Listen to Justin Jones discuss the future of work and working from home at TEDxRichland.
There’s a revolution taking place right now and it’s going on all around us: people are working from home and their productivity is not declining. Remote work is shattering the Iron Triangle and unlocking new value for workers, firms, and productivity.
First, some context.
For those of you who have not heard of remote working before perhaps have heard the terms telecommuting or teleworker; these terms refer to somebody who on occasion works from their house or perhaps has a remote office.
This article is intended to help introduce you to the concept of remote work and why it matters to you, your firm, the economy, and your future employability. I want to start off by telling you a little bit about my remote work working story going back to 2011.
I left my job to start living the remote working dream working for an IT consulting company that allowed remote workers. I would get up in the morning and stumble down the hallway and sit down at my desk. Then I would start coding. Then I would remember to put my pants on. It all felt like a dream. I talked to so many people on a daily basis who lived in other cities who had an hour or hour-and-a-half commute into the workplace. Often by the time they got to work they were so stressed out from the commute that they weren’t in the right headspace to be able to write code let alone you know engage with other people and be creative and collaborative. There’s an increasing number of obstacles to going into an office and an increasing amount of reduction in productivity that I see in offices. So I would like to never go back. My wife and I decided we wanted to move up to the Pacific Northwest. One of the great advantages that you have as a remote employee is that if you want to move somewhere else as long as your employer is okay with it, your job is not bound to where you live.
Given this freedom we decided to leave Oklahoma. So we decided we wanted to move up to the Pacific Northwest we looked at Seattle we looked at Portland we have family that lived in the Tri-Cities and when we came up here and visited this area we decided that we really liked it and this is the place that we wanted to be so we moved up to the Tri-Cities. In September 2012 we packed all of our boxes and all our belongings and shipped these items across the country. We started anew and purchased our dream house.
Within a month of the move we faced an unexpected change in plans.
I got a call really early in the morning from my boss which was a little bit odd because my boss usually didn’t call me and if you did call me it usually wasn’t in the morning and he said “I’m sorry to have to tell you this I know you just moved but the position that you’re in with the contract that you’ve been working on his been canceled. And so that means that your waiver that you had that allowed you to work remotely is no longer valid. We would love to keep you on as an employee but we don’t have any remote working positions available. We need you to move to an office where there’s some positions in Seattle or to move to San Francisco.
Naturally this caused a dilemma. We were in our dream house, after all. Me and my wife talked about it and we decided we loved our new home too much.
So I did what all of us do when we’re in this unfamiliar situation: I started looking around for work and making calls to friends and my network. But my network was not strong. I adjusted my resume and wrote cover letters. I went back to my roots and thought about this problem as an engineer. What would you do if there’s something that you desperately need that you can’t buy and doesn’t really exist that you don’t have access to? You build it.
I really needed a professional network to leverage to get a job, but didn’t have one. So I went back to LinkedIn and searched for somebody who worked at one of the organization’s I had applied to. Specifically I looked for middle management, as I thought this would increase my odds of getting a reply. Eventually I got feedback which led to interviews which led to a job offer. At long last I had my remote job and dream home.
In design theory there is a concept called The Iron Triangle. The most well-known iron triangle is the Iron Triangle of product development. The idea is that you have a triangle with three corners or three vertices and on each vertice is a different aspect of developing a product: speed, quality, and quantity. You can see the options and make choices based on your desired outcomes. For example, you can have cheap and fast or good; unfortunately you only get to pick two of these. We all know how this works: when you see products if it’s something that’s cheap and it was made very quickly and came to market rapidly, the product isn’t going to be particularly good. If you choose to make a product that’s good and try to bring it to Market quickly chances are it’s not very cheap.
The Iron Triangle of employment is as follows: you can control to a degree where you work, where you live, or the type of work you do. If you choose what you do for work which we all do – your choice then is to stay in the local community where you are in a location where this work can be done. If you control your location, you are limited to the type of roll or firm you can work for. Naturally the iron triangle affects our lifestyles in a very fundamental way that binds us to particular places or makes us forgo our human connections for pursuing a specific job. The promise of remote employment is that with remote employment on the table we can break this Iron Triangle, and that is hugely exciting.
My favorite example is the San Francisco Bay Area where some of my friends grew up. The area has a very broken job market. In some particular places software engineering is a skill set where there’s an increasingly large number of tech companies that need extremely technical people with very specific skill sets and there’s just not enough of those people to go around.
So what happens?
Naturally the salaries get higher and higher and higher or lower and lower quality individuals who happen to be in the local area get roles. So what that means is that a lot of these companies, especially startups, are struggling to find the talent to enable their businesses to succeed and they’re finally getting to the breaking point where they’re saying you know what what if instead of making somebody relocate to San Francisco we just open the role up to anybody, anywhere, who is capable of doing the work. This opens up new labor markets for talent, reduces housing and commercial property costs, and helps firms solve real business problems. By shattering the Iron Triangle market efficiencies can occur. And we are all better off as a result of this fundamental change.