Well, this is a very written about topic isn’t it? I wasn’t going to write about it, given the myriad of articles that already exist on the subject, but whilst watching the news today some extra ideas on it emerged and I thought, what the hell, I’ll add one of my one to the never ending list.
I’m not going for a pros and cons approach, those were already written plenty of times. I just wanted to add some ideas that I seldom see associated to the topic.
The less fantasised part of “work from anywhere”
What triggered today’s ideas had nothing to do with remote work, development or any of the usual stuff. I was simply watching the news and a piece on a less populous village started. It got me thinking.
Here in my country (and probably in others, but I’ll talk about what I know) we have a problem with the desertification of some (a lot?) of areas. Basically there are villages that have very few inhabitants, once upon a time there were people there, but with the lack of jobs and way to provide to oneself, people relocated to other parts of the country or other countries.
Another example of the issue, even larger areas come up with ideas like special offers for doctors that accept to move there (because they don’t have enough doctors for the people that live there) or subsidies and extra benefits for people to move there and have kids. In this case the problem might not even be the lack of jobs, but the fact that not being one of the country’s main areas, it’s lacking in other aspects.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem: there are less people wanting to live in such places because they lack some things, and some things are lacking because there’s not enough people to justify the investment.
So what do we end up with? Everybody goes to the same 3 or 4 areas (with one, Lisbon, being the main, unnecessarily overpopulated one), others that are also ok, but good luck finding some jobs there (like developer jobs), another bunch that can get around, almost absurdly living for tourism and finally the cases that I spoke above (I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but I think it’s close enough to pass the point across).
So when I talk about a fantasised part of “work from anywhere”, I’m thinking of the usual pros that are presented for remote work, you can work from anywhere, be a “digital nomad”, travel the world and work at the same time. Yes, that’s very cool, but there is another side to this “work from anywhere” thing, that I’d argue is more important than the usual hyped one: if you can work from anywhere, you don’t have to leave your home town. Maybe you really love your home town, maybe you have the people you care about there and you’re leaving just so you can get a job (or a better job for that matter).
And I’m not only talking about devs
Of course I’m not only talking about developers. I guess for those places I highlighted previously, keeping only developers there wasn’t going to make such a dent in the problem (and in the worst areas in terms of desertification, there wouldn’t even exist a decent internet connection to be able to work).
If more professions that can be performed remotely could follow this path, a country could be much more well balanced in terms of population and resources.
Maybe some years ago this would be achievable, but right now? Are you kidding?!
An example besides developers and jobs related to tech in general? Accountants. Do they really need to be that near all the clients? For what, an occasional meeting? And even then it could probably most of the times be through Skype. Of course sometimes it would require some traveling, but that versus full relocation, I think the decision is rather easy.
Yeah it isn’t for everything or everyone
For sure it isn’t possible in all cases, even if it seems so at first glance (maybe an accountant will read this and completely destroy what I’ve said above).
It also isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked to colleagues that don’t want to work remotely, as they feel they wouldn’t be able to focus at home or would miss being near other colleagues while working. It’s perfectly valid, I’m not advocating for #remoteallthethings, just that it should be more widely adopted.
Is relocation such an easy decision?
This is a question I’ve asked myself several times. For the cases I’ve made above, regarding the complete lack of jobs, I guess people really had no choice, but in other cases?
I’ve been contacted several times, mainly through LinkedIn, for that “awesome job opportunity in foo place” being foo place another country (most of the times in Europe, but sometimes outside). Why would the recruiters so often assume one would just drop everything/everyone and move elsewhere for a job? Of course it could happen, maybe you’ve dreamed of joining Google and it rings your doorbell, maybe you were thinking of relocating already and it’s just the push you needed, or maybe you really aren’t that attached to anything and are willing to relocate for an interesting opportunity (even on regular basis). All fine and dandy, but is it the norm? I would think not, but I may be wrong.
Culture playing a part
One aspect that greatly impacts all of these possibilities is the culture of course. In my country remote opportunities are very rare, or at least very well hidden, as it’s not often I come across one (for what it’s worth, even job offers for working directly for a company are hard to come by, with all the outsourcing companies that plague our internal IT market).
When I’m contacted for a new job opportunity, if it’s not for a company abroad, it’s almost always for a company in the center of Lisbon, that would require me to waste hours commuting daily. If in my reply I talk about remote, that part of the message is basically ignored. It is never an option. Have no idea why, maybe someday someone will enlighten me. The few times it is not ignored, the justification is not a very good one so… still waiting for that enlightenment. One of the latest ones was “we’re trying to build a culture and we need everyone to be in the office”… well, meh, a culture of people tired of the unnecessary commute?
Given I’m talking about recruiters, let me just drop one here for you: why don’t recruiters work remotely? It’s another wasted opportunity! Correct me if I’m wrong, but at least over here, the bulk of the job is going through social media (hmm… LinkedIn) researching potential candidates, preparing job posts, digging through resumes and probably some more things I’m not remembering right now. Why does this require a recruiter go through a 3 hour daily commute to be in the office?
Why would I like to go remote?
All this talk, but why would I like to go remote? Well, fortunately, not because of the first cases I’ve talked in the article. Even though I don’t live in central Lisbon, I live in a place with a large population and with all the infrastructure I could think of.
My motives are the usual ones, avoiding commutes if I was working for a local company, or even more interesting, work in a more culturally diverse international company without being required to drop everything and move abroad.
Regardless of my selfish motives, I think the previous arguments still hold true.
Some final notes (aka disclaimer)
I’ve intentionally not mentioned the usual pros and cons. Of course there will be cons that can prevent some of the arguments I’ve made from being achievable in some cases.
Also, just in case I came across like people only relocate out of necessity, I’m not implying that, there are of course people who relocate because they want, for a variety of reasons, I just don’t think it’s the majority.
Thanks for taking the time to read, cyaz!