The changing workscape: Remote work less remote

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I have been writing about remote work possibilities and up- and downsides of virtual workforces for ages. I consider myself a bit of a remote-work activist (at least on my own behalf) and definitely an advocate. Having worked mostly in the tech world – and also owning my own communications shop, which is a 24/7 home office situation – it always seemed reasonable, normal and logical that remote work would become the norm rather than the exception by now.

But it really hasn’t. People cite a lot of arguments against virtual work, and in some jobs and industries it is not necessarily as easy to do as many tech-oriented jobs.

I recently read a blog post on the upsides (and handful of challenges) of remote work from a relatively new employee of the all-remote company 10up. The writer makes great points about flexibility and being able to count all those “working nights” hours as work time, and choosing to work when you are most productive and feeling your best. (He cites time zone differences as the biggest challenge; I agree and would add the “perception problem” to the equation. In an all-remote or tech-friendly company, this might not figure in, but in traditional companies that allow remote work in an ad hoc fashion, there are internal perceptions and personal opinions that come into play. The “remote” workers are actually remote. They are seen as less committed or engaged, not as readily promotable, etc.)

He also makes another extremely valid point that is also an essential policy issue that touches on economic competition and the mobility of workers. In the US in particular (although the US is not alone in its restrictive policies), immigration policies are keeping a lot of highly skilled workers from relocating to accept roles that would contribute to the success and growth of American companies. Remote work is one innovative way for companies to take advantage of a global pool of skills – in and of itself, this is not a surprise or new. But I had never really given this a great deal of thought from a policy-oriented perspective.

As much as we workers might like to migrate, with remote work, not only do we not have to be tied to a desk in one place, we don’t necessarily have to limit our job searches to places we are legally allowed to work. It’s a huge hindrance – both for employers and potential employees – and a bureaucratic nightmare for all involved. Happily, we are moving (slowly) toward a world in which remote work is less remote.

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