Remote work sucks... but in the future it will be awesome

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Remote work sucks... but in the future it will be awesome

Historians will write entire books about 2020. The year that accelerated the advent of remote work by a generation. It’s the tipping point. This decade we will see cutting edge technology emerge around this trend.

Fust is all about the future of work. We’re building a tool to help remote teams be more productive. We’ve suffered from lack of productivity. We decided to fix that problem. We care about this. We are 100% sure it’s the future.

What are the pros and cons of this future?

The good

It’s inevitable: We will all end up working remotely. Sooner or later. It’s too enticing.

From the employer perspective, it means hiring top talent. If you’re looking for a software engineer in a big Latin American city such as Bogotá, 100 people will apply to the role. If you open the role for the entire Latin-American continent at least 1000 people will apply. This means that you can take advantage of the law of large numbers: This practice will allow you to hire the best.

You will also be able to hire more senior talent. Or talent with the same seniority but cheaper. You can hire a junior engineer in the Bay Area for $100k, or a tech lead for the same $100k in Latin America. You can also hire the same junior engineer, but pay him $30k and still be paying above market rate. Both approaches are valid.

Additionally, you will save real estate costs. Having a small office or no office at all will yield a significant reduction in your monthly burn. Especially if your company is paying rent in an expensive place such as San Francisco or New York.

A not so mentioned benefit is opening up job opportunities for more people. Military spouses on the move, residents of rural communities, and parents of newborns.

From the perspective of the employee, there are a ton of benefits. You can follow Tim Ferris’s advice and take advantage of geographical arbitrage. You can work for a company that has a US-based market, ergo pays US-market salaries. And also take advantage of the lower purchasing parity power of a developing country.

Medellín, Colombia is a perfect place for many digital nomads. It’s the largest digital nomad hub of Latin America. The weather is perfect, the internet is great, Colombians are nice, and there are a bunch of trendy coffee shops. It’s safe, even if that stupid Netflix show portraying the '80s makes you think otherwise.

Actually, with the amount of money that you rent this beautiful studio in San Francisco:

Studio in San Francisco

You can rent this in Medellín:

Mansion in Medellín, Colombia

Higher quality of life is the other big perk from the perspective of the employee. You can spend more time with your kids. You can save endless hours of commute.

The perks are powerful. I can’t imagine the next generation of startups not doing the same thing GitLab pioneered.

The bad

But I’m here to talk about both sides of the coin. If I am bullish on remote work, why would I bash against remote work? Because in order for everyone to be remote post-coronavirus, we need to solve several issues. Tax compliance, rapport building, communication, telepresence, concentration and knowledge management.

2020 is the year where remote work got hyped. On a honeymoon period. What’s weird is that a pandemic forced its adoption. But it happens with all technologies. Remote work isn’t a technology, it’s a behavioral change. Yet, we can apply the same concept to a behavioral change.

This is Gartner’s Hype Cycle:

Gartner Hype Cycle graph

Before Coronavirus, remote work was already growing. During Coronavirus it got to the peak of inflated expectations. We were all forced to do it. But what will happen when a vaccine has commercial distribution?

A lot of companies will decide to take their employees back to the office. It’s true that companies such as Twitter and Facebook have announced remote-first policies for a post-COVID world. But that’s the tech industry. The tech industry is always ahead. Most will decide to go back.

We will fall into the trough of disillusionment.

Then we will see remote work being widely adopted, even in sectors where we thought it wasn’t possible to do so in 2020.

Tax and legal compliance

Laws vary across countries.

The sole act of wiring money from one country to another is a maneuver. Some countries will cap low the amount of money that you can move in a single wire. To exceed that amount you need to incorporate a subsidiary company in that country. The employee can solve it from her side. Without incorporating a subsidiary company. But it still involves a ton of paperwork in some places.

Besides this, labor laws vary. The holidays are different, bringing up a lot of questions. Should a remote employee take off US-holidays? Local holidays? Or both? If an employee works during a local holiday, do local laws enforce to pay that as a bonus? If so, how is it calculated?

It can get even more complex.

This is the biggest reason why a lot of remote jobs are for the US only. This is the reason why staff augmentation agencies in emerging countries are useful. And will be for a while.

Rapport building

Tools like Zoom and Slack are awesome to talk about work. They’re pesky at the time of bonding people.

I haven’t found good research that explains why. But I’m a human being and I have a theory.

There’s minimal to non-existent body language. Rapport generates when two people mirror their poses. There’s no way that this will happen in a Zoom call. Besides this, there is no eye contact. When there is eye contact it means you are paying attention. It means you are listening. There is no way to assess that in a video-call. Also, humans look weird on video-calls. The angle from webcams is an unnatural one to look at a human face.

Leave alone phrases that are now part of our daily life. “Can you hear me?”. “Sorry, what was that?”. “I think your microphone is muted”. “Can everyone see my screen?”. “My internet is weird today”.

Slack is a great tool for efficiency. Yet it lacks a human touch. There are some things that are weird to say in plain text: “Welcome to the team!”. “Happy birthday to you!!”. Those things need emotion. Emojis are the best we have. But they are not a complete solution.

People are trying to solve this with processes that are skeuomorphic to reality. But fail. Virtual dinners, virtual beers, virtual parties, etc. They are awkward. A better solution is to bond people by playing a game. A game serves the desired social function better.

Virtual water-coolers aren’t a standard thing yet. It's impossible to coordinate the serendipity of the "2-minute hallway conversation" online. You can have separate Zoom rooms for this, but it's way too forced up.

Tandem is the video-communication tool with the best social features. They have built-in water coolers and screen-sharing that simulates shoulder-taps. They also have a Spotify integration so you can see what your coworkers are listening to. It sounds like a small thing, but music bonds people.

Yet, there is way more to go to make remote teams bond the same way as onsite teams.

The best solution right now to the rapport problem is having company retreats. They are a game-changer. But they are onerous and expensive.

Time zones

Remote work has different continuums. One of them is everyone in the same time zone VS everyone wherever they want on planet earth.

There is no right or wrong answer to this. Opening the applicant pool to people in US time zones VS the whole world would definitely increase the size of such by an additional order of magnitude. But it has a downside.

My personal opinion is that working with people on opposite time zones is still a challenge. I have done it in the past. All communication becomes asynchronous. The utility of communicating via Slack becomes the same as communicating via email. Video-calls never happen.

Telepresence

Doctors can’t work remotely. Airplane pilots can’t work remotely. Uber drivers can’t work remotely.

Is it something we should take for granted? Or should we perceive it as a problem that we can solve in the future? This would change the world for good.

Health is inaccessible to a lot of Americans. That’s why a lot of Americans travel to Latin American countries to get a surgery done. Hop on a plane and get access to cheaper and high-quality doctors. Could a patient skip the flight step in the future?

There is a huge wave of startups disrupting the health industry to make it accessible. What are the recent advances in telemedicine? 2020 is the tipping point for this. Telemedicine startups are getting a pile of funding. Startups such as Turkey-based Ceiba Healthcare and Ireland-based Think Biosolution are building solutions that stream a patient’s vital data in real-time. Zoom is now HIPAA compliant. But doctors can’t do surgery from the comfort of their home yet.

I can envision a future where this is the case. Drive Uber passengers in New York from Lagos. Pilot a plane that goes from Los Angeles to Shanghai from a cozy room in Bratislava. Calling "remote work" just "work" implies giving the possibility to every worker. It means thinking about how to make remote jobs that we don’t think are possible to make remote today.

There is another trend that we must take into consideration. Automation. No one has access to the script that outputs the future. We don’t know what’s going to come first. Automation of airplane pilots? Or remote airplane pilots? It’s unknown and paramount to the discussion.

For the moment I’m going to close by emphasizing the main idea. Calling "remote work" just "work" implies giving the possibility to every worker.

Conentration

This is a pain in the ass for remote workers. Some of them claim it’s not a problem. But it is.

Your workspace isn’t as well suited as the one in an office. The noise of the neighbor drilling a wall distracts you. You wake up 5 minutes before your daily standup. Your kids are yelling in the background. Your brain associates your house with resting and sleeping, but you are working there. It’s a mental bug.

The solution to this problem is coworking spaces. But I doubt that they are the best effort we can do as a society.

Knowledge management

Unmistakably, Marissa Mayer banned remote work at Yahoo back in 2013. Employees are more productive in an office.

Why? This is the most important question for us at Fust.

We have bounced back-and-forth between remote and onsite work modalities since 2016. We know from first-hand that it’s true that people are more productive in an office environment.

Some of the problems described above are causes. More rapport will make people stay longer at jobs, and people are more productive in a job over time. Telepresence is an issue even for jobs that need the worker sitting in front of a computer or talking to people. Time zones and concentration have direct implications.

And then there is knowledge management.

In an office environment information spreads by osmosis. Questions come out without the friction of writing it into a Slack channel. The person walking by might be talking about a thing that is the answer to your question. You have water coolers that spark bright ideas. You have whiteboards and screens that spread information in real-time to people. Remote workplaces don’t have this.

There are great single-source-of-truth tools that we use. Google Drive, Notion, Slite, Basecamp, Asana, etc. They have sparked a revolution that has brought remote and distributed work to where it is today. Having everything written down is a sine qua non to a well-functioning remote organization. Asynchronous communication becomes more important.

The problem is that the information in these documents quickly becomes outdated. All the time. People don’t update the information because they forget. Or because they don’t think that writing down certain pieces of information is important. There’s even some laziness involved in the process.

How can we solve this problem? Is what we asked ourselves next.

What if we could automagically keep all your documentation updated? What if we can connect and update the content inside your documents in a smart way? What if we index all the words and values in your documents to suggest smart changes?

That is when we had our aha moment!

We’re starting with the integration between Google Sheets and Google Docs. We’re not talking about importing a table to a Google Doc from a Google Sheet, Google already allows you to do that. We’re talking about making all spreadsheets talk with all docs. Make a change in the value of a spreadsheet. See the change reflected in the body text of all relevant Google Docs. We’re talking about connecting the content inside your documents.

Are you suffering from information fragmentation? Do you want to complete projects faster? Join our waitlist here.