Remote working and other flexible work arrangements are the future, say knowledge workers.
According to the recently released State of Enterprise Work Report, the majority of knowledge workers believe that over half of workers will be remote in the coming years. Collaboration software, work management solutions, and other technologies, they say, will only fuel this rise in work flexibility.
To see the entire State of Enterprise Work Report and find out how email, meetings, and automation are shaping the future of work, click here.
If you want to see what this future might look like, meet Brian Kreutz, a software administrator and proud Workfront customer at South Carolina-based Advantage Media Group. For the last seven months, Brian has been traveling across Europe, Africa, and South America while continuing to work remotely for Advantage Media.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Brian about his experience, how his employer and technology made such an arrangement possible, and the benefits remote working can bring to twenty-first-century businesses...
How did this idea to work remotely while traveling the globe start for you?
Our company is big on people achieving their dreams. At my company, everyone has what's called a dream board, on top of or above their desks. You put whatever dreams you want on there and at the very top of mine was to travel the world for a year. It had been a dream of mine for years.
I had been nine-to-five in the office for three years out of college when I signed up for this trip through a program called Remote Year.
At the time, there were only a few people working remotely, mostly those who worked for a company we’d acquired in Texas. There really wasn’t a remote program.
But because the company is really dedicated to helping employees reach their dreams and because I could realistically manage my responsibilities via an internet connection, they gave me the go-ahead.
I can't thank the company enough for being extremely happy for me, pushing me to go do it, and being extremely supportive from the beginning.
What justification did you use when you pitched this idea to your manager?
Basically, you have to prepare like you’re going into a job interview. I went to my boss with a proposal of my work hours and where I’d be traveling and all that kind of stuff. I also wrote out my own job description for my new role because I couldn’t do all the functions that I could do in the office.
So, it was really like a presentation creating this remote job out of nowhere and explaining what I could do, what I couldn’t do, and how it would all work out.
Ultimately what really won them over was that I was really prepared and knew exactly the reasons why I wanted to do this.
I didn't just come in one day and say, “Hey, I'm going to travel. Can I work remotely?” I had the entire story laid out and really explained how this was a dream I'd been chasing for many years and how extremely important it was to me.
I also put in place a number of things to help them feel comfortable with the arrangement.
I said, “I'm not going to leave until March, but I'm going to go remote mid-January, so I can go back home and kind of figure out the next year and be prepared.
"This could be a trial run over the next six weeks. If you think things aren’t working out, maybe we’ll reevaluate. But let’s try this for six weeks before I leave and make sure everyone is comfortable.”
Did you get any pushback from them at that point?
Yeah, of course, there were some concerns. I had been very hands-on in the office, so I just said I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the same things going forward. So, I would need to figure out who would take over those tasks and make sure that person knew how to do these things in an efficient manner.
As soon as I proposed the program to them for the next year, there wasn’t as much pushback. The conversation quickly went from a “yes” to, “Sounds awesome—let’s make this work together.”
In your six-week trial run, what were some of the wrinkles you had to iron out?
It was just the few things that I did in the office that I had to be present for.
I’d set people’s computers up before they would start. I would troubleshoot things that weren’t working in the office, things I obviously couldn’t do remotely. It caused some growing pains in the beginning, but everything else that I did on a day-to-day basis was super easy.
For a face-to-face meeting, I could just set up a Google Hangout, show my screen, and control the screen just like I was in the office. I could manage all my software systems via an internet connection. So the root of my job, the main value that I provided, was very easy to keep.
You’ve been at this for seven months now. What lessons have you learned about remote working during that time?
It's been amazing but it’s certainly also been an adjustment. But I think it's kind of what the workforce is kind of leaning towards in general: as long as my tasks are done, it doesn’t necessarily matter when or where I do them.
I have a system where people send tickets to me, so I have a running list of open tasks to do. As long as I do them efficiently, everything is fine.
Now, of course, you're going to have meetings that are specific times, and you're going to have to work on that schedule, but as long as you are available to people most of the time, I found it very easy.
And the benefit to me is it's just a huge freedom when I'm traveling to take an afternoon off, or take a morning off, and go explore, go on a day trip, just having the flexibility to do that.
And sometimes I'm answering emails at 11:00 p.m., or having midnight calls or whatever it is. But that's such a small sacrifice to make when you have this flexibility and you're able to wake up in a new city every day, if you want to.
I've learned that I have to reset people’s expectations, because I'm not going to be available 24/7. In the first few months, it was a bit rocky when people would say, “Oh, you didn't respond to me.”
But as soon as people realized that I was six hours ahead (when in Europe), that I was not always going to be there, they gave a little bit more slack. Instead of expecting things to get done in five minutes, they gave me three or four hours.
And I made sure to set expectations and make myself available. I always made sure I was available for about three to four hours of the day, to cross over with the Eastern US Time zone.
How has Workfront come into play in managing your work remotely?
Before Workfront, we didn't really have a project management system. Everything was hidden on people’s notebooks, in emails, or just in people’s brains, and it wasn’t documented anywhere. Now that I am completely remote, I say everything has to be in Workfront or it doesn’t happen. Workfront is our one system of record.
No matter where I am in the world, I know the status of every project, every single thing is in there, and I can check up on reports. It’s also made for a better client experience because everyone has access to all the same project information.
There's no way I could have pulled off this remote working arrangement without Workfront.
Even if you had a normal project management system, it wouldn’t work. Something would be broken. People would be just chatting in the office and forgetting to update other stakeholders outside of the office. Workfront has all but eliminated that.
If you have a remote workforce, you need comparable software systems to make sure your team members can do their jobs correctly.
What benefits does enabling remote working—versus insisting that everyone be present in an office—bring to your business?
I think it’s just a happier life, as simple as that. When you're in the office all day, and then you get home around 5:00 or 6:00, you're just drained. You just want to sit on the couch and not move.
On the other hand, working remotely gives you a little bit more flexibility, where I can take breaks a little bit more often or I can take a walk on my lunch break if I need to.
And I really don't mind answering emails late at night, or doing calls at 8:00 p.m. or whatever, because I'm not as stressed out. I'm just more free to do things when I want and it's made me a happier and better worker.
It's hard to explain unless you experience it, but I have never felt drained or worn out, because I'm able to pick and choose the pockets of time that I work and schedule my meetings.
It's an amazing feeling when you have the ability to go see a new site in a city from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., and going back for two more hours of work from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. isn't a big deal anymore. It's totally fine because you were able to take that break when you wanted to and when you needed it.
Also, when you have a remote workforce, you can't cut corners, you can't just do things anecdotally or just talk amongst yourselves. You have to document things. You need to follow up with the same process. You need to be on the same page. You need to communicate better.
And it just teaches you that because that person is not next to you and you can't meet them in person every day, you have to really check all the boxes and make sure that everyone is up to date and on the same page, because you can't afford to not let someone know about this, just because you can't see them.
Based on your experience, do you see more companies in the future going in this direction?
Absolutely. I think they have to. This generation of millennials is demanding it. The nine-to-five office day is just an outdated business system, and no one really knows why it's still there anymore.
I think there are still benefits for meeting and collaborating in person, of course, but there are so many jobs now that are more remote than they used to be—developers or people that look at software systems like me—that you really don’t need to have these people in an office.
Or if you have somebody who is creative, they need to focus. If there's disruption in the office, then their work suffers.
I also think it helps a business be a little bit more lean, and I think it's a benefit. In 10 more years or when my kids are starting to work, I won’t be surprised if most work becomes remote.
What are some caveats that you have for companies who are considering giving their workforce a greater ability to work remotely?
You need to reset your expectations on a lot of the things that you're used to. Most of us have only worked in an office, and when people are remote, you just can't expect the exact same things.
If you want to take your company more remote or let people work from home more, you need to really nail your processes down. I think process is key
Having a communication standard is also huge.
Maybe you don’t require everyone to be available 9:00 to 5:00 Eastern Time, but you require three or four hours where everyone is online together. And then just require them to use this certain software to give updates. You have to be really clear on how you expect everyone to communicate.
Going through this can actually turn what might seem like a negative into a positive. It forces your organization to know your processes, establish good communication standards, and allow people to be a little bit more free in their work.
Last question: what is the most interesting place that you’ve been to so far in the last seven months?
My favorite place has been Cape Town, South Africa. I went there about a month ago. One of my dreams since I was a little kid was to swim with great white sharks, and I was able to do that there. It was just an amazing experience to achieve this dream that I had had since I was just a little kid, watching Shark Week.
And then going to a country like Morocco was really eye-opening to me. I had never been to a predominantly Muslim country, so just seeing their customs and their culture and their food was just a really amazing experience, where you're in a place so different than your home.
See "5 Ways to Build Trust in Your Remote Workforce" to learn how you can bolster your remote team.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner