Remote work is on the rise. Once an obscure topic, this paradigm has now entered the mainstream. And it’s creating a growing divide in the way we get things done.
And on the other end, we have those who argue that remote work has the exact opposite effect of its intention: It doesn’t let us get much work done at all!
So, what’s the verdict? Where do you stand? Is remote work the future of work? Or will it only be remembered as a passing fad in history books?
If you asked me the same question two years ago, I would’ve wholeheartedly agreed that remote work is the future.
Most of the time, I’m an incredibly shy and introverted person — especially when it comes to working. I prefer to do deep work in isolation without disturbances. So of course, the idea of working from home always appealed to me.
While working at Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase, I had the option of working from home some days. And honestly, these were my favorite days. I felt way more productive on days I worked from home compared to the days I spent in the office.
I would get so much more done without the distraction of coworkers and time sinks of meetings. It got to the point where I’d sometimes spend two or three days out of the work week at home so I could get more done.
So I can completely understand why many people prefer remote work — for some, it’s an absolute godsend for boosting productivity.
But even with the perks and benefits in mind, I disagree. I don’t think remote work is the future. And I don’t believe it leads to better outcomes.
Remote work certainly has its upsides. But it also comes with some definite downsides. When you weigh them out together, the downsides almost always win.
When I reflect back on building TruStory over the past year, I get so relieved that I forwent building a fully remote team.
For the rest of this post, I’ll aim to answer why I don’t see the future of work as remote. So before you get your pitchforks, at least hear me out.
First, I want to begin by acknowledging some of the biggest advantages of remote work:
1) Access to a global pool of talent
When you have a physical office, you’re limited to the talent pool that exists in the local area. If you can’t find the right talent there, your second best bet is to find talent that’s willing to move there.
Remote teams have an undeniable leg up on physical teams by being able to hire anyone from anywhere — the talent arbitrage is massive.
In fact, I think this is probably the most significant advantage of having a remote team.
At TruStory, we often come across great candidates in cities like New York and Seattle or countries like India and China. But we can’t hire them for a variety of reasons (e.g., they require Visa sponsorship, they don’t want to relocate due to family, etc.). A remote company doesn’t have to deal with these restrictions.
2) A More flexible work schedule
This is a no-brainer. From an employee’s perspective, this one can be a dream come true: You’re no longer constrained to pre-defined office hours, and you’re no longer shackled to the same desk day-in and day-out.
Work where you want, when you want.
Doesn’t this proposition sound enticing? You could work on the beach. You could work at 3 am. You could even work on the beach at 3 am! You get the point.
3) No commute
Another no-brainer: You can wake up and work in your pajamas… or nothing at all if that strikes your fancy. I’m not judging. Different strokes for different folks, right?
But besides the casual dress code, you also get back one of the most precious resources to any human: More time.
The average American spends 26 minutes commuting to work each way. This is over 4 hours every week or 226 hours each year. And that equates to six 40-hour work weeks PER YEAR!
That’s a lot of time for podcasts. But imagine what else you could do with it if it were up to you.
Now, let’s move on to what I think are some of remote work’s biggest disadvantages.
1) Low bandwidth communication
Communicating ideas and concepts can be tough. And distance and time zone differences only make this more complicated.
Regardless of how many digital communication tools we have at our disposal, there is no substitute for direct face-to-face communication.
This is especially true when important decisions need to be made and even more accurate when they need to be made quickly. At TruStory, there have been countless times when such a scenario arose. And getting everyone together in the same room to hash things out was a thousand times more effective than figuring it out over Slack channels, threads, and DMs.
Now you may be asking, “Why not just set up a remote video call?”
Well, we could have done that… if we wanted to spend immense time and effort coordinating when we could meet in a remote setting. But that only brings us back to the endless cycle of Slack messaging.
And more often than not, this leads to more meetings and more processes. You then have to document everything and use a million different tools to keep it all organized. Eventually, this all leads to process overload, which then causes slow decision-making — a HUGE no-no for a startup.
Thank you, but I’d rather spend five minutes hashing out the situation in the office.
Don’t get me wrong; Slack is great for asynchronous communication. In fact, we use it religiously at TruStory even when we’re all in the office. It makes some parts of collaborating and communicating with team members much easier than the alternative “in-person” approach.
However, the quality of the communication in Slack has a ceiling. It’s lovely for having small conversations, but not so great for important ones. Video calls are exponentially better than Slack in this way, but they still don’t replace face-to-face communication. It’s simply too easy for subtle but essential pieces of information to slip through the cracks.
2) Accountability is hard to account for
Accountability is a profoundly powerful motivator for teams. It makes teammates disciplined and motivated. It keeps our eyes on the prize.
And if your coworkers are showing up to work every day and busting their asses, then you feel like shit for not doing your part. But if all of this is hidden and obscured, you have to rely on yourself for motivation.
In person, it’s difficult to fake being accountable. But in a remote setting, let’s get real — this same level of accountability is completely missing.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that remote work can be great for employees since it gives us ultimate privacy and freedom as long as we’re getting our work done. But that last part can be tough to do. And unless you’re incredibly disciplined and have impeccable work ethic, this becomes a real issue.
It might be fine for self-starters, but a majority of people need some level of accountability to be productive and keep themselves motivated. With the number of distractions that we each face in this modern age, I have a hard time believing a majority of people have figured out how to be focused and disciplined.
In fact, I’d argue it’s the opposite: Working remotely makes it easier for most people to get distracted. The autonomy that remote work affords can be alluring. But it can also lead us astray.
3) Less cohesion and trust
When you’re physically in the office, there’s an unmatched level of intimate bonding that occurs. All of the interactions and expressions — the laughs, the tension, the hellos, the goodbyes — these all compound to help create a cohesive team that trusts one another.
Tight-knit camaraderie and trust is crucial for building a strong team. But this can only be done in person; avatars aren’t exactly great substitutes for instilling team spirit.
In person, the trust you build with your teammates makes you more committed to your role and one another. You want to succeed together. By bringing a more human element to work, it makes collaboration and coordination easier. It makes the collective mind stronger.
After all, we’re only human — we need human connection. We thrive off of it. It’s how we form trust and relationships.
Imagine marrying someone whom you met online but never met in person. For many, this idea is off-putting. But when it comes to working in a completely remote team, we’re okay with it?
I’m not sure I follow. If we’re committed to the same objective, let’s face the “thick and thin” together.
There are other things I didn’t cover, like the loneliness you feel when you’re working remotely or having to deal with time differences if your team is global.
Overall, there’s no denying that there are some tangible benefits to remote work. You have access to a global pool of human capital, and it gives employees the flexibility and autonomy they crave.
But it’s the intangible benefits of being physically together in an office that make remote work a deal-breaker for our company.
A startup’s success is directly correlated to how effectively you can communicate and how quickly you can iterate.
This is because a startup is all about turning nothing into something. When you’re starting out, all you have is an idea. Your measure of success is your ability to turn this idea into reality and to do so quickly before you run out of money.
To accomplish that, you must be able to communicate effectively and iterate quickly. When you have low bandwidth communication, minimal accountability, and less cohesion, doing these things becomes a lot harder without the introduction of undue process.
While I don’t believe in fully remote teams, I do think my personal preference is a mixture of the options available: Some days are remote for deeply focused work, and other days are spent in the office for coordination and iteration.
For example, at TruStory we have “Work from Home Wednesdays.” Everyone in the office loves this because it gives us the best of both worlds. But if you told us that we couldn’t ever see each other and that we’d always have to work from home, we’d be utterly disappointed.
The chemistry we’ve cultivated and the bond we’ve forged are far too important to lose. Besides this, our iteration speed would slow to a crawl. And we simply don’t have time for that.
One last note: Everything I’ve talked about is in the context of an early stage startup. Perhaps the tables will turn when the company grows and we’re too big to fit in one office 🤷♀️? I’ll keep you posted on that.
For now, I think it’s better if the TruStory team faces each challenge together. We just work better that way.
Do you disagree? I’d love to hear why 😊