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Remotely Interesting

The Remote Work Differences No One Talks About

publishedabout 2 months ago
8 min read

Hey there, quick note, thank you to everyone who registered to join the Work Forward Society, a community for people who want to end bad meetings and explore working async-first. Doors have closed to the founding membership. I was aiming to have 10 people join, but instead, we have 28 amazing founding members 🤯

If you want to be notified when the membership reopens, you can sign up for the waitlist here.


When I ask people about the differences between remote and office work, they typically bring up location and lack of commute. However, there's a lot more to it. Understanding these differences can change your entire remote work experience.

Companies that understand these differences transform everything from their hiring practices to how they manage teams. Individuals who understand these differences burn out less and know how to advance their careers without going into an office. Let's break the differences down so you can reap the same rewards.

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On a high level, the three main differences between remote and in-person work come down to:

  1. Accountability
  2. Judgment
  3. Autonomy

Accountability

Accountability is all about how you get yourself to do the work. For the most part, accountability in the office heavily relies on peer pressure. In the office, you wouldn't come in at noon because you know your coworkers would judge you and believe you're a slacker. You would also do work (or at least attempt to look busy) because of the other people around you.

When you work remotely, this default peer pressure level of accountability disappears. Instead, your accountability relies primarily on your internal drive. No eyes are on you if you're in a healthy remote work environment. So how do you get yourself to start work? How do you get yourself to do the things you need to do? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to your success as a remote worker.

Companies that don't recognize this change end up trying to force peer pressure back in through surveillance methods or micromanagement. However, these are unhealthy tactics that are easily gamed and don't measure the correct values.

Companies that recognize the change update their hiring practices to test for internal drive. They also encourage leadership styles that help team members build their accountability skills.

Individuals who don't recognize this change frequently burn themselves out by trying to force themselves to do work through sheer power of will. They only stop this cycle when they take the time to learn their motivating factors and how they work best, then apply this information to design their personalized commute and workday.

Before, accountability was easy because peer pressure doesn't require active effort from your end. Internal drive does. It requires learning about your work style, then implementing systems that work for you. With peer pressure, it's easier to fall into the extremes of either gaming the system or putting yourself into an unhealthy overwork mode. Internal drive accountability focuses on making work work for you: more effort but greater reward.

Judgment

When it comes to judgment, the difference is between external measures vs. quality of work. In the office, you probably heard advice like "dress for the job you want" or "be the first in the office and the last to leave". These are external measures. Even though they really have no relevance to how well you did the work, they were the metrics used in the office to judge.

When working from home, colleagues can't see what you're wearing most (if not all) of the time. This, plus the difference in presence, means that you can no longer use external measures to judge the work. Instead, it becomes all about the quality of work. Are you meeting expectations? Are you communicating progress? These are the things that now matter in how your work is being judged.

This change can have huge benefits for those that are historically overlooked, whether due to age, gender, race, etc. It's easier to climb the ladder when it's less about how you look or who you're buddies with and more about the impact you make. I have personal experience with this from landing director-level roles in my mid-20s after going remote.

Companies that don't recognize this change keep their same old hiring practices, like resumes and interviews. They're looking at how you present yourself, the past schools/companies you've been part of, and how you answer on-the-spot questions. But these external factors provide zero information on whether the applicant can actually do the job.

Companies that recognize this change update their hiring practices to focus on proof of work and replicate the job they're hiring for through written interviews, paid hiring tests, trial hiring, and more.

Individuals who don't recognize this change waste time and energy on the wrong thing. Too often, I see people going into a new remote role attempting to use the same approach to work that they did in person. They'll go into their new job and be the first one online and the last to leave, but no one will notice. Then, they wonder, why isn't this working anymore? Why am I not getting that promotion?

This leads them to write off remote work as something that doesn't work. When really, it's just not working for them because they're not targeting the things remote work is judged based on. Individuals who notice this difference create a portfolio of work for hiring, then document and communicate work progress on the job.

Remote work creates an environment where meritocracy can thrive. Instead of the promotion going towards whoever went out with the bosses for drinks the most, it goes to the person who did the best work. Another change that makes it harder to game the system but gives you far more control in the future of your career.

Autonomy

The office is all about limiting options. You work 9-5, Monday-Friday, and from this specific office. You must learn how to do your work well while fitting in a box that wasn't made for you. You end up feeling stifled and waste energy working against yourself (like when a night owl works morning person hours).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have remote work, which provides lots of freedom. To the point that if you don't plan for it or you're not used to it, this freedom can feel overwhelming or even paralyzing.

Companies that don't recognize this change try to keep the same box for their remote roles. They end up losing productivity from their workers due to not taking advantage of the autonomy benefits of remote work.

Companies that recognize the change focus on creating policies that encourage this autonomy. Managers work with their team members to define reasonable work output expectations rather than relying on clocked time and show them how to use the overwhelming freedom to their advantage. This approach also opens the door for the company to create an effective async-first global workforce.

Individuals that don't recognize this change keep their old schedule and miss out on seeing what they're capable of when their workday is explicitly designed for them. They continue burning out due to wasting energy from working from one work zone, not integrating rest into work, and having to deal with the annoyance of revolving their life around work.

When individuals recognize the change, they do small experiments to figure out their best working style. Eventually, they learn more about themselves, increase their productivity, and improve their quality of life. If we let it, this change in autonomy can be the key to sparking a much-needed revolution in how we work and live.

In recent years, many people went into remote work after spending decades at in-person office jobs. Unfortunately, this professional history comes with deeply ingrained habits that may hinder your experience working remotely. By becoming aware of the three big differences between the types of work, you can pinpoint where you've been going wrong. Stop holding yourself back and start unlocking the full benefits of working remotely.

TLDR

Understand the 3 big differences between remote and office work to unlock the full benefits of working remotely:

  1. Accountability (Internal drive vs Peer pressure)
  2. Judgment (Quality of work vs External measures)
  3. Autonomy (Freedom vs Limiting options)

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What did you think of this issue? What do you hope you'll see in the next one? Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!

Marissa
Founder, Remote Work Prep

P.S.