The COVID-19 crisis, while disrupting the global world unlike anything before, has opened up an unexpected window to remote work. Nearly all major1tech2 giants3 have4 allowed their workers to do home office. Many people are considering this as a sign of the advent of Work 2.0, where physical offices spaces will be irrelevant, and people can work from their cozy dens. There are however significant challenges in adoption of generalized remote work and things will be back as usual once the COVID-19 ends.
The challenges surrounding remote work outweigh it’s promises. Not every company is a FAANG, and companies will struggle to transition given their limited resources.
The most significant hurdle in hiring a global remote team is regulation. Labor regulations are wildly different amongst countries, and could be cumbersome for some companies. Some major hurdles include:
Payroll taxes, retirement bonuses: Germany has rentenversicherung, sozialversicherung whereas USA has 401k contributions. Can a German company afford to setup payroll taxes for a remote workers hired from India, Chile or US? Or will it lead to worker abuse through laissez-faire abuse through freelance contracts?
Notice periods: Europeans (on average) have 3 months notice period while US Americans have 2 weeks. How would a US company deal with it? On top of that, several countries have protection against unlawful termination, and how can a Slovakian employee avail that benefit against a German company?
IP protection: It’s hard to protect IP if employees are not in the same jurisdiction. A company operation from Czechia would find it hard to settle trade disputes with a remote worker from South Africa. Another example is of TISAX compliance that is required for specialized hardware projects for Automotive industries. Remote work fails to make a dent in this situation.
Hardware can’t remote
Patio11’s law5 states that the economy is much bigger than you think. There are companies which have widely different business models and they often have a hardware related product. My current project is an IoT device that talks to an iPad app. The hardware team needs specialized tools to work on the IoT device, and these tools can’t be moved to home office. Remote work is a strict no-no for such products.
Swim against the tide
The biggest hurdle employees face in remote/home offices is lack of focus and direction. Humans have evolved over thousands of years to collaborate based on interpersonal cues, and a video call simply does not have the same effect. Humans need feedback and constructive communication whereas isolation kills the spirit. People who are new to remote work often feel rudderless because self discipline is hard when there’s no structure. I’m doing remote work on-and-off since 2018, and it took me a lot of discipline to get productive. The simple fact is that remote work is not natural, and not suited for all work streams in a typical company. Add to it the fact that many families simply don’t have space to work from home, and on top of that there might be kids around.
Remote work might be one of the few positive outcomes of the COVID-19 crisis but unless we tend to it carefully, we’ll end up creating a unhappy and unproductive workspace.
4490326 @ 2020-11-09