Remote work (part 1)

The technological evolution has impacts in all aspects of society. In particular, new technologies create new jobs and new ways to work. Today, a large set of jobs rely on the use of the computer and the internet. The tasks are done with a computer, data is saved, sent, accessed, edited through the internet and many services of communication, storage, cloud computing, etc, are available.

Teams use email, chatters, video conference to communicate; collaborative edition tools; code versioning management systems; virtual private networks to access the internal network from any physical place; screen sharing and remote desktop; task management systems. All this and much more. Many works depend totally and only on these technologies.

And despite all the devices, services and technologies that provide with security, efficiency, effectiveness, quality and mobility, the office is yet the usual working place for the professionals whose job is done with those same technologies. In other words, today we celebrate the age of mobility, we enjoy the privilege of doing all that can be done with a computer anywhere, and still we continue going to the office every day. We face the traffic, the stress, we wake up early, we run to arrive in time, just to spend the whole day working with a computer, internet and all its features.

This is similar to drive a car, go through 20km of traffic jam all the way to the gym to train on the treadmill, on a sunny beautiful day when we have a nice park just next to our house.
Today remote work is possible for many jobs and it has many advantages. The advantages exist for the employee, for the employer and also for those that don’t even work remotely!

By working from home, the worker has an immediate gain: time. Time that is not wasted driving, stuck in the traffic and that may be, instead, used for other useful activities such as resting, being with the family and friends, having a hobby, cooking, exercising. This is a very important gain, and the significance increases as the distances and time between work and home grow.

In a city with constant traffic problems and torturing rush hours, it is usual to spend 2 or more hours in traffic… in each direction. This means 4 hours every day that are, usually, wasted. 4 hours every day that have as consequence few time with the family, few time to rest and to eat well and relaxed, absence of hobbies and other activities. In summary, it has a direct impact in the quality of life, in the satisfaction, in the levels of stress. These are matters that should concern the employee as well.

A worker that is unsatisfied, stressed, with low health and tired is a worker that won’t be productive. Even considering a less extreme case of 1 hour per day in each direction, it means 2 hours per day, 10 hours per week, 44 hours per month, which could be applied in more useful and satisfying tasks.

We know that people today sleep less than what they should and that has a negative impact in health. Not having to spend 1 hour in traffic every morning to go to work may be the difference between sleeping 6 hours per night or 7 hours per night, which is quite significant.
One other obvious advantage is money sparing. If a worker does not have to go every day to the office, then she won’t have to pay for fuel, tolls, parking (for a car), or public transports tickets. It may even become unnecessary to own a car in first place, which will avoid other expenses such as insurance and maintenance.
Considering a person who commutes with public transports in the area of Great Lisbon with a month ticket that costs 67 euros (rounded value of the L123 [a known monthly ticket for use in many public transports in Lisbon]), in the end of the year the overall money spared is 804 euros, which could be used, for instance, for a relaxing vacation.

Also for the employer there are advantages in terms of sparing. If the employee is working from home, she won’t require a physical workplace in the office. The company reduces cost in equipment, maintenance, renting. The office may no longer have to be placed in a central and expensive part of the city, with great accesses. Why will you need all that if your workers are working at home?

Rui Pinheiro (Together) working from home.
Rui Pinheiro (Estamos Juntos) working from home.

Productivity is also seen as a potential threat of this work approach. Managers fear that their workers have just too many distractions at home and there may be a temptation to get lazy because no one is there watching. However, and just like what happens in the office, there must be some methodology and tools for tasks management and control. Using the correct methodology, it will be easy to know whether the worker is being productive and is doing her job correctly.

This is not exclusive of remote work; the everyday work at the office require these methodologies and tools too for organizing and keeping track of the work done and to allow measuring productivity. After all, an employee may also be lazy at the office and surf on facebook on every chance she has.

Yet about this matter, and based on what was presented earlier in this text, it is important to take into account that essential factor for productivity are well-being, motivation, absence of stress, adequate rest. An employee who faces one hour driving each morning, plus 1 hour in the end of the day, who sleeps few, who doesn’t eat well, who doesn’t have time for exercise or to be with the family, will arrive every day to the office more tired and unmotivated that a happy employee working from home.

(To be continued in part II…)

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