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You work better if you're happy

How remote work made my life easier.

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Before this pandemic madness, in September 2019, I quit my job and started my own freelancing business. The initial idea was to get a co-working space. However, to save expenses, I decided to work from home on the initial stage. I never thought about co-working spaces since then, and I don't think I will any time soon.

Context

My job in the office was what I called an "on-site remote job". I was integrated in a company, but I was barely working directly with other employees. I worked directly with the company's client 4 days a week, and did internal work only on the remaining day. But even on that day, I did my work with very little collaboration. I felt like an independent entity inside a company.

It was a no-brainer for me and that's not case for everyone. At least not at first sight. Fortunately the company was nice enough to keep things mainly as they were, with the difference that I was now no longer an employee. I kept the client and started working as a freelancer.

Different kind of challenges

This isn't a very conventional story, and your case might be a bit more complicated. But the main take on it is that I left an office job to start a home office situation. Everyone knows (or assumes) the challenges of working from home, most of which revolve around having the discipline to keep a routine + the lack of social interaction. Those were in fact my concerns as well. But what people often don't realise is that working within an office poses as many challenges or more to working remotely. And this is sometimes hard to see specially when the common concerns that are raised when thinking about working remotely are a projection of the what we know about working from an office.

In my case, the challenge to working in an office is that it became very hard to think about my day as a whole. I had the working part of your day, and rest of my day. And that is, I realised, a bit twisted. Your day should be your own. And even though you're getting paid to work, your employer does not own your time. It owns the work you produce. And that's all they are paying for.

8 hours of work influence the remaining 16.

For me, the problem with working from an office is that my entire 24 hours would end up revolving about my job. The time I got up would be determined by the time I had to get to the office. The time I got home to be with my family would depend on what time I'd leave the office. The time I got to bed, would be just enough to be able to get a good night's sleep before I got up in the morning to get it all started again. It really didn't feel like I actually owned this time. It was an orchestrated routine to keep me getting to my job in time, staying there for 8 or 9 hours, and leaving to finish off my day to get it all started again next morning. And then, of course, there's the weekend. That time is yours, yes. But even that felt like it only existed to get my rest levels straight, to get back to wheel fully energised on Monday.

When you realise that your day is yours and yours alone, you'll realise that working from home truly is an easy way to reclaim that time, and organise it in the way that suits you best. That doesn't mean you wouldn't deliver on the work your employer is paying for, but it should mean that the efficiency of how you do that same work is entirely up to you. This isn't a rant against employers. They are the whole point of this text, because they are the ones that will benefit the most.

How do you feel, when you are the most productive?

Did you ever think about that? I mean those days that you are really knocking everything out of the park. You're killing it. Did you ever stop and think "Why am I working so well today?"

The days I feel like this are usually the days when I just feel particularly happy. There can be a specific reason, or maybe I just woke up in a good mood. But those are the days I work better. There are studies to back this up, but it's always something I noticed. The same way I know that in the days I'm feeling down, I produce nothing but garbage. Of course there can be a correlation here. Being successful increases your confidence level, which will probably improve your mood, which will make you better at performing your task, which will continue to increase your confidence, and so on. In any case, one way or another, being happier will at least increase your confidence, which will certainly improve how successful you are at a given task.

More control will make you happier

The reason why happiness plays a big role here is because having control over your life and your time, will, I am sure, improve your day, simply because you won't deal with most of the stresses of a regular day (see "Study says that remote workers are happier and stay in jobs longer"). You won't deal with traffic, or your commute. You won't be constantly interrupted with whatever is going on inside the office. You won't be on meetings all the time where most of that time is wasted. You won't worry about rushing an idea for dinner after an exhausting day of work. You can actually plan your work day around what you need to do, and not the other way around.

For me, this was a huge load of my shoulders. I was able to take the time to organise my life. And a life better organised is a life where you don't waste as much time doing your daily tasks. All of the sudden, it's in your best interest to do these tasks efficiently, because that's time in your pocket. And it's time in your employers pocket as well. Ultimately, more time makes you happier. Less stress, less rushing to everything, more time for personal endeavours or with whatever hobbies you may have. It doesn't just improve your personal life. Being happier makes you better at your job. And why wouldn't an employer want that?!

Even if, for some weird reason, you think you wouldn't be happier if you had more time, I want to challenge to whom ever is reading this to give me a solid reason of how this would hurt in any way.

Benefits of remote working for employers

In the meantime, specially if you are a business owner, here a few more benefits to consider:

  • A remote company communicates better. There's no coffee breaks so no personal interaction at the cafeteria or hallways where decisions are made, but not registered. This means, every single decision that is made, should be registered in some sort of communication platform. No more miscommunication. No more "You didn't warned about that". It will just be "Oh yes I did. Let me pull out the trello card, email, chat message and calendar invite real quick".
  • Everyone can work when they are feeling the most productive. For some people is during the morning. Others might work better at night. Even if, occasionally or for a portion of the day, people might need to work at the same time, for most of the time, this isn't necessary. I don't think companies realise that at least 2 of the 8 hours of everyone working from an office go to the bin, just because people "didn't wake up yet" or "Oh man, c'mon, give me a break, I just had lunch".
  • Asynchronous communication. How urgent is that thing you just requested from that person? Does it really need to be "right away"? And if so, how long have known about it and why are you only now asking for it? Asynchronous communication is key for an organised team. Chances are, most things that are requested to you aren't as urgent as they tell you, and there's no need to be interrupting someone just because they aren't organised enough to ask for it on time. Asynchronous communication is assuming people won't get to it right away, and that helps creating habits of making these request with more time, and plan them in advance. If they know they'll need something to do a complete a task, they know they have to ask for it before they actually need it. Of course you can always keep a channel open for extremely urgent things, but that shouldn't get cluttered with ordinary requests.
  • Rent. How much are you paying every month for your office space? How many "benefits" (fruit, croissants, playstations, slides or bean bag chairs) are you buying to keep everyone happy? How about way a smaller and cheaper place just to work as a small "hub" for the occasional in-person meetings?
  • Talent. If you have an office, your best employee is just the best available option of your local community. There's a world of better, more reliable and available people. Geography shouldn't limit the pool of talent you are fishing from.
  • Environment. Yes, that's right, I said it, here's a very 2020 Greta sponsored benefit. How much would the environment benefit if only half of the commuters would get on their fuel powered vehicles to go to work every day?

And there you have it. If you are a business owner, I'm sure you are annoyed by my misunderstanding of how to run a company. I'm sure you're right. I'm also sure that most of your concerns revolve about something like "How do I know my employer is working and not just browsing facebook all day?"

Trust is key.

If you have those concerns, it probably means that you don't trust your employees. And you are 100% right in that case. If you don't trust your own employees, you won't be able to transition to a remote work situation. However, lack of trust happens for two reasons:

  • You have specific proven reasons not to trust them. And in that case, why did you hire them in the first place? Or why don't you find someone else to do the job?
  • You genuinely don't trust people which will eventually turn you into a micromanaging asshole, regardless of the working situation you have going in your company. And in that case, you should leave your employees alone, and I'm sure they'll surprise you.

This sounds harsh and it's meant to sound like that. Micromanaging your team doesn't make it more productive. Micromanaging sucks time of your day, which will ultimately hurt the company because you - the leader and visionary - are worried about what everyone else is doing all of time, instead of thinking about the vision that made you start the company in the first place. At best, it makes everyone work like you would, which is unlikely to be the best way. If you hire someone to do a job, it shouldn't be just because you don't have time to do it yourself; it should be because they have the potential to be better at it than you are. If you suffocate them by micromanaging, at best, they'll work just as well as you would. But because you're wasting your time controlling everyone, you didn't actually gain much by hiring someone else to do the job.

Anyway, that's it for now. I might expand on this "micromanaging asshole topic". I kinda like it.

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