Why The Future of Work is for Everyone

You don’t find much fully distributed working in the wild yet. In 2014 “remote” still meets with mostly head-scratching. What if every employer, large and small, worked this way?

You don’t find much fully distributed working in the wild yet. Maybe in small pockets of startups, and some consultancies. But in 2014 “remote” still meets with mostly head-scratching. And no, large corporations with satellite offices don’t count. I’m talking work-in-pj’s-if-I-want-anytime-I-want distributed working.

What if every employer, large and small, worked this way?

Imagine the largest company you know — maybe the one where your great aunt Susie’s daughter’s cousin works at. Or maybe it’s you that works there. Imagine if you stopped going to that office tomorrow. You choose your favorite things from your desk (camera lens mug, and framed picture of Fluffy), and leave behind the awkward rolling chair and cheap coffee. And so does everyone else. When new members join the team, they ask you what your home office is like. You train the webcam on your mug and Fluffy says hello from your lap.

Now imagine that it’s you running that company. It’s a scary thought, not having all your employees in one place. A little like sending your kids off to college. What will they do there? Will it even vaguely resemble work?

What’s in it for bosses

There’s the obvious reasons for going remote. If you give people choice and freedom, they are happier individuals. Happy employees are productive employees. Agreed? Agreed. But how is remote distributed teams going to directly impact the “bottom line?”

Not limiting yourself to geography suddenly opens you up to a myriad of talent that previously didn’t consider you because you were not ideally located for them. If we think everyone who has skill and ingenuity wants to live in New York, San Francisco, or London…. well, we’d be wrong. There’s many other perks of setting up distributed, but we’ll stick to exploring this one for now.

Are Consultants Out of a Job?!

If companies were able to hire anyone from anywhere for exact fit, does this mean vendors become obsolete? As managers, we always want to grow our teams but it often becomes overhead in the greater desire to experiment and innovate and throw ideas against the wall. If we need to produce two additional long-term salaries in order to give new product line Z a try, we may not be so bold to take that risk. There will always be room for the fast-moving supplemental team who can insert themselves quickly, get shit done, and leave the company a better place.

On the frontline, there will always be developers and designers who thrive on solving wildly different problems from month to month. On the other side of the fence are folks who prefer to dig deep and grow with one problem, seeing it through its entire evolution.

Why I’m For It

If everyone — and I mean, not just the people in your own company, but everyone — worked the same way, imagine how much we could accomplish by simply skipping over the mundane task of “getting set up.” Part of the reason why programming frameworks like Rails was so successful is because it was “opinionated.” Wanted to add an image? You knew exactly where to put your file, because the framework told you where to put it. And guess what? Every developer picking up your project knew exactly where to find it.

Imagine a world where no one had to ask:

  • “How much vacation time do I have left?” (you take what you need)
  • “Can I work from home?” (yes, you can work wherever you want)
  • “How do we communicate our status to each other?” (daily standups)
  • “Do we influence what gets done around here?” (plannings and office hours)
  • “Is it okay if I try this?” (yes)

There’s any number of aspects of “work” that could be shared in this way, from vacation norms to communication styles to utility of physical spaces. And if everyone embodies at least the intention of those norms, we could all show up to work on the same page, with the same expectations and comforts, enabled to hit the ground running.

This post was originally written in 2014 and published in January 2015. Here’s why!