by Kevin McArdle
When I tell people I’m the CEO of a company with 80 team members in 14 time zones and no “real” offices (no offense to WeWork), many look at me like I’m crazy.
But even though after four years it all feels totally normal to me and my team, I have to recall that we are still very much in the minority of businesses. Because while remote work is a popular topic to talk about, the tech industry is lagging when it comes to adopting it.
Go ahead. Try to name 5 “Remote-First” companies. If you’re reading this as a subscriber to the Update, you might have come up with Buffer and Basecamp. Or maybe you have a friend or family member who works remotely…but I bet it was hard to name five.
Even the Google search results on remote-first companies are slim. We’re part of just 16% of global businesses, according to some studies. But type “why remote work is the future” into that same search box, and the list of articles by media outlets from Inc. to Fast Company is seemingly endless.
let’s stop talking about the future
Maybe part of our collective problem with remote work is that we’re always talking about it in the future tense. But the so-called “future of work” is here and available to all of us, right now.
“Remote work isn’t a situation where we’re waiting for technology to deliver on the promise (like autonomous cars).
It’s ready to go. It’s the choice of every business executive in the world whether they’ll keep doing things just because it’s how they’ve always been done, or whether they’ll embrace remote work and gain access to the competitive advantages it provides.
advantages at every level
When SureSwift decided to be remote-first, we weren’t trying to impact world problems. We were just trying to build the best possible company for our team, our customers, and our investors.
But I’ve come to realize that we’re at the leading edge of something that can dramatically impact the world from every angle. It’s better for individual employees, it’s better for the environment and the global economy, and it’s better for businesses and their bottom lines.
If that sounds like a big statement, I mean it to be.
Happiness, Productivity, and Profit
I haven’t always worked remotely. In fact, I spent the majority of my career working in a traditional office, so drawing comparisons between brick-and-mortar and virtual offices comes easily.
When I worked in an office, there were a lot of times I enjoyed catching up with my coworkers. Face time does build connection.
But there were more times that I commuted to the office, got my coffee, caught up with people, and dealt with a few “pop ins.” And before I knew it, the clock said 10:30 and I hadn’t accomplished a single thing on my to-do list.
And my situation wasn’t unique. The struggle for focus at the office and the hunt for the elusive “work-life balance” is one of the first things that comes up if you ask almost anyone at any level of any company what their biggest challenge at work is.
So what percentage of the world’s productivity (not to mention happiness) is wasted by commuting and sitting in unnecessary meetings that are more about putting in face time than they are about achieving actual business goals?
Companies are kidding themselves if they think employees are able to be productive just because they sit in a room or building with their name and logo on the door. And lost productivity? Well, that equals lost profits. Something every executive should be thinking about.
Talent, Opportunity, and Prosperity
Technology’s promise was that it was going to be the great equalizer. It wouldn’t matter where you lived. Prosperity and knowledge would be decentralized, spreading out from cities across our nation, even across the world.
But it seems the reverse is happening. Jobs are being concentrated in a way that’s leaving the vast majority of our people and places behind. And the irony is that it’s the very tech companies that enable us to work from anywhere that are causing this.
By working at a remote-first company, everyone at SureSwift got to make two decisions: 1. Where we want to live and 2. Where we want to work. And those two decisions were completely independent of each other.
Imagine if everyone got to do this. How might economically challenged towns and states — not to mention countries — be lifted up if more of these companies figured out that “talent is evenly distributed…but opportunity is not?” (a quote I love that’s been attributed Leila Janah).
How many business ventures really require physical proximity? How many of them benefit enough from being located in places like San Francisco, San Jose, or Seattle to justify the higher office and payroll coststhat come along with those cities? And how much further would their employees’ paychecks go if they didn’t have to live in places where the cost of living is so high that software developers are living in the parking lot to save on rent?
Two of the biggest contributors to our greenhouse gas emissions are transportation, and buildings. In the U.S. these two categories combined to a just a bit over 40% of our total emissions in 2017.
How much of our climate change problem could be reduced by not forcing so many people to drive into cities to show up at offices (that all need to be lit, heated, and cooled)? What would our cities and roads look like if even 1% of companies went remote-first?
How many parking garages could be repurposed, and how much traffic would go away if we didn’t have 50-75% of a metropolitan area driving into the city center so they could be in the same location as their co-workers (who they’ll wind up emailing anyways)?
The Bottom Line
Happier employees, spreading opportunity to less prosperous areas, reducing emissions. If this feels a bit fluffy, let’s look at the cost savings, because remote work is better for the bottom line, too.
To make it brief: The average business can save up to $11,000 per employee each year by going remote, and employees can save around $4,000 a year personally, according to FlexJobs.
That’s a lot of money to leave on the table. Are those in-person brainstorming sessions really worth $15,000 per year, per person?
Making It Happen
Admittedly, going remote is easier for companies who do it from the very beginning. For businesses who want to transition from a traditional set up, the smaller you are, the easier it is to do. But this doesn’t mean that bigger enterprises shouldn’t make the switch — the benefits are there if you’re willing to do the work.
And after some major tech companies like Yahoo very publicly pulled the plug on their remote work programs, it’s heartening to see big players starting to get back in the game. Stripe recently announced that their newest engineering hub will be remote, saying, “Our users are everywhere. We have to be, too.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
If you’re looking for more resources on how to approach it, and what the day-to-day looks like, check these out:
- What work at a fully remote company looks like
- 40 Lessons from 4 Years of Remote Work
- Managing virtual teams: Best practices
- Why Remote Work Thrives in Some Companies and Fails in Others
Kevin is the Co-founder and CEO of SureSwift Capital. His passion for personal relationships and driving business results are at the heart of SureSwift’s impressive growth to date. Prior to founding SureSwift, Kevin was a Vice President at Cerner Corporation, a global Healthcare IT firm. In his 15 year tenure at Cerner, Kevin held positions in sales, sales leadership, operations, general management, and client management, eventually becoming one of the youngest Vice Presidents in the company’s 35 year history.
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