The Future of Work Is Remote

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Not that long ago, the closest your standard 9-5 office worker got to ‘remote work’ was staring into the remote landscapes of their MacBook Pro’s default screensaver. It’s almost cruel Apple; why remind 9-5’ers how unattainable the wild West is in their current position, or tease workers with the vast potential of far, far away galaxies?

However, with the rise of startups up at 30.74% since last year, and with a barometer graph that looks like an off-the-chart Richter scale reading, the Silicon Valley industry has spurred a whole new kind of growth since people really started paying attention to startups back in 2007.  

With this comes an exciting new addition to the vocabulary of work: yes, you guessed it, ‘remote.’ A budding definition of remote work that is actually accessible, attainable, and possibly life-changing for employees and companies.

InVision, the coveted workflow and collaboration design platform, is the starling maverick of remote work. The Mad Max of remote, if you will.

The company’s 700 employees (including their CEO) are spread out across the globe and all work from home, or a cafe, or a WeWork – the point is, at InVision there is no such thing as a brick-and-mortar office.

With a valuation of $1 billion, InVision has clearly been doing more than fine with their remote work plan.

Despite not having a physical office, the InVision team still follows tangible work hour guidelines, which looks more like a work window with lots of breezy flexibility.

While official office hours are between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, employees at InVision are evaluated based off the quality of their work, rather than whether or not they show up ‘on time’ every day.

As if that’s not already a stress reliever for most workers, there’s the additional benefit of the absence of any type of major commute, contributing to the freedom and flexibility that most InVision employees quote being the most “satisfying reasons” for staying with the design company.   

The software company’s whole shtick is to build great tools for designers. So as a company made up of designers designing for other designers, InVision benefits greatly from a crew of remote workers.

Why? Because aside from the money saved from obliterating the concept of a physical HQ, remote work facilitates a better product as employee talent is not dependant on their IP address. Meaning InVision has the power to essentially build a superhero-level network of expertise that’s not limited to one particular zip code.

However, remote work comes with its own list of pros and cons.

Even though every person who has ever worked a day in their life has daydreamed about staying home and making money from their bed, remote work doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Quite possibly because, as every remote worker can tell you, the impulse to work from bed quickly reveals itself as a completely unsustainable option.

To remote work well one has to develop a set of communication skills and strategies particularly unique to a distributed team environment. Several remote companies are popping up across the globe, however, what’s most intriguing about InVision is the sheer size of their team.

Scaling for a remote future

Invision is made up of 700 employees. 700 people.

How do 700 workers – spread out across multiple time zones, speaking a handful of first languages, and coming from completely different cultural backgrounds – communicate with each other on the daily?

We live in an internet age but to build a working relationship through chat, video, and file sharing can seem, perhaps, too-Sci-Fi-too-soon.

Then if you consider that even in office environments, where you walk by the same people every day, introductions are not so frequent and interactions can be limited to specific team members. What about that person who walks around in their socks all day? It could take months to learn that his name is actually Rob and he has three lovely children and a Pomeranian.

We’re all curious beings; we want to know more about our colleagues, however, there’s no question that a chat avatar is significantly more ambiguous than an IRL teammate.

With that, it’s important to note remote work does present communication challenges that are unique to a distributed team ecosystem.

Remote workers are the first to admit how difficult communication can be between team members who, oftentimes, they’ve never even met. Yet, a lot of these same workers will cite the challenge as an excuse to learn and develop new skills they otherwise may never have picked up anywhere else.

And for a company like InVision who strives to create the “best digital experiences” and to drive “real change” within customers, often interactions between InVision’s remote team members inform and reflect the design platform they are creating for their customers.

For the team behind InVision Studio, “working remotely has helped them do more than just communicate and collaborate better—it’s allowed them to spot gaps in their own workflow and then apply those solutions to Studio as they build it.”

How to remote?

Zero commute, flexible hours, a comfortable work space; all the liberating things about a remote work lifestyle can also be a worker’s downfall.

Maintaining consistent hours, separating work from living space, and 86’ing the commute are all things to consider when pursuing the dream of office-less life.

Exhibit A: the commute

Every city planner has to take into consideration the 9-5 commute schedule. And more often than not, even well-intended planning doesn’t result in a more relaxed or more comfortable commute. So you would think to eliminate the commute – all the cramped, uncomfortable, and congested parts of it – would be as satisfying as uncoiling a tangible ball of stress.

Yes, and no.

A commute has become more than just a stress-induced sweaty hour or two in transit. It’s a ritual. A transition from life to work.

So with the absence of a commute, remote workers at InVision suggest, “changing your definition of ‘commute.’” If you have a one-second commute from your bed to your desk in the morning, try creating a ritual that imitates a longer commute.

Write in a journal, go for a walk around the block, go eat breakfast before sitting at your home desk to work. The act of preparing yourself for work at home will help clear the head and put a defining mark on the start of a workday.

Exhibit B: Keeping consistent hours

Maintaining consistent working hours is what will make or break your success (and sanity) as a remote worker. Finding a fine balance between work and life is the real kicker here.

On the one hand, flexible working hours means more breathing room for friends, family, and personal life. However, if a remote worker doesn’t clearly define ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ hours, that flexibility can quickly translate to stress, irritability, and total burnout.

Some remote workers, the InVision community included, find it useful to track their tasks or time with various apps. Todoist is a popular to-do list app that can help people stay focused on separating work and personal responsibilities.

While the time tracking platform, Yast, offers workers a platform to log specific hours on projects. If you're a contractor, there’s an obvious bonus in tracking hours for invoicing purposes. As a company-based remote worker, apps like Yast allow you to review how you spent your day – if you worked odd hours or spent too many, or too little, hours on specific tasks.

UX design strategist at InVision, Mariano Goren, credits time segmenting and The Pomodoro Technique as pushing his focus to new heights. The technique requires 25 minutes of work with no distractions, followed by 5 minutes of relaxation. After four Pomodoro cycles, the worker gets to take a 20-minute break.

Not unlike interval weight training, the interval time tracking technique is trendy but doesn’t come without critics. Many of whom see the process as unnecessary, believing humans should be able to stay focused within their given working hours without a timer.

Yet in the context of remote work, where the boundaries of working hours are wide open, something like The Pomodoro Technique can be incredibly handy.

Ultimately one of the trickiest aspects of remote work is being the gatekeeper of your own time and space.

Even if you decide to clock out at 5 pm ET – technically, at home, your still at work. It can be tempting to continue checking work emails or responding to Slack messages. Practicing personal restraint and setting boundaries helps. But if all else fails, there are platforms addressing some of the issues remote workers deal with on the daily.

Entirely new softwares are designed keeping the remote team in mind. Standuply and SlackBot represent two team communication platforms that recognize the future of corporate structure is in distributed teams. Their platforms address some of the complications that come with a global staff.

Aiming to improve engagement and elevate communication, these softwares offer features like flexible time settings and customized automatic responses to help teams organize and run meetings regardless of the time change, or the hundreds of miles in between them.

Todoist’s Twist communication platform directly addresses the issues of keeping up with a team while working from home. The chat app offers a “calmer” and more asynchronous team communication experience  With zero read receipts or presence indicators, the option to snooze notifications, and a ‘time off’ mode, the Twist platform encourages more thoughtful interactions so that every team member can do their best, deep work.

InVision employees are working their best lives

At InVision, each remote employee is given the toolbox for doing their best work. That looks like flexible vacation policies, monthly coffee shop stipends (because maybe you don’t want to always work from home), annual allowances for books related to your work field, and home office setup plus ‘wellness’ reimbursements.

The company also offers competitive health insurance plans and a 401K plan to each team member in the 40+ states of the U.S. in which they employ. With 700 employees across the globe, these benefits likely don’t come cheap to the company. But when you eliminate the cost of rent and all other extra expenses that come with a physical office, what is left is the room to take care of your team in a more intimate, meaningful manner.

The perks of remote work aren’t necessarily just about the comfort of working on your own time, from your own space – but rather being part of a company that has the resources to appreciate the input of its team on a higher level.

InVision rewards its team for working in an environment that is both distraction-free and inspires creativity. Because to produce great work, people have to be inspired. And to be inspired means to participate in life at its fullest.

Is remote work sustainable?

Remote teams are only becoming trendier and trendier. While remote teams are great for starting a company, critics of the remote movement believe the road toward scaling and maintaining a large business is a rocky one with the potential for a dangerous, Road Runner-style dead end.

However remote work optimists continue to argue that a path involving distributed teams is less costly, less risky and even, less time-consuming.

Adam Schwartz, the founder of 100% remote E-learning company Articulate, describes a scenario where a 5,000 employee startup based in San Francisco releases a new product only to discover that their frontline employees are burning out from the launch. The company needs to hire 250 more employees. However, to do so requires more office space plus the excruciating and expensive process of finding, screening, hiring, and training all 250 employees.

At the end of this massive endeavor, most traditional companies are likely losing valuable time, hemorrhaging a significant amount of revenue, and most importantly, only extending their current employees’ overworked misery.

With a remote company, the ability to find, screen, and hire 250 employees is speed tracked using online recruitment and training tools. By saving money and time on expensive rent investments, companies can redirect their focus on hiring in secondary markets and in multiple time zones.

When playing with that deck of cards, any company (including its employees), is going to be a lot happier with their winnings.

Bonus! Legacy systems no more!

For teams to function well, remote companies need a Cloud-based architecture that encourages efficient, flexible, and quite simply, better, solutions for operating a business on all fronts.

That means remote employees are given the resources to work from an inspiring environment with significantly more inspiring software. No more getting stuck spending several hours navigating legacy systems that are stuck two decades behind.

Unless you’re already a large corporation, legacy systems are only holding back startups from scaling in the first place. They’re time-consuming, money-eating programs. Remote work is just the excuse to abandon them altogether.

Who is following suit?

Plenty of companies and workers are catching on to the advantage of a remote team lifestyle.

The web development company behind WordPress, Automattic, has an ambitious vision to democratize online publishing. They begin within their own company, employing a team even larger than Invision (815 ‘Automatticians’), across 69 different countries and speaking 84 different languages – that’s a lot of voices designing a platform to facilitate the voices of millions more.

If ever there was a question whether remote teams could get to the same work-friendly intimacy as traditional corporate offices, all one has to do is look at the 100% remote team of Zapier. While not as large as Automattic or InVision, Zapier employs 170 team members who go by the Star Trek-esque umbrella name, ‘Zapiens.’ Clearly, company pride is strong. So, strong the company wrote a book about it.

The book chronicles everything about running a remote company from how to work in different timezones to avoiding burnout and, most importantly, building strong relationships in a remote team.

The publication comments on how as humans, we’re pretty great at picking up signals from other humans. But when you eliminate the human interaction, how do you develop relationships?

Developing new strategies of communication is key for a remote lifestyle. Zapier’s suggestions are simple: listen to your coworker and practice ‘ego suspension’ by way of asking, short and open questions.

Other tactics like staying up-to-date with colleagues on work and personal topics or exploring each other's personalities through GIFS and emojis are great forms of remote communication as well.

The future of work is remote!

The advantages of remote work certainly outweigh the disadvantages. However, developing an efficient system, adopting the right tools, and harnessing the right communication skills is required to sustain such an ambitious career endeavor.

And as InVision has proved, if a healthy work/life balance can be achieved, the result is a happier team, producing a better product for an exceptionally human-friendly user-experience.