Remote First

Friday, 15 May 2020

There's no need to highlight the fact that all of our lives, both professional and personal, have had to adapt to the change thrust upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Things that seemed to be previously impossible are now possible in "the new normal". From offices that never would have considered to allow remote working, pipelines and workflows that wouldn't be able to stretch, had to adapt to the change that work suddenly needed to happen outside of the office walls.

Remote First

During times like this, both employees and employers may find that remote working is an option for their business, and it being more productive and less stressful and should remain an option even after COVID-19. From a technical point of view, we all know that a distributed system is more flexible and resilient than a centralized one, which leaves me to wonder: what if entrepreneurs would tackle their business infrastructure with a "remote first" strategy? (Yes, I could take this down the monolith vs. microservices analogy, but will leave that for another day!)

Remote first would be to allow teams (a group of people coming together to achieve a common goal) to be able to collaborate both remotely, and when sitting side by side in an office. It would allow teams to become more geographically spread (no more need for the London commute to Acme Inc.'s HQ) as well as allowing them to become more diverse. Know an outstanding digital sculptor in Italy or that awesome rigger stateside that would be perfect for this project? No requirement to bring them in physically: reach out to them, cut them an account, and get them involved.

From a business point of view, it would allow for the bottom line to be slimmed down by requiring less real estate expense. Instead only having a slimmed down front office presence and an operations team near transport links. Imagine a London and New York façade, but everything else being spread out over pockets – both nationally as well as internationally – the smallest of these pockets being an employee's home office.

"It [closing the office when the lease runs out] will save us around 10% of our turnover and means we'll cut down on fuel, pollution and all the other surrounding costs associated with having an office."

But can you actually trust your employees to do their work? I'd say, if you don't trust someone to work from home you probably shouldn't trust them to perform any tasks from your office either. The fact of being at the office doesn't make anyone more trustworthy.

But surely communication will suffer, given we're not around eachother? One of my personal experiences is that, when physically distanced, communication becomes much more intentional – rather than a "false" feeling of communication when being physically closer. Obviously timezones and language could be a barrier, but the recruitment net can be cast way further afield. (I am also aware that this experience might not be shared by everyone, without some small tweaks.)

"Already, nearly 5 million independent workers describe themselves as “digital nomads,” or workers who choose a “location independent, technology-enabled lifestyle” that allows them to work from anywhere in the world."

Would this modify a business' core? I'd argue that a remote first approach would only change the "how", not the "why" of the business. It's only a different modus operandi. What about from a work-life balance point of view? One of the benefits of not having to commute to the office, stressing the public infrastructure (transport just being one of them as part of a larger "grid") in peak times when everyone is making the same trip, it would have an positive impact on the employee's happiness: the day might end up being spent working more hours overall, however imagine being able to still hit all your job's deliverables with the flexibility of being able to handle the school run, gym visit, and so on. Surely we all have those moments in the day where a small break would be ideal to come back later with more creativity and oomph to finish that task off better and with fewer errors. Or is it just me? :-)

I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts on the "remote first" idea for the office 2.0 AKA version 2020.

P.S. This idea is not new, eg. I'm aware of DNS Simple operating like this for years already. The likes of these companies are not really noticing any difference in day-to-day operation during the lockdown; they've been set up as remote companies from the get go.