Here at Wholegrain, our employees are an eclectic bunch originating from 8 different countries. While our headquarters is based in central London, many of our team work elsewhere; some from other countries, others using the flexibility of remote working agreements to balance their work life with other priorities, such as family life.
As with everything, remote working has its upsides and its downsides, but we believe the positives outweigh the negatives by some considerate measure. Especially with the proliferation of technology and apps that exist to aid teamwork and productivity for remote teams.
In celebration of remote working, I’ve been asking around our team to get a feel of the pros and cons of this work style, and to see which apps and other technology we use to keep our working lives on track. One thing’s for certain: our team loves remote working, and feels incredibly privileged to be able to structure our work and our lives in such a way.
Here’s what we came up with…
This is a biggie, and was pretty much the first thing on everybody’s list: one of the biggest pros of remote working is the amazing amount of flexibility it provides. You can schedule your day as you wish, which means if you want to pop to the shops, head for a session at the gym, or do your laundry, you can do this during the day, when they’re generally quieter than mornings, evenings or weekends.
If you have family commitments, you can schedule your working day around them, which means being able to do the school run in the mornings and afternoons, and work around important events such as parents’ evenings, school plays, sports days and holidays.
But that’s not all. Wi-Fi is more accessible worldwide and coworking spaces are popping up everywhere. Which means if you want to work from somewhere warm for a few months of the year, or even travel and work permanently, you can.
Pro: Access to global talent
Remote working means companies aren’t restricted to recruiting within a limited physical location, but can seek out the best talent from around the world. For us, despite being located in London, we have team members in Romania, Italy, China, Brazil and Hungary, as well as the UK. This flexibility means we can build the best possible teams in order to provide our clients with the best possible service.
It’s also beneficial to employees, who can share their experiences and learn from different working practices.
Pro: Cost saving
Both businesses and employees benefit financially from remote working. For businesses, fewer people in the office means not having to hire such a large office to house employees – a saving grace in London where floor space is at a premium.
Employees meanwhile don’t need to pay extortionate commuting costs to sit on crowded tubes, buses and trains with their heads in somebody else’s smelly armpit! Neither do they waste money unnecessarily on expensive coffee houses and takeaway food.
Pro: Better working environment
If using a remote work agreement to work from home, employees can set up their workspace however they wish for a calm, comfortable working environment that’s perfectly suited to their posture and their style of work, rather than have to ‘make do’ with whatever’s provided at the office. They can also work alongside their beloved pets.
Being outside of a traditional office environment means there are fewer distractions. So instead of wasting time on idle gossip around the water cooler or being called in for an impromptu meeting, employees are much more productive with their time.
It’s also worth noting that the traditional working hours of 9 to 5 don’t suit everybody. Some people are far more productive first thing, others are night owls, and some people prefer a longer break during their working day than the traditional hour’s lunch break. Remote working allows people to work at the best time for them – which naturally makes them more productive. Remote workers also tend to be more accountable and make more of an effort to connect with their colleagues when necessary, while employers learn to trust people to make their own decisions and meet their deadlines.
Pro: Improved quality of life
The benefits provided by remote working undoubtedly add up to an improved quality of life. By removing the need for a daily commute, employees have more time for work and play, and they don’t arrive at work tense and stressed out due to cancelled or late-running public transport, or negotiating heavy traffic.
Some people are natural introverts who find it tiring being around people all day when they’re trying to concentrate. For them, having the ability to work from home allows them to work in an environment that’s best for them, and when they need to go to a meeting or training day, they feel refreshed and able to enjoy the company of others much better.
Plus, when faced with a problem that’s driving you crazy, you can take a break from your computer and pop out for some fresh air so you can come back to it with a clearer head. (This is also a popular option for dogs that live with humans who work from home!)
Pro: Environmental Impact
Finally, remote working is hugely beneficial to the environment. It reduces the amount of commuters on the roads and lessens the need to keep large offices heated or air-conditioned, depending on the time of year. And we do love things that are good for the environment here at Wholegrain!
However as previously mentioned, there are some downsides to remote working too.
Con: Social isolation
As mentioned above, working from home is great for introverts who value their space and their peace and quiet. But it also brings with it the danger of feeling isolated. We’re naturally social creatures and it isn’t healthy for us to spend long periods of time on our own. If not careful, it’s easy to become demoralised if things aren’t going your way and you haven’t any colleagues nearby to talk it over with.
If you work from home, it’s important to mix things up a bit. Spend a day a week in the office or at a local coworking space, attend networking meetings, and if you need to contact your colleagues, don’t automatically turn to your email – arrange for a face-to-face chat over Skype. It’s far easier to discuss a problem than over email or chat when misunderstandings can occur.
Con: Difficulties in communication & collaboration
Communication and collaboration are vitally important to the success of our projects, but having team members working from different places and even different countries can make this tricky. For this reason, it’s essential that all team members are good communicators who understand the importance of teamwork.
While we do use email, we make use of video calls, group chat and collaboration tools to create a virtual office environment where everybody can keep track of progress on a project. (Further details on the tools we use for communication and collaboration can be found at the end of this article.)
It’s also important that everybody on the team announces their working times so their colleagues know when they’re available and when they can’t be reached.
Con: Lack of barrier between home & work life
If you work from home, it’s essential to set a barrier between your work and home life, otherwise the two could start to bleed together. While most remote workers would happily spend the hours they’ve saved on commuting on their work, there is a danger of not knowing when to stop.
One of the best ways around this is to set hours for your work and stick to them. It also helps to set aside a dedicated workspace, preferably with a door! This has a dual effect – if you live with other people, it lets them know when you’re busy and don’t wish to be disturbed, and when you’ve finished work for the day you can close the door and enjoy your free time without feeling like you should just send one more email…
Con: Motivation & unwelcome distractions
If you’re going to make a success of working remotely you have to be motivated and focused, otherwise it’s all too easy to get sidetracked by the latest Reddit discussion, or the sudden pressing need to do your laundry.
To combat this, try to structure your day around the times when you’re most productive and ensure your colleagues know your timetable. For some people this means an early start, followed by a break for a workout, to run errands or even to take a nap to recharge your batteries, before returning to work later in the day. And if you work for different clients, set aside times for each and stick to them.
An excellent tip for saying on track and maintaining your motivation is setting goals for your projects, and making lists for the tasks you wish to complete each day/week/month. This is a great way to track your progress and ensure your projects continue to move forward. If you make your list the night before, then when you sit at your desk the following morning you know exactly what to do and when. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set aside specific times for checking and answering your emails – often first thing isn’t a good idea as it’s easy to get sidetracked and distracted from your more pressing tasks.
Working to music without lyrics can help you to stay focused, and there are a number of useful apps out there to help you maintain your focus in short bursts of concentrated work. Watching a short but motivating YouTube video before starting work can ensure you start your day in a positive state of mind.
Con: Negative impact of teams spread around the world
Having your pick of talent from around the world is great, but it does have some disadvantages too. For a start, it puts a greater pressure on the team members who are based near the main headquarters to attend client meetings and other face-to-face discussions, as they’re the only ones available.
Plus, when we want to get together with our teams in other countries, there’s an inevitable negative environmental impact associated with travelling. We try to keep this to a minimum, but anything non-essential should be kept for video conference calls to keep down your business’s carbon footprint.
Apps for communication, collaboration, motivation, focus & organisation
This is a selection of apps that our team members use that are invaluable for remote working.
Slack: Slack is a cloud-based team communication and collaboration tool. Designed for teams and workplaces, it can be used on multiple platforms and devices to chat individually and in groups, upload and share files, and integrate other useful apps, such as Skype. It’s free to use, with various paid options for greater functionality.
Skype: Skype provides video chat and voice call services across a broad range of platforms and devices. Its video conferencing service is invaluable for businesses and organisations, and the screen sharing is great for collaboration and creating together. Its basic services are free, and you can buy Skype credit or pay a subscription to call a landline or mobile phone.
Redbooth: Redbooth is the most effective project management, collaboration and communication tool out there. This web-based service organises projects into collaborative workspaces where teams can centralise their projects, chat in real time or over video, keep an eye on workflow and even track their time. It’s quick and easy to use, and works on multiple platforms and devices.
Trello: Trello is a collaboration tool that organises your projects into boards so you can keep track of thoughts, projects and tasks. You can use it privately or publically, collaboratively or alone, and it will change the way you use to-do lists forever. It’s free to use, although there is a paid option for greater functionality.
Evernote: Evernote is a cross-platform app designed for taking notes, organising information, and archiving. Users create and organise notes so you can store your ideas, to-do lists, reference materials, and other digital items into one handy, easy-to-use space that can be accessed from a variety of different devices. Available in a free or premium paid version.
Buffer: Buffer is an essential tool for staying on top of your social media updates. Instead of flooding people with information when you’re online, you can schedule your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn posts so they appear at various times of the day for maximum coverage with minimal input.
Unroll.me: Unroll.me is the perfect tool for organising your inbox across a variety of email providers. It allows you to unsubscribe from junk emails and can even combine all your favourite subscriptions into a single daily email with all the goodness in one place.
[email protected]: [email protected] is my go-to tool for focus and concentration. It has a unique library of instrumental music and other sounds, such as water or coffee shop noise, that’s been scientifically remastered to enhance your concentration. Choose your sound, set a timer for the length of time you want to work, and away you go. There’s also a built-in tracker to gauge your productivity.