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We need to talk about remote

A look into the things we wonder about, but don't always speak about.

The B-side of remote

Years ago when I was recruited by a "virtual company" people's jaws would drop when I said I could work from home.

"From home? Like all day?"

Fast-forward to 2021 where we've all learned that remote work is not all gumdrop and unicorns. There are social costs, and location salaries, and zoom burnouts that are starting to happen.

So we thought we'd look at the b-side of remote work. The things we're only starting to wonder about, now that we're all invested in work world's next grand experiment.

Pass the anvil, neighbor

Working in professional groupings is kind of a new concept. Before the 19th century, we were all blacksmithing from our homes until "Bye, I'm off to work!" became a thing. And with that came a whole bag of issues.

Issues like spreading of germs and viruses, the productivity problem of workplace distraction, the transportation collapse when people move around at the same time, and all the other environmental factors of trying to fit everything into 9 to 5.

Now that we're all working from the couch, it almost feels like most of our office problems are about to magically expire. But are these challenges really gone for good? As humans we adapt so fast perhaps they will be.

The thing is, we know that when the race is on between morality and tech, the clear winner is always tech. So where do we stand on the more contentious things? And what are some of the new issues we're about to click into?

Let's talk about it.

What happens when we're sick?

Health has always been important but in a world where shopping has turned into a germ-repelling commando mission, our well-being, or how we act when we're not well, has been turned into an everyday discussion.

Because the old rules were simple. If you're sick, stay home. Take a day, watch some gameshows, and come back when there isn't Kleenex all over the floor. Still sick? Get a doctor's note and take your tea drinking up a notch.

Working from home and sick? It still means you're sick. Unplug.

But the remote world is more complex than that. What does it mean to be sick when you can still wear your pyjamas to work? Is checking emails work? Does Slacking from your phone mean you're well enough to attend a meeting?

And are those "bed desks" any good? (asking for a friend)

The thing is, working when you're sick can prolong recovery time. So you lose, your family loses, and your team loses. The meeting may look important today but it's myopic in the bigger picture.

Here's how the Slite handbook puts it:

Sick days policy at Slite

In the old days of free frolic, we'd actually turn off because the tools we needed to work weren't tempting us from the palm of our hand. Today it's your health that's in the palm of your hand. You decide when and how self-care is needed by really switching off.

Which brings us to our next point: remote guilt.

Remote guilt is a thing.

Remote multitasking with work life and life life

Remote work is an a-type's dream. Work as hard as you want, as many hours as you want, for whoever in the world you want. The only limit to your potential? The speed of your PC's processor. Only remote work is not an a-type's dream—or anyone else's. For some, it's more like a guilt-ridden cave of remorse.

Because remote guilt is a real thing. Just ask anyone who's run an errand in the middle of the day, who's had a needy kid nearby on a Zoom call, or who's looked at their todo list on a Friday and thought, "I've done nothing this week."

In a world where multitasking your work is combined with multitasking your life, it's become easy to spiral down into negative feelings where people begin to overwork in order to compensate. And we all know where that road leads: remote burnout.

The best solution, as always, is to shine light on the problem by bringing transparency to your life. And by life we mean work life, and life life. Make sure your manager knows and understands the realities of your remote setup.

What's going on in your surroundings? Are you homeschooling? Are world events causing you anxiety? We may live in the age of information but the best information is still honest communication that comes from you.

Next, throw time out the window. Nine to five is dead, burried, eaten by worms, who have been eaten by birds, who have been regurgitated to a nest of open-mouthed baby chicks. Instead, agree on project benchmarks or major milestones in your work. Up to you when you do it, how you do it, and where you do it. Instead, make quality a priority. It's up to you to know yourself, and know when you work best.

Still feeling guilty? Don't be so hard on yourself. It's all new, and we all do it. Again, shine some light on it. Look at when and what you're doing when you're feeling guilty. And then, just admit it. You'll see, it won't feel so debilitating anymore.

Zooming out from the center.

You know a company has made it when they claim a space in our vernacular.

— I overslept my alarm! I'm late for my meeting!
— Chill, take an Uber.
— How many millilitres in a cup again?
— Hold the flour, I'll Google it.

Zoom is now one of those brands. Holding a "Zoom call" (some would say a "gloom call") has become as pedestrian as sending a text to Mom. But the brand is also being associated with a whole other movement that has begun to impact the essence of our surroundings: Zoom cities.

Zoom cities are what happens when hoards of office-free professionals look out their bedroom window one day and say: "Wait a sec, the rent I pay for this phone booth apartment could buy a whole acreage of goat farm."

And so goes the exodus from the cities towards more manicured suburbs and sunnier-looking countrysides.

But how is this changing the way we live when it comes to a global workforce? What are the ethical considerations for remote companies who are contributing to this movement?

Here are some thoughts from Chris our CEO:

"There is lots of thinking going into the ethical principles of how to compensate remote workers based on where they're located.

Some promote equal pay regardless of location. Of course, it's incredibly attractive for people in basically any place but San Francisco or New York. But we find that irresponsible, as remote is becoming the new norm. It will very likely have damaging effects on local economies, bringing exorbitant rents prices and rising service costs.

We  pay people well, and we pay them based on country scales as to avoid sowing inequalities. We also adapt salaries when people relocate, promoting the freedom of  space that remote claims to promote."

Are we all just greenwashing ourselves?

Many are saying that the pandemic is an even louder call to renew our pledge to heal our coughing planet. And now that we're moving to remote, we've seen a dive in travel, commuting, and other C02 contributors. So are we really making a difference now, or is it all a big greenwash?

The carbon footprint of remote

We built a calculator to find out.

The question was simple: What are the CO2 costs of a company in a physical office, versus those in a remote environment?
We had two big factors that were able to counterbalance each other:

  • Remote work removes the need to commute or have a central office.
  • But remote workers travel often to gather physically.

NB: We're not trying to compute the whole CO2 costs of your company, we're just comparing remote versus office setups.

So here it is, our CO2 calculator. Try it out for yourself and see what you can do to minimize your impact.

English, please.

We’ve reached a point where most of the world’s information is saved in English. And so most of our communication revolves around the language too. Some would say the adoption of English has even accelerated globalization—then boom—we're all working with people around the world.

Only English is not everybody’s favorite soup. At Slite, only a handful of us are English mother-tongue, yet we communicate in Shakespearian prose every single day (no we don’t that would be horrible).

This isn't new. Office life also had English-default communication. The difference now is that people don't get any respite, not even in their one-to-one conversations where they could once choose the language of their choice.

Because in a remote culture, transparency is the great golden chalice. It's English-on, all the time—whenever someone shares information related to work.

It isn't fair, but the advantages are becoming clear: more efficiencies when a talent pool is based everywhere. It also helps to build a functional knowledge base that people can use.

Still, there are things we can do to make a unilingual atmosphere easier to digest. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Offer free English lessons to everyone. This is a no-brains-needed decision. Seriously, improve the way people talk to each other, and they'll talk to each other more often. More communication, better communication.
  • Always communicate with the audience in mind. I'm looking at you, idiom-overusers. The basis of communication is to be understood by the listener. Keep things clear and simple. No need to be a walking thesaurus or pull out grandma's expressions in a Monday catchup.

You might have scanned this article, so here's the scoop

Sick days
If you're working from home and you're sick, it still means you're sick. Unplug.
Remote guilt
We all have it so admit it and you'll feel better about it. Also, communicate your situation to your peers so they understand you better.
Salaries across borders
Pay people well, but pay people based on the country they're in, not the country where their company is.
Environmental impact
Calculate the real costs of your remote arrangement and whether your environmental impact has really reduced.
English-only companies
Be compassionate in an English-first environment to get the best contributions from your entire team.

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Written by

Marc Cinanni is a creative writer who's fascinated by the emergence of remote as a new way of life. His pieces are punchy, absurd, and often personal. He writes for remote teams, managers, and people interested in feeling better about the way they work. Follow him @marccinanni.

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