Work Remotely: Advantages & Disadvantages for Employees and Companies

Michael Firnkes Last updated on 26.10.2020
13 Min.
Michael Firnkes introduction interview
Last updated on 26.10.2020

I've been working entirely from home for the past nine years. Initially as a self-employed person later as a part-time employee. Personally, I couldn't go back to an office. At the same time, I understand the challenges of remote work or temporary home office. This article looks at working from home from the perspective of employees, agencies and companies.

I started working at RAIDBOXES in April 2019. I was attracted by the task of working independently with Holacracy, the young team (I'm not the youngest myself!) and the startup character of the company. But it was another reason why I chose the company: RAIDBOXES allows me to work almost completely from home. Even on a part-time basis. Some people still look at men curiously if they want to work this way.

For Torben and Johannes from RAIDBOXES this wasn't an issue even though they are also well aware of the challenges of remote work. More on this later. There are several reasons why employees and companies choose to work from home:

  • The team cannot find suitable qualified candidates nearby.
  • You want to work from home out of choice. Perhaps you can concentrate better from home, for example, or you're more flexible in terms of time.
  • Working from home is the only way to balance your personal, family, and work life. For example, if you have small children or a lengthy commute.
  • The company doesn't have a large enough office, it's completely remote, or operates from abroad.

Of course, not every job is suitable for the remote model. But in fields such as (online) marketing, software development, support or even sales, most jobs can be done well from home - provided everyone involved is prepared to adapt. We'll look at the advantages and disadvantages of working from home today. Are you interested in this topic? Check out our other articles on remote work:

Tip: RAIDBOXES is hiring! Become part of our team - in Münster or from your home office. Check out our current job vacancies .

Advantages for me

What I appreciate most about work is the flexibility it offers me. I didn't want to give up being a freelancer entirely. That's why I decided to keep on working for myself alongside my part-time position. For my second job, teaching online marketing, I often have to travel. At the same time, I need to take care of my young daughter. Neither of these would be possible if I had a traditional 9 to 5 office job.

Remote workspace
My work station in my home office

Moreover, I work in a small, highly specialized niche area. Companies that focus on WordPress, they are few and far between. The remote model gives me the opportunity to work in the environment of my choice. At the same time, I'm also able to balance my work and family life.

Depending on your personal circumstances, there may be other benefits to working remotely:

  • Concentrated work: As a creative copywriter, this is extremely important to me. Sometimes I travel to our offices in Münster where some of our lively and dedicated team work on site. How some people love to work could be hell for me. I personally need absolute silence when I'm blogging or doing content marketing. Simply putting on headphones isn't enough for me. For highly sensitive people or employees with ASD, working from home can be a blessing.
  • No commute: You save yourself the commute. I used to commute two hours to and from work. If you work full-time, that's ten hours more free time per week.
  • Family time: Daycare closes at 4 pm and your partner can't take over? Are you a single parent or do you only see your children on certain days? Do you have pets? It's often easier to manage these responsibilities working from home compared with working on site in an office.
  • Private appointments: The postman isn't going come by a second time. Having to take half a day off because the water meter needs to read or the washing machine is being delivered? Quickly getting a haircut during your break? All of this is easier when you're at home. Private appointments shouldn't get out of hand, however, and need to be well coordinated with your employer. At RAIDBOXES have a channel that our remote colleagues use to clock in and out for such short breaks. More on this later.
  • Cost saving: Working from home can save you money on costly public transport tickets or using a car to travel countless miles. On the other hand, you shouldn't underestimate the extra costs involved in working from home including electricity, water, heating, and a fast internet connection. In some countries, you can deduct some of your commuter costs, and under some circumstances also your home office costs, from your tax bill. Or you can get a subsidy from your employer.

The last point in particular needs to be calculated properly. In general, you should weigh up the pros and cons carefully. While some people welcome the seclusion of the home office and find they can concentrate better, others prefer their colleagues to be around them. Some people even need their presence to be creative in the first place.

Tip: Remote work doesn't have to be done from a home office. If you want to use the advantages of this model without losing contact with your fellow human beings, you can also work entirely or some of the time in a Coworking Space . Co-working spaces can now be found in all major cities and towns.

Challenges for employees

"Working from home? I could never do that!" I get to hear this sentence nearly every time I discuss working remotely with friends. This model certainly isn't for everyone. But you can get used to working from home. Especially if:

  • There are regular core working hours within the company
  • Your job regularly involves travelling to customers, suppliers, congresses, or training courses.
  • You have a second job where you are more socially active

This is also true for me, even if I tend to be for solitary. Without the seminars where I come into contact with many different people, the job would be too lonely for me. Likewise without the days in the RAIDBOXES office in Münster.

For a while, I worked in a company that was entirely remote. This meant I only saw my colleagues about twice a year - that was definitely too little contact for me.

Tip: Find out where your limits are. Ideally, you should work for a company that gives you a certain amount of flexibility in terms of office working days. At least until you find the right balance.

Of course it helps here if you don't have to travel across Germany or even Europe to get to your employer. Too much local proximity increases the temptation or pressure to be on the spot more often than you'd like. As you can see, it makes sense to approach the idea of remote work slowly. And keep in mind that your needs change as years go by.

Some questions you should clarify in advance:

  • Personal responsibility: Do you know from previous jobs or projects that you can focus on a very independent way of working? Or on the contrary, do you need someone constantly at your side telling you what tasks need to be done and how?
  • Professional development: Do you get "seen" enough as a remote worker? Can you cope without water cooler chats? If you have ambitious plans for your career, this could become a problem.
  • Task sharing: Are you good with briefings via telephone, chat, and email?
  • Infrastructure: Do you have the necessary tools and a separate area to create your own home office? We'll go through this in a bit.
  • Corporate culture: Do your colleagues and superiors already have experience working with remote employees? Is it clear which tools are supposed to be used? I'll introduce you to some of these tools later on.
  • Financial arrangements: Who pays for the additional costs of a home office? Is this included in a (higher) salary? Is there a travel budget that you can fall back on to come to the company headquarters regularly? And to stay overnight nearby?

Another point that is very important is whether you get your social contact through your working environment? Do you have a strong enough private network? Does your partner give you enough space and freedom to work from home? Quite a few remote workers underestimate how much working from home can affect your private daily life.

Tip: Some remote workers work completely independent of location, as so-called digital nomads. Check out our interview with seasoned digital nomad Michael where he explains the benefits and stumbling blocks of this particular way of working.

coworking space
You can work from anywhere, for example in a co-working space

Distinction between work life and personal life

I've always kept my work and private life strictly separate. This is essential whether you work at home all the time or only occasionally. This separation is the only way you can get your work done. This way you don't run the risk of turning on the computer late in the evening or on your days off "just for one quick thing" or being constantly available for your employer. Above all, pay attention to the following:

  • Communication: Separate your channels. Don't use your private computer and your own smartphone for business communication.
  • Your desk: The same applies to your documents. Do you have work documents and private bills all jumbled up together on your desk? Not a good idea.
  • Working hours: Agree with your employer on when you can or can't be reached. You need times and spaces in your private environment where you and your family are not disturbed.
  • Availability: At the same time, make sure you can actually be contacted during the agreed working hours. Otherwise, you should "log out". Employers with little experience of remote workers are likely to get very suspicious if you're not responding when you should be.
  • Do not disturb: Nevertheless, you usually need fixed slots in which you can focus solely on your work. Or you can use tools like Slack to signal when you're busy and can't be reached. See the section below on this.

Video conferencing grants deep glimpses into your private space Here too, it makes perfect sense to have a separate area within your home for this.

Also, make sure you're home alone when you work. From time to time, your children's or partner's presence is going to be avoidable, e.g. due to illness. Here you need good coordination but and a consistent spatial separation so you're still able to work properly. At least that's what my experience has been.

More tips for everyday life as a remote worker:

  • Get into the habit of having a regular work routine with fixed times, as if you had to drive to an office. It'll help you focus on the job.
  • You don't necessarily have to set up your own study. But you need your own area and a desk for your work. Just like your employer, you should pay attention to ergonomics here.
  • Work in a tidy environment. You should feel comfortable but not get too cozy. The sofa is not a suitable place to sit when working from home.
  • Move your private smartphone to another room. It'll distract you too much. Make sure you take regular breaks.
Working from home
Don't get too cozy. Working from the sofa isn't a good idea.

Advantages for companies

I know of many companies with modern setups who still refuse to allow remote work. I'll come to the reasons why in a moment. The model has several advantages:

  • Recruiting: Especially in technically fields, most companies are desperately looking for specialists. By opening up to remote work, the catchment area increases enormously. Especially for companies in rural areas.
  • Less effort: New employees no longer have to move to the company's location. This is also a good way to test working together.
  • Cost-effective working model: Under certain circumstances, working remotely can save a lot of money. You don't have to set up additional workstations or even look for a new office when new hires work from home.
  • Customer proximity: If the company operates across Europe, remote workers may be located much closer to individual customers, suppliers, and new markets. You can use this.
  • Expansion: In the long term, this will even allow new branch offices to be established.

The shortage of skilled workers is probably the most important point. Small companies and start-ups in particular are increasingly opening up to remote work, as otherwise they would have no chance of filling all the vacancies. It's quite similar for RAIDBOXES us. For important positions we found employees faster.

Tip: Keeping good employees is almost even more important and is often neglected by companies. A very esteemed colleague of ours has moved from Muenster to Hamburg for private reasons. Without remote work we would certainly have lost her.

Challenges for companies

Remote work ain't easy - especially at the beginning. Remote work can also fail if a company or employees aren't yet ready for it. Probably the biggest challenge is to maintain contact with colleagues while working from home:

  • Employees working remotely still need to feel like they're part of the team. This isn't so easy without the everyday personal contact.
  • The company or the management need to have a good relationship with the employees and, most importantly, a lot of trust.

Remote workers instinctively sense whether or not this leap of faith is being made for them. They also sense whether they're fully accepted by the local team, whether they're considered less valuable employees, or whether there's even some envy towards them. After all, working from home does offer some privileges that employees on site in the office don't enjoy. This is where management needs to be very attentive but also to provide information. You have to communicate all the advantages of remote work to your remote worker and the team as a whole.

Here is how to stay in contact with employees working on site in the office:

  • Attendance times: Remote workers should also be seen in the office for a few days every now and then. The rotation could be dependent on how time-consuming the journey is for them.
  • Social activities: RAIDBOXES organizes joint team events on a very regular basis. The effort is put into ways of involving the employees who work remotely is substantial as Johannes and Torben realize how important it is for integration.
  • Feedback loops: Remote workers can't sense the atmosphere in the office. They also have less of a feeling for how well their work is being received. That's why good feedback is important.  See our 10 Tips for Improving Your Feedback Culture.
  • Infrastructure: What techniques and tools are needed to make collaboration work? This ranges from systems for video conferencing to optional time tracking.

Most important for remote workers is access to information. I don't hear my colleagues' discussions at my desk, in the kitchen, or during lunch breaks. Sometimes things are explained or agreed upon quickly in the spaces that I actually should know about There must be a role or processes in the company collects and documents important information and shares it in openly accessible channels. Remote works can be of assistance here. They're the first to recognize at what points information is getting lost.

Such processes take a lot of time and effort but, in the end, all employees benefit from them. As a side effect, comprehensive documentation is created for everyone to use. RAIDBOXES solves this point with a internal wiki and specific channels in Slack. See the section on "Tools and meetings".

Note: Companies should set out in writing important points of collaboration with remote employees. For example in the employment contract. This includes points like rights and obligations, working hours, data protection, and access to customer data.

Do remote employees work less?

Many companies refuse to allow remote work because it can't be controlled to the same extent as having employees on site. From some corners, there are even concerns remote workers tend to be lazy and less productive. In fact, some studies have shown remote employees end up working more. Because at home, some people are more inclined to spend evenings working on work projects.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. At home, I'm tempted to walk the dog or hang up the laundry - that's what breaks are for. However, I'm not going to get distracted by other colleagues at home. In my experience, this point shouldn't be underestimated. Almost every work discussion slides at some point into private chatting. And if someone interrupts me at my desk, I'll often have to start what I was doing again from scratch. Remote employees can create a more protected setting for themselves in this respect.

Working in the office
Feeling a bit silly? You can also do that in the office.

In my opinion, the discussion about whether employees do more work in the office or remotely is missing the point. What's important is whether my employees are motivated - regardless of where they work. After all, being lazy and not getting things done is also possible in the office. Ultimately, it's a question of corporate culture. Helpful are models like Holacracy, which encourage independent decision making.

Remote employees who are performing fulfilling and appreciated work will also be fully committed. Employees working from home tend to be very loyal because they appreciate what the company offers them.

Tools and meetings

You need to use the right tools to involve employees in the work processes. Which tools are the right ones for your company depends on your processes and what software you're already using. Here is a small selection:

  • Slack : Slack is business chat tool employees and teams can use to communicate with each other. You can also use it to send files, create reminders, make group phone calls, or quickly set up video conferences. It's ideal for fast office communication and for collaboration with remote employees or external specialists. Slack works very well for us at RAIDBOXES.
  • Video conferencing: We use Google Hangouts for video conferencing. While Slack also offers this function, we've found the quality is often poor. Our conference room in our office is fully equipped so that we can not only see each other but also share screens (cameras, micro, Airtame). This allows remote workers to also participate in meetings.
  • Virtual meeting rooms: We've set up virtual rooms for each remote location in Google Hangouts. These are easily accessible via a link in our WordPress dashboard. So you can quickly meet with one or more remote worker in "Hamburg", "Magdeburg" or "Freiburg".
  • Project management: A good project management tool is important for any company working in a technical environment and with mixed teams. I enter all my tasks into this tool so my colleagues always know what I'm working on. And it helps me to organize myself. We currently work with Zoho. I've used Trello and had good experiences with this tool too.
  • Editorial planning: Distributed content teams in particular need to be well organized. The classic tool here is still Excel - or Google Sheets as a modern variant. Online you'll find countless templates for editorial plans.

A bit more about Slack: Channels for groups and themes are an important instrument to avoid a confusing jumble of information. We have a channel, for example, where we log on and off for our breaks. There's even a "water cooler" channel for small talk. And one solely for marketing topics. Everyone can decide for themselves where they want to participate.

There are now even robots available for remote workers to move to their colleagues' workstations to talk to them virtually. Check out this supplier. We thought about getting one for a while. Some employees expressed privacy concerns, however. This is something you should consider with all tools.

double hallway
The "double" robot in action. Image © Double Robotics

Do you know any other tools? How happy are you with the solutions mentioned above? Feel free to add your experiences or tips in the comments.

Conclusion

If you consider the following points, remote work brings more flexibility for both companies and employees:

  • It takes a while before the appropriate processes are in place. In the beginning, remote employees and the teams on site should be in constant exchange about what can be optimized and how. The necessary resources must be available.
  • You need good social contacts outside work if you work mainly from home.
  • Information in the company must be freely accessible to everyone.
  • In addition to the virtual meetings, remote workers should meet regularly with the office teams in person.
  • The remote model is not suitable for very controlling business personalities.

I wish you good luck with your remote job or with introducing remote team members.

Do you have questions about working remotely? Feel free to use the comment function. Do you want to receive the latest news about WordPress and WooCommerce? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Further articles about the topic

Here are some more links for employees, agencies, and companies:

Pictures: Alif Pratama, Shridhar Gupta, Damir Kopezhanov

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