If you have two banks of desks, you’re working remotely
Companies frequently shy away from working remotely, but most are closer to a distributed workforce than they realise.
A divided workforce faces many of the problems found with remote working.
As the company grows people and teams will inevitably become silos for some knowledge. The conventional – and inefficient – way around this is to ask Bob every time you need to know about Bob’s area. What happens when Bob is busy, or off sick?
Knowledge silos create single points of failure.
Working remotely relies on knowledge being well documented and easily accessible so that employees can answer their own questions without relying on a certain person being available.
Everyone benefits from great documentation whether working remotely or in the office, so there’s no reason not to do it.
Communication between teams
Now the teams are split, awareness of other teams’ activities will decrease. The usual way to improve this communication is to hold daily or weekly meetings which pull people away from what they’re doing.
An emailed status update that can be read at leisure provides the same result of keeping teams in the loop.
With this optimisation remote teams can be kept in the loop in exactly the same way as on-site teams.
People may feel like they’ll miss out on gossip and “corridor conversations” while working remotely. This is still true in the office. Conversations may only reach a single team. A great way to broaden communication lines is to use instant messaging like IRC, or HipChat / Campfire style tools for the less technical.
Once the teams are using IM it’s easy to integrate remote workers in to the banter.
Pro-tip: Always have an #alt room for funny links and pictures.
If an employee works in the office, they’re always available right? What about holidays? What about when they’re off sick, or in (shudder) meetings?
Office workers regularly face colleagues being unavailable, so what does it matter that remote workers may be unavailable at certain times of the day?
Better documentation and asynchronous communication (email, IM, issue trackers) help with this in the office. The problem and solutions are the same for remote workers.
Companies that require timesheets are tracking employee efficiency by the wrong metric. Just because people are in the office 9–5 doesn’t mean they’re working every single minute of the day, even if their timesheet says they are.
People will take quick breaks, check their mail and have a chat regardless of whether they’re in the office or at home.
Providing employees are motivated by the work – and a dogmatic time-tracker probably won’t help with that – they’ll perform just as well at home.
Related to efficiency, work doesn’t happen at work. Distractions should be minimised within the workplace so that employees can just get on with their work. Its easy to minimise these distractions by allowing people to get some alone-time by working from home.
Even if the cultural attitude is in favour of remote work, sometimes a lack of technical resource is blamed.
“The Cloud” offers more advanced and robust services for sharing documents and communication and is generally employed for ease of sharing internally.
Secure access lines are frequently needed to help run 24/7 businesses for support calls or when a large proportion of the company cannot get to the office (snow days!).
If this technology is required and used anyway, then remote working can be easily facilitated.
Assuming a remote workforce solves many problems faced by growing companies. It improves communication all around and gives employees greater freedom, particularly in conjunction with less rigid work hours. If you’re trying to solve these problems anyway, there’s little to fear about going remote.