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The Benefits of Remote Work Beyond Avoiding the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

March 11, 2020 By Mike Hansen

Public health officials are advising people to working remotely, if they can, as one way to avoid contracting Coronavirus and #flattenthecurve. We hope those that can work remotely, do. Yet, for many, working from home is a novel experience.

Here at Sonatype we've enjoyed a work-from-home culture since day one. In fact, we consider it a competitive advantage. We'd like to share a bit about what we've learned doing it, and how you can benefit, too.

As head of Sonatype's product development, I wrote about the benefits of a remote organization in 2018:
It is also largely unappreciated (until you've experienced it) how many advantages offset the “limitation” of infrequent face to face interaction.  First, the communications pathways that form are very often driven by business necessity versus things like seating location, political motivations or after work interest etc.  Second, at least in a product development context with a bunch of technical people that just want to get stuff done, there is more focus on the work and the corresponding results than the political or social aspects of the workplace. 

Business Benefits of a Remote Work Model

It is still early days for the remote work model. Managers newly minted in remote work might fear that Covid-19's "pandemic and chill" advice means that employees will be pushing "play" on the remote instead of punching the time clock. Not so fast.

I mention two common fallacies management must overcome: don't people work best working face to face? Aren't people just screwing around and not working when they're at home? Both are unfounded.

Instead, I pointed to several advantages offered by remote work arrangements:

More Effective Communications

Remote work levels the communication playing field that emerges. As I wrote:

Another subtle but material advantage is that all communications endpoints are equidistant. It is just as easy to communicate with someone on your team as it is someone on another team or someone in a different department or even the CEO.  Everyone is a phone call, email, chat message or video chat away.

Better Work-Life Balance

No commute! For many, this is a game changer in terms of time savings, cost savings, and happiness. As I said earlier:

Not having to contend with a soul-sucking, energy consuming commute on a daily basis is a major quality of life benefit for people. This also comes paired with plenty of options for a more reasonable cost of living for members of the team.

Near Infinite Talent and Expertise

The employer can select the person who is the best fit for a role, literally from anywhere in the world! The benefits are obvious to growing companies, too:

In a co-located model, you are competing in specific geographies, often with better capitalized companies that have a lot of brand recognition.  In the remote model, the number of amazing people you can connect with is effectively infinitely larger. We are able to open a really big door. When you are also able to eliminate the commute and offer challenging work that matters, a lot of exceptional people can be convinced to walk through it.

Specific Tips to Help You Adjust to Working from Home

New to remote work? Here's my advice drawn from over a decade of working remotely.

Refine Your Communication Style and Use New Communication Tools

Working remotely requires that you adopt new tools, such as Slack, to communicate. A willingness to try new tools is essential. So is learning how to manage them to ensure they make you productive, not reactive.

It is also important to examine, and perhaps refine, your communication style. For example, you may need to reconsider who needs specific information, and the most effective way to share it considering channel and/or time zone.

Define a "Work" Place at Home

Sure, working remotely means you can work from anywhere, a huge advantage! This is especially beneficial for work-life balance. (Or avoiding sick people.)

What comes next is a different challenge: where to work from home. Designate a specific area -- ideally a room with a door you can close -- so you can draw physical boundaries between work and life.

Set Office Hours

Lastly, it is important to develop a work routine at home that is consistent. A huge temptation is to work at all hours. This can be useful, and occasionally required. Be careful because "always on" can contribute to burnout. Set hours and stick to them.

We're Hiring Remote Workers

As a remote-first company Sonatype is well-versed in what it takes to benefit from, and enjoy, a distributed work culture. We are growing. Browse our open positions here.

Tags: remote, management, News and Views, Sonatype culture/awards, Opinion Post, COVID-19

Written by Mike Hansen

Mike is the Head of Engineering and Product Development for Sonatype. He works relentlessly to surround himself with a diverse team of experts, making sure they know where to go and that they have what they need to get there.