A Pragmatic Outlook on The Future of Work

The benefits, the negatives, and recommendations for working from home.

Hey web3ers! I hope you are having a great weekend. This week I moved to D.C which has been quite the process, but so far it seems like a beautiful city! Also this week, Twitter was ablaze with people commenting about remote work which is a topic I’m quite familiar with. So, I thought I’d share my opinions about working from home aka telling people to unmute themselves on Zoom. Let’s get to it!

A couple of months ago when I wrote about the upcoming Corona Recession, I mentioned a few trends that would likely follow, one being “The Rise of Remote Work”.

This week, I wanted to revisit some of the topics within the macro trend of remote work – also called working from home (WFH). As someone who has worked remotely for a few years, I also wanted to share some thoughts and provide a rational perspective about the positives and negatives of remote work. Lastly, I’ll share some tips at the bottom for being more efficient and happier if you work from home.

Topic 1: Zoom and Virtual Conferences

On March 14th, I mentioned that Zoom and other remote conferencing software would become the norm.

Unsurprisingly, Zoom has absolutely dominated and become the go-to conferencing software and reached an all-time high of $180 per share within a couple of weeks of the lockdown.

Google launched a new video conferencing product that will compete with Zoom and give them a run for their money. The real loser is Skype, the company that pioneered video conferencing yet seemingly dropped off the map when people needed them most.

More interestingly, there are many virtual conferencing products and networking apps that are coming to market amidst these unique circumstances.

For the most part, existing companies have simply tried to replace their existing conference formats with the virtual format. This approach misses the mark and is akin to fitting a square peg through a round hole.

I’m the first to admit video conferencing still has issues. The existing products aren’t good enough for simultaneous conversations/debates. This limits presentations to primarily keynotes and fireside chats. Breakout rooms and spontaneity for video conferencing is still being iterated upon.

Virtual conferences need to try new tactics to enhance engagement during panels, fireside chats, and networking sessions. There’s money to be made on events that enable relationship management and networking, you know, the singular purpose of conferences.

Even A-list celebrities like Kevin Hart and Will Smith are making investments in companies creating virtual events products. Expect these types of investments to expand and for these technologies to get drastically better over the next two years.

Topic 2: Working From Home Indefinitely

Obviously, most people who are lucky enough are working from home. This week, some of the most prominent tech companies put the nail in the coffin to ensure remote work is the new forever.

Every company is slowly coming to the conclusion that remote-first is a necessary evolution that will occur over the next 6-18 months.

Shopify will be digital by default and enable remote work post-COVID-19.

Coinbase announced similar plans.

Twitter, Square, and Facebook have also made the decision to enable most of their employees to work from home, indefinitely.

Without COVID-19 the transition to remote-first would have taken most companies much longer, potentially even decades. As WFH becomes less stigmatized, I believe more companies will offer it to their employees. This is and will continue to happen at tech companies and then matriculate to other industries.

Companies will see economic benefits from reduced costs of office space, increased availability of talent, and potentially more productive employees. It’s important to remember that remote-first doesn’t mean remote-only. Providing employees the option to work remotely is what remote-first means. There will still be offices (just less space needed), off-site team meetups, and ways that firms enable employees to physically interact.

If 20% of a team works remotely permanently and 80% works remotely for two months of the year this opens up lots of ways for employees to enhance the quality of their lives. There’s a balance that works for each company but it takes time to find that balance.

Topic 3: Common Critiques of Remote Work

I’ve seen a lot of critiques on Twitter regarding remote work. Some accurate. Others less so. Here are some of the most common critiques with my thoughts/comments.

  • Remote work will transfer costs from the company to the individual. People will now need an at-home setup and will pay more utility costs. There will be other costs that affect the individual.

There is some truth to this statement. If an employer doesn’t have to pay SF market prices, then they won’t. However, this goes both ways. A studio apartment doesn’t cost 3k per month (minimum) in Dallas, Denver, Portland, or other great cities. Also, companies will still compete for talent. Relocation bonuses can be allocated for at-home office setups and company provided meals can just become expensed meal quotas. Remember companies provide perks (free meals, foosball tables, laundry services) because they are cheaper on aggregate than simply paying employees more.

  • It’s harder to communicate

This true at the start and false once remote work is effectively established. WFH is harder in the sense that you can’t stand up to speak over someone’s cubicle or run down the hall to tell a coworker you need a response to that email they clearly don’t want to respond to.

When working remotely, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to OVERCOMMUNICATE. This takes form in a couple of ways.

  1. Transparent channels of communication: It’s great to have slack channels where everyone on the team discusses objectives and tasks. This can be helpful for the marketing team, engineering team, or a startup with a limited number of employees. When communication becomes asynchronous, it can make tasks flow faster.

  2. Explicit communication. Amazing results are achieved when you force a manager to write down what specifically they want completed and how they want it. I’ve found that this actually improves communication. When conversing in person, it’s harder to come up with a coherent sentence so people speak straight from the word-vomit-firehose that is the human brain. This is why Amazon mandates written memos instead of PowerPoint. Frequent and explicit communication can do wonders for an organization.

  3. Referable objectives and notes. When a company goes remote, a manager or CEO will find themselves writing to the entire team more often. These documents and notes are often in google/word docs that employees can look at again. While its harder to convey passion and inspiration in the written work compared to the spoken word – I’ve found that written company objectives are easier to accomplish.

  • Remote work is worse for younger and non-familied coworkers.

This is largely accurate. Remote work is especially harder for the young whippersnappers who enjoy in-person mentorship, training, and guidance. Married couples, especially those with kids get the added benefit of being able to spend more time with their children/significant others.

Young and single individuals will be able to travel and visit friends domestically and internationally. I’ve personally taken advantage of this aspect. In a span of months I visited my brother in Florida, flew to LA to see my family and drove to Zion National Park all before flying back to New York to go into the office for a few days. When your company culture empowers remote work, young people can benefit from added freedom.

  • Working from home sucks now

Maybe, but WFH during COVID is NOT what working from home is like. The freedom to work from coffee shops, another country, or a prepared at-home setup is at least a 10x better experience than the current situation.

  • People who choose not to WFH will get passed over by those in the office. The unlimited paid time off dilemma.

Many people hate unlimited time off because those who take the most time off are indirectly or directly punished. Many argue the lack of a structure causes people to take less time off than if they had a set amount of time off. The idea is that this concept will apply to WFH. Those who do it will be indirectly penalized.

I understand this concern although I believe it’s dependent on the type of job. If your job is not merit-based (how well you do on a particular task), and more output-based (the frequency of tasks) then there might be a correlation between being in the office and promotion. A lawyer or consultant with billable hours comes to mind.

For individuals like journalists, designers, or programmers there’s a weaker input to output ratio. A journalist can write an article in an hour that successfully generates 1 million or 100k views. The length of time spent on the article is not always predictive of the result. A programmer could remove a bug that saves thousands of dollars or make a mistake that burns money in an infinite for loop of computational resources. In roles with clearly defined metrics of success, more equitable results happen (i.e. promotions, raises, etc).

  • Existing employees will have to compete with workers from locations that are cheaper to hire from.

If you live and work in New York or San Francisco you are effectively now competing with people who live in Ohio, Utah, and areas where employee salary will be lower. So if you work in SF you now have more competition, but then again, you don’t have to stay in SF (some people call that a win).

However, most companies still require employees to operate in a similar time-zone. U.S employees are unlikely to compete with workers from Shanghai or India. If your company is big enough that it will hire someone from anywhere in the world, you were already competing with these individuals (you just didn’t know it).

  • It’s harder to make friends/connections

In my opinion, this is the most valid critique of remote work. Networking and relationship building are more challenging in a remote setting. Humans are creatures of trust and forming deep connections requires time. Shared experience is the quickest way to create a sense of trust between strangers. Working remotely eliminates some of the everyday experiences (water cooler conversations, grinding away for hours in silence in the same office, etc).

Yet, I have made great virtual connections over time. There are coworkers who I’ve Zoomed with for hours and never met in person. There are coworkers I’ve met once after hours of Zoom and those conversations felt completely natural.

There are many who write off remote work on this critique alone. Perhaps this is fair. I think the best version of remote work lies somewhere in the middle where employees can visit an office a day or two a week and work remotely the rest of the time.

I have a final thought for those who write off remote work because they believe social behavior will not change. Look at how social and business interactions were conducted online a decade or two ago. Now, compare that to today.

It is radically different.

Online dating is now acceptable and common. Buying something without talking to someone is a daily occurrence. Sketchy Craigslist parking lot meets have become less sketchy Facebook marketplace meetups. People’s lives revolve around interacting on Twitter with strangers about magic internet money. Just me for that last one?

Anyway… this will happen again as the younger generations (Gen Z and..uh Gen Alpha?) join the workforce. Don’t underestimate how technology changes social behavior.

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Tips and Tricks for Remote Work/WFH

In my remote work life, I’ve found the lack of social interaction the hardest aspect. So my number one piece of advice is to find your community. I can’t stress this enough. Finding a place where you make social bonds and connections is important. Your community doesn’t have to be work-related. Find a gym that prides itself on a community like Barry’s, Crossfit, or Orange Theory. Join local meetups about a personal hobby/interest. Be apart of a toastmasters organization. Just make sure you enjoy the activity, the people, and that you go consistently.

Here are my other pieces of advice, but if you nail the first one, remote work will be an enlightening experience.

  1. Find your community

  2. Overcommunicate

  3. Be intentional about coworker happy hours/events/meetups

  4. Find where you’re most productive (coworking space, coffee shop, home office, etc).

  5. Keep your routine. I like to work out in the mornings before work. It’s just easier and I find I cancel on myself less.

  6. For the couples/married people – establish some boundaries.

  7. Get up to speed on people’s online mannerism/text language. Everyone communicates differently so it’ll take time to get used to people’s digital personas.

Working from home isn’t for everyone, but it can be a wonderful benefit. The benefits of at least having the option to be remote greatly outweigh the potential negatives.

Advancing Web 3.0 is a weekly(ish) newsletter about cryptocurrencies, decentralized finance (DeFi), and technologies that are shaping the next era of the Internet. Welcome to the bleeding edge. Welcome to Web 3.

About the Author: I’m Mason Nystrom, a Research Analyst at Messari covering companies and cryptoassets at the intersection of Web3.

Previously I worked for ConsenSys as a marketer focused on marketing strategy for ConsenSys and its portfolio companies. Prior to joining ConsenSys, I worked as a Business Analyst at Gatecoin, the first cryptocurrency exchange to list ether, Ethereum’s native cryptocurrency.

I’m passionate about Bitcoin, Ethereum, DeFi, Web 3.0, and all things crypto. When I’m not writing or heads down in crypto, I’m learning to become a developer at Lambda School.

The views, information, and opinions expressed are solely those by the author and are meant for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a recommendation or investment advice to buy or sell any securities, cryptoassets, or other financial products.