Saving the planet, one cosy working day at a time

Me, adding too much gravitas

Remote working is not just a cost-saver and a benefit to workers, it’s a necessity right now. I’ve busted 9 Myths (and made some awful jokes) to try and help.

You could literally save the planet, the human race and your company money at the same time.

During these trying times with COVID-19 (coronavirus), businesses and workers are trying to work out how to keep themselves afloat. If you’re a startup, this has amplified the already staggering risk involved.

What’s happening with COVID-19 is absolutely awful and I don’t think I need to spell out why here. Job security is another un-needed worry on top of the global pandemic we’re all facing. When countries like Italy (and now mine, the UK) go into lock-down, it’s a big question to ask- how do you keep the economy afloat when there’s a pandemic looming over us? What is remote working, and why do I keep hearing more and more about it?

Fear not! It’s an opportunity to get at the forefront of something big, regardless of whether you’re new or established.

Remote working is how it sounds, it basically means “work from home”. You do your job at your house because your workplaces offices aren’t essential to the function of your job. This can apply to multiple industries, including; call centres, software development, finance, government work, and basically anything on a computer without rigid security requirements/legislation.

This post is aimed more towards CEOs, your Boss and Managers. It will provide some talking points for employees and (hopefully) help the decision-makers in an organisation think about approaching a remote office, as both a way to survive COVID-19 and improve the lives of their/your workers (from the top to the bottom, even CEOs can benefit from this).

Why should you listen to me?

Here’s my CV.

I’ve been working remotely for almost a decade now, as a freelancer, software developer, and now as a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) for POS-uP. That last one is important. I’m one of those responsible for a lot of the tech decisions within our company and this is my second time in that position. I’ve set up and cultivated a remote working team of software developers, deciding on what tools to use and how. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve managed to do as a team and have a pretty decent work-life balance because of how our remote office works. It’s chill.

TL;DR I’ve worked from home for nearly a decade and have setup remote office environments a few times.

Cards on the table

There they are, on the table

I REALLY want more people to work remotely. It’s good for the environment (could help solve the climate crisis with little effort), noise pollution (have you noticed how quiet it is outside?), air quality, and work-life balance. There is no reason why at least 80% of office jobs couldn’t be done remotely and I’ll listicle you why here. My personal guarantee to you (pending apocalypses aside) is that remote working will considered be the norm in the future, starting with the Tech Industry, and hopefully at least 70% of office workers will be part-remote within the next 10 years.

PS: Did you know that 99% of statistics are made up?

Please Note

  1. I use CTO a lot in this article, it basically means whoever is in charge of managing your IT setup.
  2. I go over these Myths in a fairly basic and generic manner so as not to confuse.
  3. The most important thing is to make sure you implement remote solutions and practices that scale effectively.

1. It’s just for part-time staff and freelancers

While usually these are the two groups that do this the most often, you can have an entire company of full-time staff be remote. We do with our dev team and it’s pretty nice.

If anything, COVID-19 is showing us that it’s 100% possible to do this. Why go back to the office afterwards?

2. It’s more expensive

Hopefully our IT budgets are bigger than this

This is an easy one to dispel and is (relatively) easy to do a quick paper experiment on.

The TL;DR is; It can be expensive in the short-term but saves you money long-term once teething issues and setup are complete.

Think about your average employee and their needs. Your workplace needs to be heated, have working toilets, be powered, maintained etc. This all adds up over time, large organisations can easily spend around £5k~/year on an employee sitting at a desk due to the nature of fixed costs. This cost can be higher or lower depending on efficiency (or wildly different, all depends), for an office of 100 people you’re already at £500,000~/year.

If you don’t already know your figure for this, it’s easy to calculate. How much do you spend on infrastructure (building, utilities, maintenance and tea) a year? Divide that by how many employees use those costs and you’re there.

Something you will need to do is get remote stuff setup for IT support and software, but (using our £5k~ figure) if it’s under £410~/month per person you’ve saved money, which is absolutely doable with free software alternatives (ask your CTO).

This isn’t even mentioning furniture, travel reimbursement, stationary etc.

By nature of remote work, all (or most, depending on how you manage it) of these costs are offloaded onto the employee, which personally (as an employee) I am happy to pay as I’m in my own house all the time. It’s actually cheaper for me on petrol alone. The other side of the coin for workers is that we’re investing in our homes and can control our environments completely, we also get to keep the investments we made regardless of our next job.

I’d personally recommend allocating a small home office budget for your workers (for books etc.), somewhere around £50~/month is decent.

3. People will do less work

A clocked watch never ticks…. hol up

So, this one depends on culture and personality. If you’re already worried about this I’d say you have a problem anyway. I’m not even going to begin to go over the psychology behind this but I believe that a little give will help your employees to trust each other more and vice-versa.

If you make your work performance measured by ‘milestones of work completed by X date’ rather than hours sat at a desk it really doesn’t matter does it? At worst you can fire those that genuinely slack off. A study by Voucher Cloud has shown that employees are only productive for about 3 hours of their day anyway, so clock-watching can become an exercise in distrust and futility.

Other studies have shown that remote working can lead to increased morale and productivity, in a survey of remote businesses 63% reported a 21% increase in productivity. If you show your workers more trust and respect, they’re more likely to reciprocate.

Interestingly (given the climate), remote working also helps reduce disease simply by the nature of less exposure. This leads to employees not taking as many sick days and you paying less sick pay or being understaffed. It’s the same principle around social distancing and COVID-19.

As a personal anecdote, I find if I’m not using time tracking software I wind up doing more work as I under-estimate what I’ve done. Take that as you will.

4. You can’t trust employees

Weee wooo it’s the time-sheet police

Again, this is dependent on culture and very similar to the Myth above.

Unless you were already watching your employees every move at the office, this won’t change anything. If your employee would drink on the job at home, they’d probably do it in the office or while on their lunch break.

If you’re really worried, give employees laptops with monitoring software on them. TimeCamp is a piece of software that can track hours based upon which programs are open. I wouldn't work somewhere that did this but it's certainly an option.

If this is a big sticking point, remote working isn’t for you.

5. It’s technically infeasible

100% not true, I’m living proof.

The baby steps into this setup are using existing machines and allowing employees to remote desktop in. The best part is that this is built in to most modern operating systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux included).

You’ll have to make sure internally you have the bandwidth to support this on your routers (ask your CTO).

Just get your CTO to do a feasibility study and work with finance on a cost analysis for getting this up and running. That should give you enough solid info to help make the call on rolling this out to everyone.

If you want to read about more options available to you, IT Pro has a great intro into the topic of remote working solutions with case studies. I’ll be doing a series on remote working as I’m passionate about it and have time this month, so subscribe to the mailing list for those.

Here’s a great list by u/Anacreptic on companies offering free software for remote offices during the coronavirus pandemic.

6. It’s legally infeasible

Suiting up to deal out some PHAT fines

This depends on your industry but generally, there are software solutions that can help. I’m not going to do a full overview or diminish industries where it’s hard, in some cases this might not be a myth. Overall most workplaces can operate legally remotely and protect their customers in a post-GDPR world.

As your employees aren’t SHOWN sensitive info they can’t actually do anything with it, which is a huge step towards ensuring GDPR compliance. (e.g refunds by email, transaction id, last 4 digits of card numbers etc.)

This means (where possible) converting your enterprise to digital systems that allow this sort of “hands-off” management to happen. A lot of you probably use them already, if not you should be anyway as it takes away the GDPR legal liability of a piece of paper in your office.

With the proper software and procedure, it doesn’t need to be a legal nightmare.

That said, ask your lawyer/legal department and your CTO about this, every business is different and I'm generalising.

7. Communication is harder/impossible

I assume you already use email and phones? Great, you’re all set at a basic level.

With tools like Slack, Skype and Microsoft Teams; you can have text chat, document sharing and calls all in one place.

You might have an adjustment period but it’s perfectly possible to have 1-on-1s, group meetings etc. without ever leaving your house.

Our policy is that you can work whenever and wherever as long as you can respond to an emergency within 30 minutes, during UK working hours.

IMO all you really need to function as a business remotely are:

8. It’s isolating

Right now that’s not really an issue worth worrying about in my country (we’re under a very British lock-down) but generally, it can be if done wrong.

If you have regular in-person meet-ups (pandemics permitting) and regular calls with your workmates it’s generally not too bad. You can be social and enjoy being at home at the same time.

At worst, consider a dog or cat. Here’s me with my pooch (currently snoring at my feet):

She’s called Roxie and she’s a cutie

9. It’s terrifying

She’s not going away, best retreat to our home offices

Not terrifying, but definitely scary and an unknown.

For CEOs and Managers

The best step forward if you’re curious is to speak to your CTO (or closest IT lead) and ask about options.

There might be an initial up-front expense (there always is with new ventures) but long-term you should see HUGE savings and increased productivity. With the loans and support the UK government are implementing to help handle COVID-19 it’s the perfect chance to give it a go.

Even if it’s just a small group you try it out with first.

For Employees

Share this with your friends and ESPECIALLY your managers and decision-makers. The more higher-ups that read this the better, ideally we can make a change by raising awareness of the opportunity there is here.

If you think there is a case for working remotely for your business, you might as well try and make it. Just be tactful.

Closing Words

These are uncertain times for everyone, our first impulse is to resist change and bunker down. However, those that adapt first will be able to deal with this MUCH faster. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit more conservative with our actions but be smart about it.

I don’t have all the answers, so please make sure you all do your research and (roughly) know what you’re doing before you take action.

Stay safe, it’s a difficult time for the whole world.

The future is what you make it, let’s create it in our joggers at home