Remote work is a hot topic for many business owners and marketers. No longer is an office required to accomplish great work or collaborate with the best minds in the industry. Ever wonder what it was like to work remotely before computers were popular? I got the chance to connect with Jim Stern, a remote worker for more than 25 years, about his perspective on remote work. Here are the highlights from that discussion.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a remote worker?
In 1983, I was a video producer for a Fortune 50 company, but I was frustrated by the lack of creativity I had sought out in this field due to clients controlling the purse strings and thus the creativity. When a supplier of mine told me about a division of Sony that was opening an office in Boston and needed a Regional Sales Manager, I was ready to make my move.
After a year in a beautiful downtown office with a full-time secretary (say what?), I was asked to move into a HQ temporary office setting… very similar to the new “Innovation lab” type offices, where you share phone services and secretarial services. (Oh yeah, this was before the internet!)
A year later, and I was asked to work out of my house. This was new. No one was doing this, but I was attracted to the idea for a number of reasons which I will discuss later.
What was it like to work remotely before remote work was trendy? How do you think the landscape has changed since then?
Personally, I loved the idea of working at home. I did not know of anyone doing this, so I really had no preconceived ideas on how it would work out. Generally speaking, I was excited. I felt I was pioneering something new. And, I would be around my kids more!
Remote workers are in abundance these days, considered almost normal, hip and forward-thinking. It serves corporations offering this many benefits: saving both company & employees money, commuter time, flex time and a feeling of employees getting more work/life balance… it’s all good!
Which struggles did you face when you first started working remotely? How did you overcome them?
My main struggles were dealing with loneliness and how to actually get the work done as computers had just started coming out—and I hated the DOS world.
I dealt with loneliness by making sure I got out more. I began joining associations where I could network. I started working out over lunch, where I made more contacts and friends. Not only did this get me into shape, but it also revitalized me for the afternoon.
As far as getting my work done, I somehow convinced my company to let me get the new Macintosh, which had just come out and an amazing software package called C.A.T (Contact/Activity/Time). It was one of the first CRM programs, and even back then, it would destroy Salesforce.com because it was fully integrated. You did not need any “add-on” software, like you do with Salesforce.
It was not long before I was outperforming my fellow sales managers who were all working out of facilities around the country. I demonstrated how I was working remotely at a national sales meeting. It was clear I had far greater capability then the headquarters of my company, and I received a standing ovation from my fellow sales folks. Soon after, based on the success of my home-based office, the company started expanding their home-based offices.
What do you consider the upsides and the downsides of remote work?
Honestly, I don’t see many downsides to working remotely. The biggest challenge is the feeling that you are all alone, stuck on an island and forgotten back at corporate.
The upsides are many. I feel you can get so much more done working remotely. You just don’t have the “in-office” distractions. Now, with the open work environments? Not for me. They are probably the biggest problem corporations are having these days. I was in sales, and who wants to feel like everyone around you is listening to your every word, where you can’t really be yourself because you feel like you are constantly being watched, eavesdropped on and critiqued! Remote workers can escape this “Big Brother” environment.
Here are some of the upsides:
Very easy to get some things done while home, accepting a package that needs to be signed for, workers at your place, mowing the lawn, staying involved with your kids (school meeting, kids sporting event). Yes, I used to do these things, knowing the time is my own and I will get my work done regardless, but I had more flexibility. I could make it up on my time, like after dinner.
Eat healthier, since you can now control the food from home. But, you might miss the freebies back at the office.
Save money (see above).
A more balanced work/life balance.
I’d love to hear some of your top tips for staying productive while working remotely.
The top tips I would offer for being successful in a remote environment—especially a home-based office—are as follows:
You must have a dedicated work space. Make it great. Spend some money and make it as special as possible, so you actually enjoy being there.
Keep the distractions out! Make sure everyone in your home understands the rules of engagement when you are in your office.
Although tempting, don’t work in your PJs! It is important to take this remote environment seriously, so dress as you would if you were going into the office.
If you need to use a phone (other then your cell), make it a dedicated phone just for the office.
As far as tactics, just take your remote office seriously.
Get out of your office. Yes, take a break. I used to work out at lunch and then eat at my desk while I was working. This will give you amazing energy throughout the day and get you in great shape. Also, join one of the numerous networking or industry associations, clubs or get-togethers, so you can just connect with other people. This helps you feel engaged and involved in the outside world.
Make sure your infrastructure has everything you need to be successful. It’s pretty much the norm these days, but not back in my day. Have a dedicated phone, computer, Wi-Fi, filing system, printer etc.
Make sure you can get into your company’s office either once a week or once a month to get face-to-face with your superiors and co-workers. This will make you feel a part of the overall company and that people know you are still alive and well!
Time management does not change whether you are at the corporate office or your remote office. You need to take remote work seriously. Get into your office early and work a little later since you have no commuting anymore.
Get feedback from your boss and co-workers to gauge how you are doing. Don’t live in a vacuum.
Do you think remote work is the future of work? Why or why not?
More yes, then no. But, I believe you will have shifts, and one might be starting now. I say this because IBM is now calling all of its remote workers back to the office. If they are not back within three months, they will be let go.
Are there any common misconceptions people have about remote work?
The only misconception about working remotely is that you now have it easy, or it’s a time to really kick back and goof off.
Is there any final advice you would give to those who’d like to transition from in-office work to remote work?
We live in a work world that is full of constant change, so embrace it. If you don’t, you will be gone. Change will happen regardless, so be a champion of it. My advice is to take the opportunity to work remotely if it is offered. It will be life-changing, and it will open you up in ways you have not even considered.