Communication

Remote Work: You're Already Doing It

Photo by Jason Farrar under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

You get those recruiter emails, right? We all do. Most of them are the same. Most of them aren’t going to lead to more desirable situations.

Still, over the last few months, I stopped blindly deleting them and began actually reading them. I even responded to a few. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone. I might learn something. Heck, I reasoned I could use them just as much as an interview to learn how other people are working as I could get some practice being interviewed.

So I took a few calls. All except one were in response to a “remote” position. That meant the company didn’t have an office in Cincinnati, and they weren’t (necessarily) going to make me move. That sounded desirable to me ever since I read Remote: Office Not Required.

Every phone call had one question in particular in common with all the other calls:

Have you done any remote work?

What they really wanted to know was if my current job was a remote position (which it wasn’t). I assumed they wanted to shorten my startup time and minimize the risk of losing me because I couldn’t handle remote work. And I also had this funny feeling that those who asked this question really, really cared about the answer.

I find this question misguided for two reasons.

01: We’re Already Doing It

We’re all already doing remote work. We should talk about what remote work is exactly. I consider it to be working with another person on a common goal without being in the same place.

All of us have to do that all the time. Here are some of my examples:

  • My wife makes our grocery list right before she goes to the store, which is usually Monday, usually right before the end of the work day (when we’re not together).
  • I’m working on an open source product with someone I’ve never met or talked to. But we’re getting it done.
  • I’m in a band. Rehearsals take place when we’re in the same room (we’re not remote). But the vast majority of our practicing takes place when we’re separated (remote).
  • When I’m planning a weekend trip, I don’t need all the attendees in the room I’m in. We all communicate over the internet (email, text, Slack, etc.) to create our plan.

All of these items involve some form of work. All of them happen without the team members being physically next to me.

Now, I will say that sitting alone in your home office is a very different environment than your ugly, loud cubicle. It’s not for everyone. That’s why …

02: An Array of Alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives to working alone in your home. Working remotely doesn’t have to mean being alone. For example, Basecamp offers $100/month to its employees to put towards coworking space if they prefer to be in an office setting. There are also coffee shops, which people have been using in lieu of offices for years.


So, if you’re an employer who offers remote work and you ask that question (Have you done remote work?) to potential hires, I’d recommend you consider the weight that response holds. You have a potential to lose a great employee because you didn’t want to be the first company that let them choose the place in which they work.

And if you’re an employer who doesn’t offer remote work in an industry where it works for other successful companies, consider the idea that each and every one of your employees is already working remotely in some part of their lives.

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The Polymath Lab will be closing its doors in 2017. Many articles here will be moved to Sean's Medium account, which is the space in which he is currently writing.