Remote Work is Not Working from Home!

One of the most misleading statements I’ve seen banded about during the pandemic is that it’s going to lead to huge changes in the world of work. I’m even guilty of saying it myself.

If we seize the opportunity presented to us by remote work, it will be a lifestyle revolution. It’s a more inclusive approach that enables more women to enter the workforce, opens up career paths men traditionally wouldn’t consider, opens up job opportunities to those with disabilities and it removes the need for us all to be tied geographically to a workplace. At the centre of this revolution is the ability to work remotely.

The Reality of how people view Remote Working

The reality, however, is that most people think of remote working in a very limited way. Employers and employees alike confuse remote working with working from home.

Why are we limiting ourselves this way? Remote work should really be about where you are at a given time. Assuming you are producing the work expected of you, does it matter whether you are on a beach in Brazil, a Parisian café or sat on a bench on Wigan Pier? You could be working from anywhere and your home office is just one location.

If I think back to my working life, I was, many years ago, a travel journalist. Among other locations, I filed news reports from The Seychelles, the Hilton Hotel in Toronto and conference centres in France. In many respects, that job was the ultimate in remote work. Hold that thought, I’m going to come back to my travel journalist days in just a moment.

The Remote Work Pandemic

The introduction to remote working for many people was during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many employers were forced into accepting this way of working, but remote working during a global health pandemic is not what remote working should be.

Restrictions on movement meant the only place most people could work was their family home. Added to that, many people were having to oversee the remote schooling of their children while also doing the day job.

What the pandemic has done is shown us that remote working is possible. My brother-in-law made a fascinating observation on this point. He said:

“Imagine if every IT department in the country was told: ‘On 23 March, you’ve got to make it possible for every employee to be able to work from home.’ They’d have said it can’t be done.”

When it was forced upon employers, IT departments made it happen. We’ve seen that remote working is perfectly feasible. We’ve also seen that when men are released from a long, daily commute, they do more at home (Check out the fatherhood Institute’s Time With Dad campaign for more on this).

Remote Work Anywhere, so long as the Work gets Done

Yet when people talk about remote working, they only ever talk about working from their home. If they’re being really innovative, they may talk about working from a local café for an hour or two.

Remote working should be possible from anywhere. If it’s a glorious day and you fancy working from the beach, why not do it? Fancy catching a ferry to France and having lunch in Calais? Why not plug your laptop in and work during the crossing? Got to visit family in Aberdeen? Don’t take a day off work, catch the train and use the journey time productively.

We must not be limited by the experience of remote working we’ve had during the pandemic. The pandemic set the bar very low. The idea that you can only work from your office or your home is simply an extension of the culture of presenteeism. If accepted and adopted properly, remote working could free us all up to work from anywhere.

Remote Working does not mean Flexible Working either

I shall leave you with one final thought. Back in those days when I was a travel journalist, I worked all over the world and filed content from wherever I was at the time if needed. This aspect of remote working was never called into question. It was a part of the job.

Interestingly, I can’t ever recall working from home when I had that job. I can’t recall any of my colleagues working a single day at home either. To be honest, the culture of the place didn’t permit or encourage that kind of thing. If you were in the United States and had to email something back to the office, that was great but woe betide you for wanting to work from home because it would have made it easier for you to attend a medical appointment.

Isn’t it fascinating that my employer at that time had such an approach? Unfortunately, I think many employers still do and that’s why it’s vital we sing the praises of remote, flexible working and good job design. I, for one, want to join that choir!

If you what to read more from John, check out his take on if the media is driving divisive culture.

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