Working remotely is the dream of most people who are stuck in a cubical after a lengthy commute each morning and every evening.
After starting as an affiliate working from home my entire adult life, I started to grow the advertising network JuicyAds and hired contractors from regions far from home. Working remote is ingrained in our culture now.
For as much as I have touted remote working for many years sometimes, there are epic limitations and problems that can arise and not the type you might imagine.
As much as I would like to wake up and get together each Monday around the water cooler and talk about the weekend before heading off to our workstations, there’s something about being able to have your own schedule and your own hours. There’s immense value in being able to work while keeping in touch with your home life — like taking some time away from the desk when your kids need something.
It’s a situation ripe for abuse, which is why it takes a certain type of person to work remotely. It’s not for everyone. We have had people leave the team because they needed to be around people more (and I don’t blame them; it can be isolating) and others thrive because they can focus in a comfortable environment. Not to mention the higher productivity from more sleep, no commute and so on.
For as much as I have touted remote working for many years (and actually have worked for weeks and months remote from home around the world), sometimes there are epic limitations and problems that can arise and not the type you might imagine.
Around 10 years ago (it may have been Hurricane Felix in 2007) our sys admin and former hosting company was on reserve diesel-generated power, and we were just days from our servers going offline. Since then, just in the last five years, our services have continued to be significantly impacted by hurricanes, across three different states.
Chris (who handles various business development and client fulfillment) endured Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
“For us specifically, we had no power for three days, no Internet for four, some communities around us were flooded, a few were entirely devastated with flooding,” Chris recalled, mostly unaffected by the brunt of the storm while located just outside the evacuation area.
However, when Hurricane Sandy beat down the U.S.’ East Coast, our team member Bill, who handles the majority of our client support services, was taken offline. As a joke, we sent him a hurricane care package as the storm approached.
“Glow sticks, ramen soup, condoms, lube and a hockey mag,” Bill recalled, “There was a few other items I can’t remember but the condoms and lube stuck out.”
Our corporate culture’s sense of humor was slightly lost when the package didn’t arrive before the storm and didn’t show up until weeks later.
“Both [Sandy and Matthew] hit while I was with the company. Matthew was bad, but only lost power for two or three days. Sandy was incredibly destructive. I’ve never seen anything like that. Homes in my neighborhood just destroyed and no Internet for almost two weeks.”
It’s amazing how important not just food and power are but also how highly ranked the return of Internet is to people on the scale of normalcy. Even though the other branches of JuicyAds always come together to help out a struggling segment of the company, Bill was undeterred.
“I had to search for electricity so I could work here and there with my phone as a hotspot, it was impossible to work for a few days. It’s super-stressful knowing everyone else is working, and you really can’t do much of anything. At least that’s how I felt.”
However, Bill outlined a valuable benefit to having people working from different parts of the world. “I think it’s good that we are spread out, so when stuff like that happens, only one or two people are in the dark as opposed to the entire company. For [JuicyAds] I think it’s a bonus,” he said.
Considering the recent Hurricane Harvey, as well as Hurricance Irma, had our company been fully located there its possible our entire team could have been taken offline completely.
Instead, we read quite helplessly as Jimmy (“Wizzo”) was inundated in Houston. Normally, Jimmy handles the needs of our growing network of publishers. However, as the days under the force of Hurricane Harvey went on, Jimmy continued to post on Slack, the only central meeting point our team has.
“Right now, we are still good but it’s fucking insanely horrible for others. I never thought I would need a boat to rescue friends in my neighborhood.”
“Quick update: got out and hit a hotspot to get some emails and clients handled, we had [a] quick flicker earlier, so hoping [power will be] restored when I get back. I forwarded a few emails to some of you to help handle until I can get full Internet back. There’s about 30 people on this hotspot so it’s insanely slow and thanks again for all the well wishes and support from my Juicy family!”
“If someone ever would have told me that I would one day be sitting on my porch watching the sheriff’s dive team boat being launched in front of my house to go look for bodies in completely submerged houses in my neighborhood, while having U.S. Coast Guard helicopters in the air pulling people from their roofs, I would have told them they were crazy. Now, just the mental and emotional exhaustion of everything we’ve seen and experienced is setting in, but it’s sunny and life is returning to somewhat normal.”
With no requirement to work during these extreme circumstances, it’s clear that something else has ingrained in our company culture — the responsibility to get stuff done, no matter what. That, and that helping others don’t stop at just helping our clients.
When asked about photos documenting the disaster, Jimmy replied, “while evacuations were happening I was actually in the water helping, so I didn’t have my phone.”
“Working remote during a storm like Harvey is tough because as a remote contractor you have a certain sense that you should be working … you are at home but you are dealing with preparing, surviving and then the aftermath and cleanup,” he said. “Also, many times it’s losing power, losing internet, losing cell service — so you feel very disconnected not only from the world except for the immediate people around you, your job, clients and coworkers. You wonder if clients need your help but there’s nothing you can do for them.”
Wizzo reflected as his neighborhood was entering recovery mode.
He said: “It’s dry [now]. But just down where all the houses flooded there’s giant piles of debris in front of every one of them. It’s the most surreal event I’ve ever experienced.”
The data (because we always trust the data) shows that there has been no increase in the global number of hurricanes. Perhaps it’s more the fact that everyone has access to a more connected world and we all carry around a phone with a camera that makes people feel like so many things in our world are increasing in number or intensity.
Regardless, climate change or “extreme weather” or whatever you want to call it — if this is the way it’s going to be, we have to adapt to it occurring more and have ways to handle the disruption to business, no matter what industry it is.
Here are the three most important tips for keeping a remote workforce productive:
Communication is key. Find what works for you. We used to do a lot of emails back and forth, then Yammer until Microsoft acquired it and killed its best features. Now we use Slack (and it’s awesome).
Performance metrics of some kind will give you concrete data if expectations are being met, because you won’t be nearby to see them in action. It’s critical that both you and your workers know what they need to be doing to be considered productive. If it’s not being measured, it’s not getting done.
Some people just can’t do it. Unfortunately, this means hard decisions may need to be made (and quickly). Some just aren’t disciplined enough, are easily distracted or require supervision or need to work with others. However, most of those qualities make them poor hiring choices to begin with. Working remotely is a privilege, so if it doesn’t work out, you really need to bring them back in house (that is, if they’ll come back in!)
Juicy Jay is the CEO and founder of JuicyAds, the Sexy Advertising Network. You can follow Jay on Twitter @juicyads, visit JuicyAds.com, or like on Facebook.com/juicyads.