I’ve recently joined the roughly 3 percent of the American workforce who work remotely more than half the week. In my case, I’ve traded my daily bus commute to San Francisco’s Financial District for a walk down the hall to the converted bedroom that my wife and I share as a home office.
What happened? As you may recall, my most recent job has been working for KIXEYE, a mobile gaming company, on a new game named Kingdom Maker (www.kingdommakergame.com). Long story short, KIXEYE and its existing portfolio of games was sold to Stillfront (www.stillfront.com), a Swedish firm, in June. Development of Kingdom Maker, including me, has been spun into a new company, Global Worldwide (www.globalworldwide.com). So, it’s the same team, but now we’re a startup with roughly 20 employees. The old-new management team decided to leave the expense of San Francisco behind and relocate the company headquarters—and most of its personnel—to Atlanta. A fortunate few of us were given the option to work from home.
At home, I have three large screens, as well as my sleek Apple MacBook Pro. About the only difference one might notice is that my Internet connection speed is only about 100 mbps; at our San Francisco office, we had gigabit speeds that are simply not available in rural Sonoma County. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, our primary collaboration tools are Google Hangouts (for group meets) and Slack (www.slack.com) for team communication. I probably use Slack a little more heavily now, since I can’t physically walk over to someone to ask a question, but really, we all used Slack even when we were in the same office. So, aside from it being quieter, and the occasional interrupts from cats and dogs, there’s not much of a difference for me, though I miss seeing my co-workers every day.
As for my employer, it doesn’t seem to matter much. I’m a known quantity to them, and letting me go in favor of hiring someone in Atlanta, who would have to climb the same learning curve I’ve recently ascended, would make no sense. I joined KIXEYE in May 2018, so I’m fortunate to have had a year to make myself somewhat less fungible to the company. Otherwise, I might have faced the choice of either moving to Atlanta—an option offered to all team members—or finding a new job. And obviously, new hires at Global Worldwide will most likely be commuting to work, so I’m lucky.
It does seem a bit of a paradox. The same company that allows me to work remotely also wants its Atlanta workforce to come to the office every day.
You would think more companies would allow—and even encourage—their employees to work remotely, as long as they can do their work from anywhere with a decent Internet connection. For one thing, it saves on the cost of office space. Moreover, it doesn’t subject employees to the stress and expense of commuting.
So, why are there so few remote workers?
In researching this column, I found this sharp observation: “Great remote work is never an accident, it’s always a product of the organization and the employee working at it and making it better,” said Jonathan Nightingale in the article “Why More Companies Don’t Do Remote Work (and probably shouldn’t).” (You can find it at tinyurl.com/tech-talk-2019-10.) The writer acknowledged that companies that don’t offer remote work aren’t necessarily stupid or lacking in trust. The problem is: remote work can exacerbate performance problems, and create two tiers of employees—those who show up at the office daily and those who are out of sight, out of mind. Neither is good.
Whether a company is a startup or more established, large or small, the issues with remote work are the same. You need self-motivated workers, a good communications infrastructure, and managers and employees who can talk openly about issues and build trust. Goals and expectations need to be clearly communicated. Many employers struggle with these issues when everyone is in the same office. For them, remote work only compounds the problem. But as Nightingale said in the same article, “Remote work, done well, is great.”
Another of my co-workers, Matt, also works remotely, but not at home. He’s chosen a co-working space in downtown Santa Rosa, coLAB (colabconnect.com), as his weekday base of operations. It offers a large open space in The Press Democrat building on Mendocino, with desks and meeting rooms. For $275 a month, he has access to desk space during business hours, a high speed Internet connection, free parking, and 10 hours of meeting room time, which is ideal when we need to work together. Matt looked at another co-working space, Regus in Fountaingrove. The price was also in the $250 to 300 range, but Matt preferred the dining choices just a short walk in any direction downtown.
Working remotely can take many forms. I like my multi-screen setup at home. Matt makes use of the co-working space at coLab. Others camp out at Starbucks, paying rent in tall, non-fat mocha cappuccinos. It’s just another step in the ongoing evolution of work.