work environment (or at least not take advantage of all that remote work offers).
I've seen other examples, like remote teams that require working set hours. Overlapping hours can help to increase communication or it can lead to working against your natural rhythms and increasing interruptions.
You can avoid these traps even for roles that are more time sensitive. For example, we have set hours between which our customers can expect a reply to their emails within 24 hours. These "working hours" don't mean that our Concierges are tied to their computers from 9-5 every weekday. Rather than measuring hours spent refreshing inboxes, we set reasonable goals for outcomes like "time to first response" or "replies to resolve." Clear goals provide a framework within which our Concierges can manage their own personal schedules.
Changing How Work Works
Remote work is not just about seeming progressive or saving money on an office and salaries. I'm disappointed by the companies that I see offering remote work as an afterthought. We have a huge opportunity in front of us to change how people work. Working from home or any place of your choosing is just the first step though it unlocks many of the rest.
Working remotely (when you aren't monitored by video) can alleviate the peer pressure that leads to unhealthy, unproductive habits like conflating good work with ass-in-seat time, working long hours, and working the same set hours as everyone else.
When I tell people that we work remotely, I'm always amused when they ask, "But how do you know people are working?"
Ummm... by their work?
If your only measure for your team's productivity is "time at desk," you are doing it wrong.
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