Through the global COVID pandemic of 2020-2021, employees and employers scrambled to make remote work possible. For many, it turned out to be easier than anyone might have imagined. The technology for videoconferencing and screen sharing has moved far beyond what was possible just a few years ago. The early experiments (Skype, GoToMeeting, Webex, Google Hangouts) have evolved into easy to schedule, easy to join online meetings (and Zoom is the clear leader.)
An article from Fast Company titled “The Unspoken Reasons Employees Don’t Want Remote Work to End” describes some of the reasons employees may prefer to continue working remotely:
- “I need a nap during the day.”
- “I’d give up my raise for remote work.”
- “I’m in recovery.”
- “I don’t want to give up my side hustle.”
To these I would add…
- “More flexible hours.”
- “Home schooling. Pets. Eldercare.”
- “Cooking for lunch.”
- “No commute.”
- “More effective meetings/presentations online.”
- “Fewer interruptions. More in-the-flow productivity.”
- “Defining work on my own terms.”
My “Freelance, Side Hustle, Work from Home” Life
For most of my working life, I’ve found employment as a graphic designer, both freelance and employed. Early on in my career I became accustomed to doing work from home. When I married in 1986, I followed my wife wherever jobs took her. Patricia is a PhD mathematician, and has worked in research labs and several colleges and universities over the years. During these 35 years we’ve been married, we have moved from the Chicago area to Seattle to northern Indiana and to New Mexico. I’ve been able to find work pretty much everywhere we’ve gone. And as a freelancer I’ve usually had a “side hustle” while employed either full-time or part-time. In Seattle I had a several years contractor gig – working remotely – with America Online. Up until this thing called the “World Wide Web” came along. Then I found work as a freelance website designer.
Oakley Studio Websites got its start in 1996, when I was living on Vashon Island near Seattle, Washington. It was a part-time business with a few clients. My wife and I both commuted on the ferry every day to jobs in Seattle. That was a long commute! Two years later, Patricia took a job as a math prof at a small liberal arts college in Goshen, Indiana. I got a part-time job in the college IT department, and continued to ply my fledgling website design and hosting firm on the side. It wasn’t until 2007 that I went full-time with my own business. I’ve been happily working from home ever since. For me “remote work” actually began in 2001 when I got high-speed internet to our house. I had a server room in the basement. It was easy to connect to the web servers “remotely” from my upstairs home office. Later, I relocated the servers to a secure data facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yet I still connected to them exactly the same way I had been – remotely. The server farm had techies on staff to do any server “hands-on” work when needed.
ZOOM: Better Than Being There
It was a new client who introduced me to Zoom videoconferencing in 2018. Kate Duttro, a master trainer in the “Dependable Strengths” method of career coaching, suggested we use Zoom to consult on the task of merging her three websites into one. Kate hosted that first session. I had been using Google’s “Hangouts” app up until this point, but Zoom was more advanced. Zoom offered much better video/sound quality, better screen-sharing, easy recording, easy scheduling. I never used Hangouts again. These days I would rather meet even local Albuquerque clients in a Zoom session. The screen-sharing allows my client to share their screen while getting the experiential hands-on learning. And we can pass control back and forth as needed. It’s also way easier for several participants to meet and do a screen-sharing session without having to gather around a laptop and look over each other’s shoulders. And everyone gets to skip the commute.
All my Zoom scheduling has become so much easier too. I use Vcita “Schedule Now” service which lets my clients pick a day and time that suits them. This service reads my published iCal calendar, so that once a date and time is reserved, no one else can schedule that spot. And Vcita connects with Zoom to create the scheduled session for me. When I think how much time this saves everyone in calls, voicemails, and emails… it is an incredible productivity booster.
During the pandemic, my wife and all her colleagues and students made a swift transition to work from home when the University of New Mexico had to shut down. The campus closed, but classes went on. For some students, it wasn’t ideal – good internet connectivity isn’t available everywhere – but everyone made do. And Patricia started offering Sunday Evening Zoom Office Hours, so students working on homework assignments for the next day could drop in and get some extra help from their prof.
Companies everywhere had to scramble. Many people faced a steep learning curve to figure out this technology for communications. They had to connect to networks and office systems. And they did it and got real work done at a distance. Having learned these new skills, and finding that remote work is not only do-able but has it’s advantages, not everyone is going to be eager to go back to a traditional office setting.
I have experienced various work-from-home scenarios and used remote-work tools as they’ve evolved over the years. For all the reasons described above I am convinced that “remote work” is here to stay, even when the pandemic becomes a distant memory. For years workers have been juggling work life and personal life, and assessing what’s ok, what’s not, and where the boundaries lie. With cell phones and email, employers have reached into their workers’ off-work hours and into their personal lives and spaces. On vacations even! These tools keep the channels of communication open and keep work flowing. Now employees are going to be saying “let’s do work differently, on new terms, so that we can all be more productive together.” Remote work is a win-win for those who are able to embrace the changes that technology makes possible.