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let your people work from home.

The people that f* around when they say they’re working from home are the ones you don’t want to hire.

Photo by Michaela Ray Photography

It’s been said that “the future of work is remote.”

It saves the company money (goodbye, office space) and increases employee retention, amongst many other things.

Why, then, haven’t more companies let their employees work from home?*

*I use this “from home” term loosely, because for many people (myself included), working from home usually means working from a public place like a library or coffee shop.

The answer? Probably because they don’t yet trust their employees to get work done when at home.

There’s that misconception that working from home means lying in bed watching TV all day while hanging out on Slack/Gchat/Skype/email to pretend like you’re readily available and constantly working.

Here’s the reality: There are some people who do that.

Here’s your solution: Don’t hire those people.

Hire the ones that are more productive when they work from home.

I’ve found similar qualities in people like me who take joy in working remotely:

They’re the ones who are self aware and know their capacity for work. They know when they need to take a break, know at what times they’re most and least effective, and can organize their schedule as such.

They’re driven, self sufficient, and self-motivated; they don’t need external factors like deadlines, coworkers, or a boss looking over their shoulder to tell them what to to do and when.

In fact, taking out the commute time allows for more work and less stress. While I use my commute to listen to podcasts, catch up on social media, or read, I can’t deny that I save much more time if I get up at 5 or 6 am and get straight to work.

And after all, who likes being sandwiched like a sardine on the T or caught in bumper to bumper traffic?

Speaking of stress, holding a strict 9-to-5 makes it exceedingly difficult to do everyday life things, like grocery shop, go to the bank, go to doctor’s appointments, or do laundry.

Bound by the constraints of that 9-to-5, we must either sacrifice a weekend to do the errands that have built up over the week, take a sick day, or try and squeeze these things before or after work — all of which increases stress.

Then there’s the topic of mental health.

If you have a mental health disorder or just are a normal person, mental health days need to happen sometimes.

Everyone needs a mental health day once in a while. Whether that’s from stress, burnout, or tough life situations, sometimes you literally cannot even fathom going into the office.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re incapable of working that day.

Sometimes, yes, if you’re going to take a mental health day, you should probably distance yourself from all things work-related.

But other times?

Speaking from my personal experience with mental health, some days are really difficult going into the office. The commute makes me anxious, I feel like everyone hates me, I can’t concentrate at my desk, I feel trapped by being in one place, the slightest reprimand or even feedback makes me want to cry, and sometimes I just end up crying in the bathroom.

The thing is, I can work. I just need to be alone and away from people, or at least people who know me.

There is a certain kind of alone-ness you feel in a coffee shop full of strangers, or a coffee shop you frequent where the barista knows your name and gives you a small and a little extra in your cold brew, which effectively lifts your mood, but he doesn’t talk to you much after that, except to ask if you need more water.

And as an introvert, I’m mentally drained at the end of a workday.

I’m creatively blocked by staying in the same place for 8+ hours. I don’t feel like working on side projects or even working out sometimes, but even without that motivation, the work must be done (especially if that’s teaching fitness classes).

But when I work from home? All of a sudden, I can workout, teach, spend time brainstorming and creating, AND work 8–9 hours.

Sure, it means I start work at 6 am sometimes and end at 11:30 pm sometimes, but I know how to map my energy and my schedule to get maximum amount done.

Besides, being away from your coworkers can increase your productivity.

Physical distance dampens your impulse to perform urgent but not important tasks and allows you to focus on important tasks.

Your co-workers can’t tap you on the shoulder and ask for an email or a list of data. You can’t get disrupted from your state of flow unless you choose to come out of it.

There are downsides, though. Not everyone works well remotely.

Some people need external motivation.

Some people need the company of their co-workers. Some people need the structure of being in an office, need the routine that a steady 9-to-5 provides.

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of person. If you look at Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies, they’re likely to be Obligers or maybe Questioners.

Rebels and Upholders can create their own routine. They know how to manage their own time. Rebels particularly don’t love being constrained by anyone or anything, and Upholders are the type of people who you know will get the job done, no matter where they are in the world.

The solution to this? Hire intelligently.

Hire people for roles that suit them.

Remote work? Hire people who can work at coffee shops, at home, across the world without distraction. Who can zone in on deep focus by themselves.

Non-remote work? I’d imagine the number of jobs where you need to be with your co-workers is declining, but if you have such jobs, go ahead. Hire the people you know thrive coming into the office most days (I say most, and not all, because is there anybody who lives for coming into the office every single day??).

But then there is the question of culture.

How do you build culture with a team that’s dispersed?

Smart hiring managers know that they need to hire for culture fit, and smart job applicants know they need to accept based on culture fit.

But culture is a notoriously intangible concept. The term “startup culture” gets thrown around quite often. “Work hard play hard” also gets added to the mix. Maybe it’s “get sh*t done.”

They’re catchphrases, but pretty meaningless ones. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of culture here, but culture does depend on people interacting.

There are a couple of 100% remote companies and teams that have ingenious ways of building culture. Some have their onboarding process in person, some have quarterly team bonding retreats.

But most importantly, we look to those above us for signs of a company’s culture.

It’s not how the company describes themselves on their website, but rather how the current employees work.

Are they allowed to build their own hours? Must they be available 24/7? What’s the paid time off like? How many people actually use their PTO?

Does the CEO accept feedback? Does he value work-life balance?

How open is communication? Is it a flat or hierarchical organizational structure?

These are all important questions and indicators of a company’s culture. Even if it’s literally just the CEO/co-founders, take a look at how they work, and you’ll see how the company will work.

And that is how you build and discover culture in remote teams.

You can work exceedingly (or poorly) with people you’ve never met. I’ve worked with other freelancers, brands, and PR people who I have absolutely loved for their work ethic, great organization, and clear communication.

I’ve worked with publications, some freelancers, and brands who I say “no thank you” to working with again, because they’re cocky, closed-minded, or non-communicative.

You can tell.

Finally, another solution is to make remote work optional and earned.

Have the onboarding process in person. Have each employee spend their first 3 months in the office learning the ropes and getting a taste of what it’s like to work there.

Then take those training wheels off. Give them the opportunity to work remote for 1 day a week. See how they do.

Give them the opportunity to work remote for 3 days a week. See how they do.

Give them the opportunity to work remote all the time. See what they do.

Given the opportunity, I think you’ll find that most people will probably come into the office at least 1–2x a week. Some people may come every day.

The thing is, we can argue in circles about remote work.

There will always be proponents and opposers of it.

If it’s something you’re craving and don’t have, don’t jump for any opportunity just because it’s remote and that’s what you want, as difficult as it may seem.

Look at the bigger picture. If the predictions are true, the number of remote jobs may increase exponentially in a couple of years, so your dream job may just fall into your lap(top)…

Do you already work remotely? I found this podcast extremely helpful:

How much remote time (if any) would you prefer? If you could work from anywhere in the world, where would you work? If you’re a manager, would you let your employees work remotely? Why/why not?