Remote works is here, and it’s good

Mar 5, 2021

Over the last year, there’s been a lot written about remote work: How long will it last? How to maintain company culture while working remotely? How will offices change? Will we be able to maintain work-life balance? And if you’ve been struggling, there’s some really good advice out there! These are some articles during the pandemic that I’ve found helpful:

But I’d like to assert that the accelerated adoption of remote work – however sudden and unintended – is good.

I’ll concede that remote work has its problems. It’s harder to build relationships with team members when you can’t grab lunch or bump into each other in the hallways. It’s harder to know what other teams are working on without overhearing their stand-ups. And it’s harder to get that spontaneous moment of collaboration without a whiteboard that you can walk over to when you see someone contemplating an interesting problem. For all of us who were used to working in an office with our coworkers, we’ve lost a lot since we started telecommuting.

But for those who don’t live near their office, this has always been the reality. Sure, some companies have done a great job of accommodating remote employees. But most remote teammates have gotten used to not knowing their coworkers, or being out of the loop, or working alone on a tough problem.

At some companies, it’s common knowledge that to reach certain seniority levels, employees need to physically be in the office. Some companies won’t consider qualified remote candidates, and some qualified candidates never apply to their dream job because it is just too far from home.

These distributed work challenges have always existed — it was just a bit easier to ignore them when in an office surrounded by others that didn’t have those challenges.

The pandemic changed that. There was no choice — we all had to figure out what remote working meant. At Vowel we learned how to have better virtual meetings, we implemented better asynchronous workflows. We even tried some virtual team-building events — one of these days I’ll publish my ranking of all the virtual escape-the-rooms we have tried out.

Remote teams became the norm, so being a remote worker became normal. We started taking a few minutes at the beginning of each virtual meeting to ask about plans for the weekend. We embraced virtual whiteboards and post-its to collaborate. No one was left out due to a conference room’s malfunctioning telepresence.

Already, the benefits of distributed work are becoming apparent. Those who spent 2 hours commuting to the office each day have more time for rest and leisure. I spent the summer at my uncle’s farm in Michigan — family time I would have never gotten otherwise. My friends who have always worked remotely say they’ve never felt more a part of their team.

The biggest change is also the most important. In a world with widespread distributed work, companies can hire anyone anywhere. The best talent can work on the most exciting problems, while still contributing to their local communities. From a coffee shop in New York to a coworking space in Warsaw, your physical location is no longer a qualifying factor. Workers can learn from each others’ diverse backgrounds and experiences, and products can be conceived and designed from multiple perspectives.

The last few decades have seen incredible changes in how we work, but we’re about to see an even more profound change with whom we work. The move to distributed work will be the greatest unlocking of human capital value since the invention of the internet.

Distributed work isn’t perfect, but it’s getting better. We still have a lot to solve, but once the world started focusing on these problems, we started solving them. The potential of remote work is too great and exciting for us to go back to the way things were before.

Already, our distributed work tools are showing promise beyond that of the physical spaces they were invented to imitate. We have tools like Miro and Figma that enable us to share virtual visual spaces and collaborate in real-time. In Vowel, you can search through virtual meetings and find specific moments and action items. All this can be done while ignoring travel time when scheduling. Imagine what we’ll be able to do in another year. Or in five years.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about whether or not things will “go back to normal” in a few months. But it’s important to remember that this is not something that will just happen to the world — it is something we decide. We can decide to go back to the familiar office spaces, or we can decide to shape a new workplace that focuses on talent and collaboration over geography and convenience. Over a year ago, how many companies believed they could never go distributed? The world can, it did, and this is just the beginning.

, Head of Product + Co-Founder

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