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UK-based Danny Mulcahy applied for his job as a Customer Success Hero at Buffer so he could follow his then-fiancée from Manchester to London when she got into medical school. During their move, he started his days early and worked on the train to London, then checked out apartments before setting up his laptop in a coffee shop. Two years later, that flexibility is still one of the best parts of the remote set up.
“To be able to pick up your laptop and hop over to any place that has Wi-Fi and do your work is a magical thing,” he says.
Buffer offers a social media scheduling tool that allows users to track engagement. The company is part of a growing trend of businesses whose employees work remotely. A Gallup poll released in February found that 43 percent of employees work remotely at least sometimes, up from 39 percent in 2012. For some companies this means allowing employees the flexibility to work from home on occasion; for others it means not even offering an office.
Building a team and a culture
Not having a centralized office space means a benefit to the company in terms of not paying rent and utilities, but it also benefits customers. With employees all over the world, companies can offer round-the-clock customer service. For Mulcahy, customer satisfaction is a result of more than just answering the phone at all hours, though.
“A big part of this is the ability to work where we’re happiest. When all of your team are working from an enjoyable environment, that can only lead to good things to the customer too,” he says.
Mulcahy is certainly not alone in his love for the set up, and it’s easy to see why. Meetings in sweat pants, skipping the commute and being home when the FedEx guy delivers a package are all major pluses, and for employees and companies, the perks go even further.
Laura Plato is the Reno, Nevada-based COO and President of Causecast, a technology provider for employee engagement programs. It might seem counterintuitive that a company focused on employee engagement doesn’t even require its employees to go to an office, but Plato doesn’t see a correlation between being in an office together and having a successful culture.
“We don’t believe everyone has to sit in the same office to create a thriving culture and do excellent work. In fact, quite the opposite,” she says.
Wade Foster, the CEO of Zapier (an app that automates workflow for clients), echoes this sentiment. Though Foster is based in Silicon Valley, his team comprises more than 80 employees who are spread across 20 states and more than 10 countries. Because he’s not bound by location, he has a much bigger pool of potential employees, so he is able to hire the best people. His team uses Slack channels to communicate as well as holding bi-annual, all-team retreats. Above all though, Foster says creating a team culture comes down to what is valued at a company.
“Culture isn’t about ping pong tables or foosball,” he says. “Culture is about what you reward in your organization.”
Despite all the perks, there are some drawbacks to a fully remote setup. The same Gallup poll found that there is a “sweet spot”: the most engaged workers were those who spent 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely. This dropped slightly for employees spending between 20 and 60 percent of their time remotely, but significantly for people who worked off-site all of the time.
“It takes a certain type of person to be able to work remotely,” says Mulcahy. “You definitely need to be focused and not be distracted by home comforts.”
Though not having colleagues around might mean fewer coffee breaks, it can also mean feeling isolated. Matthew Guay, a content marketer for Zapier who works in Bangkok, Thailand, has found loneliness to be an issue, but thinks it’s easy enough to combat by working in co-working spaces and coffee shops, as well as by connecting with colleagues online.
“The internet means we’re all only a click away, and you can still make friends at work over chat,” he says.
Most people agree that not being able to spend face time with their team is tough, but it’s not because it makes it hard to build relationships.
“Even in a remote setting you do build strong relationships with your teammates,” says Foster. “And when you achieve something big together you often want to celebrate it together but being remote does make it a little more challenging.”
Judging by the data—the poll says 37 percent of people would change jobs in order to be able to work from home at least part time—the future of work will likely include more remote arrangements. That said, it’s not hitting all industries in the same way. The number of people working remotely in industries including science, social services and education are all down slightly. Though technology seems the most obvious for remote work, many other sectors (including finance, transportation and manufacturing) have also seen an increase in the number of employees working remotely.
This trend makes sense to Plato, who believes the future of work is in remote and virtual set ups.
“In my mind, the future of work will swing heavily towards purpose-driven companies that promote strong teams and support work-life balance,” she says.
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