Traffic Jam

Remote Work doesn’t just benefit you, the worker. Or you, the manager (from the greater productivity your workers gain). It also benefits something you both use every day.

Your environment.

How? By not contributing to environment-damaging conditions—when commuting.

Think about this. In any given major city or large metro area, what happens every workday? The Commute. Lots of people in cars, subway trains, and buses. Millions of bodies clogging up transportation routes at two (sometimes 3) times of the day.

Every vehicle filling the air with smog, heat, and soot.

Let’s see how Remote Work and commuting work together. You’ll see pretty quickly that even a small amount of Remote Work has a notable effect on the local environment…benefiting everyone who lives there.

Commuting Exposes You (and Everyone Else) to More Pollution Than Ever

According to StatisticsBrain, over 128 million people commute every day in the U.S. The majority (75%) drive their own car, going between 1-10 miles one-way. The average commute is about 25 minutes.

(Speaking as someone in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can confidently say…we commute on average FAR longer than 25 minutes. It’s taken me 45 minutes to go 3 miles, more than once!)

Commuter Train

That’s definitely not a BART train. There’s way too much space open.
Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

Now, let’s broaden our perspective a little. What ELSE happens as a result of all those vehicles moving back and forth?

  • Air pollution.
  • Lots of fuel/energy use.
  • Each person loses time in traffic/delays.
  • Stress.

All serious problems. More so now than ever before.

In July 2017, just days before I wrote this, Duke University published a study on in-car pollution levels for commuters. They found that commuting drivers breathed in twice as many pollutants as sensors checking the air from the sides of the road. The kind of pollutants that not only make you cough, but can contribute to heart disease and cancer.

The study measured air in Atlanta traffic. But I’ll bet it’s just as bad, if not worse, over here on Silicon Valley’s clogged highways.

How Remote Work Saves the Planet! (Or at least improves your health.)

Just by commuting, you’re causing environmental damage, wasting time, and actually hurting yourself. 5 days a week, (nearly) 52 weeks a year, every year.

“Yeah, it’s not good for the planet. But what can we do?”

Simple. We can work remotely.

Imagine that same big city/metro area, with a large number of local businesses switching to Remote Work strategies. It wouldn’t affect ALL jobs (can’t telecommute to a construction site…yet). But even a 10% drop in people commuting could yield incredible improvements.

  • Better/lighter/faster traffic (I’m sure you’d appreciate that!)
  • Hours regained every week
  • Higher productivity from said regained time
  • Reduced air pollution
  • Lower stress levels
  • Happier workforce
  • Lower fuel/energy costs
  • More flexible business hours
  • Improved health for everyone!

Let’s gather some statistics to back these up. Here in the Bay Area we have a “Bike to Work” Day in May. They list the environmental benefits of such on this page:
Environmental Benefits – Bike to Work Day

According to their statistics, a mid-size car generates 1.3 tons of CO2 commuting 5 days a week for 1 year. Now, according to BayAreaCensus.gov, we had 2,674,000 people driving to work in 2010. I will round up to 3,000,000 for present day.

3 Million Cars x 1.3 Tons of CO2 = 3.9 million tons of CO2 dumped in the air. Every year. Just in one metro area. Multiply that by over 10 metro areas…yeah. That’s BAD for everybody.

If 10% of those workers telecommuted, it would stop 390,000 tons of CO2 from billowing up into the air.
Air you and I breathe each day.

Plus, you have time saved. Not just for telecommuters not driving to/from work, but for everyone else too. 10% of 3 million cars is 300,000 cars. What would happen to the people still commuting if we removed that many cars from daily traffic?

300,000 cars removed gives us 2,700,000 cars still commuting in the Bay Area. This Texas A&M study says that 148,000 person-hours are lost in traffic congestion for the San Francisco-Oakland area. A 10% reduction gives us 14,800 person-hours back. Divide that by 2,700,000 and you get…
32 seconds.

Okay, so a 32-second time savings on your commute isn’t much. But that’s with only 10% of commuters shifting to Remote Work. Imagine if we went to 20%. Or 50%.

You’re looking at huge pollution reductions, as well as more & more time saved for people who still commute.

Sounds like a good way to help prevent more heart disease and stress, doesn’t it? It sure does to me.

I have to say, that’s pretty smooth traffic for the Golden Gate!
Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash

Remote Work Helps Worker Productivity, Traffic, AND the Environment

The tremendous rush of commuting contributes to pollution and stress, every day. Helping keep the air clean and stress low is easily doable. All it takes is the decision to use a Remote Work approach.

If you use this “environmental benefit” argument to request Remote Work, please comment on the experience! I’d love to hear how well it works (and if not, what does!).

Productive Worker at Home

But I have a different perspective on 1…

Let me share a great article on telecommuting with you today.
Why Working from Home is the Holy Grail of Productivity Hacks – BestLife (Alex Daniel)

Overall, it’s a great article. Well written, and does a good job of illustrating the 10 most-commonly-cited productivity boosts you get from working remotely. I’ve already shared it on Reddit, and sent it to some managerial friends.

However, I have one minor issue to raise.

(Okay, two. Alex recommends two days a week telecommuting. I recommend all five, depending on the industry. But, that’s me. Okay, onward!)

The Issue – One Productivity Boost Can Go Even Further

The author talks about 10 different ways telecommuting improves productivity. Regaining commute time as work-time, controlling things like noise level and workflow pace, killing meetings, and so on.

(Sheesh, the TIME we spend stuck in meetings…how many of us have screamed in our heads, “We could have done all that in 3 emails!”)

office meeting photo

“So, we’re all going to remember everything on these posters tomorrow, right?”
Photo by Hollywood_PR

It’s with meetings that I have to raise my minor issue.

The author quotes David Niu of TINYPulse about when it’s a good time to have a face-to-face meeting: the Ideation phase of a project. When you’re figuring out the project’s objective, goals, and planning out steps.

I have to partially disagree here. As sourced, David’s quote talks about the value of face-to-face to “rapidly exchange ideas and read each others’ reactions to feedback.”

Essentially, he’s talking about nonverbal cues. Body language, eye movements…the opinions we give without speaking of them.

Thing is, you don’t necessarily need face-to-face to read verbal cues. Instead, you need:

  1. A video medium
  2. Familiarity with co-workers

If you’ve worked with anyone for a while, you’ve picked up on their typical nonverbal cues. (We don’t have a lot of nonverbal variance from person to person…nobody looks you in the eye when they’re nervous.)

Once you know how to tell when your co-worker likes/dislikes an idea, all you need is a way to track that.

Remote-Work Solution? Group video chats.

video chat photo

Everyone sees everyone. Nonverbal cues come with the discussion.

Dozens of software apps do this already. Skype, Skype for Business, HipChat, Workplace, Slack, etc. All you need are the devices you’re already using, decent bandwidth, and time.

Wait, wait. I can already hear the objection in your brain. “But you can’t see the whole person! It’s not face-to-face, so you can’t be sure!”

A very quick realization for you: You don’t see the whole person when face-to-face anyway. They’re sitting down at a table, leaning forward, partially blocked by a computer or tablet. Unless everyone’s standing up and spread out 10 feet from one another – which would be a little weird anyway – you’re pretty much concentrating on their face and hands.

What does a video chat display? Their face and hands.

It’s a minor quibble. but it does illustrate that sometimes, you can still do those “must be done in person” workday elements remotely.

Alex, great job. Hope to see much more of the same!

I don’t see a Comments section on BestLife, so…what are your thoughts?

IBM and Remote Work

IBM has decided to cancel its remote worker policy.
Extraordinarily bad idea. I’ll illustrate why.

IBM, remote-work pioneer, is calling thousands of employees back to the office – Quartz.com

IBM’s Current State: Unwell

Let’s frame the entire discussion right now. IBM as a company is not doing well. They’ve had 20 straight quarters of revenue decline, right up to Q1 2017 (which ended right as they made this announcement).

IBM stock tumbles as year-over-year revenue declines for 20th consecutive quarter – CNBC

Now, I like the Watson project. I almost can’t overstate its value to medical professionals and research teams. But even with Watson and cloud sales improving, IBM can’t pull themselves out of a LONG slump.

I find this very telling, in regards to their remote work termination.

The Reasons Given: Lofty and Shaky

Sources cited in the Quartz article talk about innovation and productivity gains. About IBM needing to be faster, more ‘agile.’

ibm photo

Used to use one of these…ahh, days gone by.
Photo by byzantiumbooks

“What IBM should value most, says John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who specializes in HR strategy, are better ideas. ‘It turns out the value of innovation is so strong that it trumps any productivity gain,’ he says, pointing to companies like Apple and Facebook that make around $2 million per employee (IBM makes about $200,000 for each employee). ‘[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s and the 80s, but not for 2015.’ He thinks that working together in person is one key to innovation.”

The comparison Professor Sullivan uses is, quite frankly, laughable. IBM already has to collaborate with ‘remote’ locations–its multiple worldwide offices! The marketing department alone has 6 offices across the U.S. ‘Working together in person’ is not possible.

(It’s also notable that the quote came from 2015…IBM had to go back 2 years to find it, apparently.)

Other sources appear to rail against remote work…Yahoo’s similar cancellation, Reddit’s demand that all employees relocate to San Francisco. The fact that Yahoo and Reddit both experienced severe trouble (and Yahoo’s ultimate collapse) are not mentioned.

The QZ.com author, Ms. Kessler, tries to show a bright side to the move. (The article itself is good; I always like seeing great writing.) But an upbeat article won’t make the truth go away.

Who made this ridiculous decision?

The Decision’s Sponsor: IBM’s New CMO

Michelle Peluso is IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer. She came on board in September of 2016. From the available information, it appears she set out to destroy IBM’s remote work policy from Day 1.

“In a video message, Peluso, formerly the CEO of fashion startup Gilt, explained the ‘only one recipe I know for success.’ Its ingredients included great people, the right tools, a mission, analysis of results, and one more thing: ‘really creative and inspiring locations.'”

Wait a minute. The only recipe she knows for success…from a fashion company? IBM is about as far from fashion as you can get. It’s not reasonable to presume the tactics used in a fashion company will work in a technology giant like IBM.

Another thing to point out…she’s the IBM Chief MARKETING Officer.

That’s not an HR position…she shouldn’t have anything to do with hiring & firing. She has no technical experience either. Yet she’s the one making a company-wide decision affecting thousands of technology workers?

This makes no sense at all! What’s the real reason behind IBM’s move?

Using Remote Work as a Scapegoat for Cost-Cutting

When we think about it,it’s pretty easy to see what’s really going on here. It’s all a cost-cutting effort.

  1. Declare an end to the remote work policy.
  2. Assign remote workers to a physical office. The office could be in a totally different city from your home. For example, say you work out of a Boston suburb. Your job is now assigned to the Austin office…and you have to show up.
  3. IBM has now created a circumstance where remote workers quit, since they can’t reach the office. If you don’t want to move? You’re fired.
  4. Profit?

The thing is, they’ve already done layoffs. Thousands of them, just in the past 12 months. It didn’t help their costs. This move won’t either…and in fact may do structural damage to the company.

What Happens to IBM Next?

Maybe some of the talent lost wasn’t so good. If so, a simple layoff would suffice. But a move like this sends a powerful message…a very, very bad one. To the world at large, and to the remaining IBM employees.

The remaining talent…the skilled engineers, good programmers, and so on…now know they can get dumped too. Nobody is safe from Peluso’s “improvements.” What will the skilled workers do in response? If I were any of them, I’d run for the exit as fast as possible!

Thousands of companies will happily slurp up IBM’s talent. Not only do they gain highly-skilled workers, they cause IBM damage. In trying to bolster its own innovation, IBM has sent a shockwave through its own halls.

In terms of short-term effect, here’s what I predict. Any IBM department which must reabsorb formerly-remote workers into their on-site workflows, will slow down. Workflows must change, space must be made, relationships built or rebuilt. The day-to-day of people moving about will drag down productivity.

Of course, this causes the opposite of what Peluso claims she wants. Unless she was only after destroying the remote work policy…in which case, anything that happens afterward is not her problem.

Could IBM Reverse the Remote Work Decision?

Is such a decision reversible? Yes, and that’s the best move. Reinstitute the remote worker policy. Do it companywide, right away.

But, even if they did so tomorrow, the damage is done. It would help them in the long run. But they’ve already burned their most important bridge…the one to their talent.

Even if invited back, some of the remote workers cut by this move will not return. (Nor should they; IBM has declared they don’t trust or want you.) That means IBM has to spend more time/money training new people…wasting all the time/money they already spent on the departing workers.

IBM now has to re-home thousands of workers, paying power costs, growing the needed office space, and raising pollution in every city affected.

crowd photo

“This is my office.” “No, this is my office.” “It’s my office too!”
Photo by markhillary

The sad thing is, IBM once enjoyed incredible boosts from their remote work policy. Not just in productivity, but in ACTUAL cost savings. The article even mentions this!

“And by 2009, when remote work was still, for most, a novelty, 40% of IBM’s 386,000 global employees already worked at home (the company noted that it had reduced its office space by 78 million square feet and saved about $100 million in the US annually as a result).”

Hundreds of millions in savings. Now destroyed, rendered moot.

A Bad Move by a Troubled Company

I give credit to the Captain Capitalism blog for pointing out the Quartz article. The man is brusque, but he knows his economics. Take heed.

My final word: IBM has destroyed a remote work policy that brought them provable gains, because a fashion exec says it’ll save the entire company. The IBM decision-makers are either voluntarily ignorant, or they think they’re above the market.

20 straight quarters of declining revenue says they are wrong.

What do you think?

Home Office Upstairs

I know what you’re thinking. How do MANAGERS benefit when their workers aren’t in the office?

We know a few benefits the workers themselves get from it. But managers? Part of their job is making sure those workers do their job. If I can’t call someone into my office, or go drop by their desk…how do I know they’re actually working?

(Believe it or not, that sort of perspective actually creates a benefit for remote workers. I’ll explain shortly.)

The answer is, it’s easy to know. Plus, you as a manager can derive as much value from remote work as your employees. Let’s find out what kind of value, shall we?

I’ll start with the immediate benefits for employees. Bear with me; there’s a method to my madness.

Immediate Benefits to Working Remotely for Employees

1. Remote Work Ends the “Someone’s Watching Me” Atmosphere

empty office photo

“Bob, you seen Alice?” “Working remotely Sir.” “What about Leslie?” “Remote.” “Joe?”
Photo by Iain Farrell

Do you do your best work when someone’s watching?

You’re sitting at your desk, typing away…and you feel it. The weighty sensation behind your head. That tickle on your neck. The invisible pressure of eyes. You turn your head, and sure enough, there’s your boss. Staring at you like some tenth-story gargoyle.

Distracting, isn’t it? Of course it is. No one performs their best under scrutiny. Yet when we’re working, we want to do good work. So “someone’s watching me” becomes a lingering sandbag. Flattening our productivity at random.

Not in the office? No chance of someone staring at you. No distraction.

2. Improved Co-Worker Communication

When working remotely, how do you check with a co-worker on their progress? Maybe you need some input on the new customer’s sales report. Frank will have that…but you can’t get up & walk over to Frank’s desk. You’re at home, and so is he. (For purposes of this post, I’m assuming you don’t live together.)

You’ll need to check in with Frank, and other co-workers, frequently. For remote workers, there’s plenty of ways to do that. Most are even faster than walking between cubicle rows.

In pretty much all remote-work situations, I advocate teams use project management software like Trello or Asana. Or chat apps like Slack. These platforms provide easy-to-use communications methods. Checking in with Frank only takes a short Slack message, a comment on Asana, an email, a phone call…take your pick.

More importantly, the inability to walk across an office makes each & every worker aware of the need to communicate. How’s that a benefit? The awareness actually leads to BETTER communication.

Since you have to check with co-workers, you’ll work out ways to do this quickly & clearly. Whatever gets you the needed information fast, so you (and Frank) can get back to work. Now you have new communication habits, short and frequent.

3. No More Commute.

Yes, this one’s obvious. But it’s definitely a benefit, for work as well as life.

Gaining back hours spent in commute results in longer/better-quality sleep. How many of you are chronically sleep-deprived? It wrecks your productivity…not to mention quality of life.

You also have more time available for work (and for life). How’s that anything but a benefit?

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Hold on managers. Don’t reach for the heart meds just yet. While these might sound like one-sided benefits, they’re not. In fact they benefit you too…in important ways.

I’ll demonstrate by clarifying another aspect of the very same benefits.

Immediate Benefits to Working Remotely for Managers

1. Focus Shifts to Work Progress

Since the “someone’s watching me” atmosphere isn’t possible anymore, what’s left? The work. For you and for them. Nothing gets in the way of (or distracts from) accomplishing the work.

You can still check in on employees easily. Use the same communications tools they use. Most have a “Presence” status indicator. It’s usually a colored dot indicating when they’re Available, Busy, in a Call or Meeting, etc. One glance and you confirm Frank is hard at work.

If you don’t see his status, well, there’s always the phone.

2. More Efficient Workflow (For You!)

With employee communication improving among each other, you’ll notice a curious, but appreciable absence from your workday.

What happens to all those times you’re working, and someone stops by to ask YOU a question? Something their co-worker knows already, or they could find out in a few minutes?

They stop happening.

Think about that. Dozens, maybe hundreds of micro-disruptions during your daily workflow…gone! (Or at least massively cut down.) You could gain hours of productive time back, without doing a thing.

3. Can’t/Don’t Want to Go in Today? Don’t!

I’ll tell you a not-well-kept secret. Managers can telecommute too.

You’re just as reachable as employees, using the same tools to get the work done. (I’ll review a bunch of those tools on the blog soon, don’t worry.) You also can focus on your work, and enjoy the same productivity boost.

Maybe you need to take your son to the doctor? No reason to head to the office, then back home to get him, and then over to the doctor’s. You’re just wasting time driving back and forth…time you could spend working.

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unhappy office photo

Photo by simon.carr

By the way, these are just 3 IMMEDIATE benefits to working remotely. More do exist, both in short- and long-term. I’ll go into detail on all of them in future posts.

For now…what’s one question you have regarding remote work? Please ask it in the comments. I want this blog to answer as many of your questions as possible.

Who This Blog is Meant For

I’ll start off by saying: This blog is not targeted to remote workers.

Don’t get me wrong; you’re all very welcome! But my target audience is slightly different.

On this blog, I want to speak with the people who hire workers of all stripes. Business owners. Managers & VPs. Startup Founders. Government Department Heads (yes, even government can gain from remote work!).

Those types of people. Welcome.

Why? Because this blog is about how remote work benefits YOU.

Remote Work (or telecommuting; I’ll use them interchangeably) has clear benefits to many workers out there…millions, by my estimate. But it also has great benefits for your workday, your hiring, and your success.

As such, the blog will spend time talking about the philosophy behind working remotely. The intricacies of production while telecommuting. And of course, tactics to build remote work into just about any business out there. New or old. Modern or traditional.

Why Should You Read about Remote Work?

Because you’re after productivity.

productivity photo

Photo by sachac

It never truly leaves your mind. “Is there a way we can do this better/faster/more efficiently?” If one exists, you want to test it out. If one doesn’t exist, well, time to invent it!

Maybe you knew about Remote Work already. Maybe not. Either way, this blog is meant to help your business become better by using it.

How so? Well, think about this…

  1. Business Owners – Taking advantage of higher productivity with minimal costs
  2. Managers & VPs – Paying well for good work, no matter where the worker is
  3. Startups – Your talent pool is as big as you want it to be
  4. Government – Even if your hiring is jurisdiction-based, you can push the limits without sacrificing quality of work

They all seem like advantages to me. How about you?

Where This All Started – a Remote Work Reversal

The Remote Worker Office. Everyone's at home.

My career has lasted 20 years now. I’ve spent 13 of those years telecommuting, either full-time or part-time. Early on, I found working remotely a great boon to my work. I had quiet, focus, and no trouble communicating when needed.

Recently, my employer decided that working remotely was no longer acceptable. (Except for himself and his VP.) Why? When I asked, he pointed to recent news of companies canceling their telecommuting policies: Yahoo, IBM, Reddit.

I reminded him that my most productive days are spent working remotely. (This was also true of co-workers, but I could only speak for myself at the time.) He dismissed that with a wave of his hand. I reminded him that his business model is totally different from those companies. Another hand-wave.

Since then, my productivity has waned. Not by choice…I don’t like it at all! I’d say I average 20% higher productivity when working remotely.

Why did that happen? A few of the reasons:

  • I’m an introvert. I can tolerate social settings for a while, but then I start to shrink inward.
  • Constant distraction. People shouting out requests to others, walking around…I’m a content professional. I need focus to create good content!
  • On-the-spot task assignment. Hey, since you just walked into my field of vision, I remembered 3 other things you’ll need to do today! That’s not a problem, right?

I want to do my best work. I know the conditions in which my best work comes out. You probably do too. Wouldn’t you agree that, if everyone had the ability to work in their best conditions, productivity would soar to (and stay at) Maximum?

Feedback is Requested.

Final point: I want to learn too. I’ve spoken with many businesses owners, VPs, and the like over the years. Each had their own story to tell…their own circumstances governing productivity.

I want to hear from you. What you think of remote work, your experiences with telecommuting, which jobs do you think you could remote-enable and which you could not.

Is there something about telecommuting that bugs you? Do you use it now, but find it’s not working too well?

The more I hear, the more I can tackle these problems. The more value businesses—ALL businesses—can get out of Remote Work.

That’s what this blog is meant for.

Want to send in feedback? Please leave a comment on any post. (Don’t forget to subscribe too.)

You’re also welcome to email me, at chris@remotework.works.

Welcome to the journey!

Telecommuting from Coffee Shop

Right now businesses enjoy productivity like never before. We can choose all manner of methods & processes for efficiency and manpower: contracting, offshoring, gig work, full-timers, etc.

But there’s one productivity method still under-used. It can grant a business—almost ANY business—huge strides forward in productivity, time savings, even cost savings. Yet many businesses don’t trust it. Or dismiss its advantages.

It’s called Remote Work, or Telecommuting. It’s why I’ve created this blog. I want to see many more businesses realize the productivity advantages of Remote Work. And help them integrate Remote Work into their everyday operations.

On this site you’ll find explorations of Remote Work’s value in the real world. Guides on building Remote Work into a business. Directions on how jobs you may not think would work remotely, actually can (and should).

My name is Chris Williams. I’m working—remotely—toward a whole new era of business. Join me! You might just find the next “Big Thing” for your business, right here.

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