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Should Tech Companies Employ Remote Workers?
Are remote workers a good investment? This is, not surprisingly (given the times we live in), a burning question that affects the entire workforce and economy to some extent. In recent years remote workforces have become a staple in the tech sector, yet there are signs of blowback as companies like Yahoo! decide to reel in remote workers or give them the axe. There is something to be said for seeing people face to face; it’s why Steve Jobs designed Pixar’s HQ building for impromptu bump-ins. At the same time, there is a lot to be said for remote workers. Jason Fried of 37signals is a big proponent Here to help you make up your mind on the subject is the DailyTekk Think Tank. As you’re about to discover, remote workers are generally smiled upon by the panel.
Yes, But It Takes an Investment
Companies should definitely employ remote workers if they’re prepared to make the investment of time, culture, and resources. Remote employees—those who don’t report daily to a corporate office—still require management, attention, staff development, and regular face time with their colleagues. They come with the same amount of overhead and expenses, just different types. But the benefits far outweigh the costs (StackExchange’s David Fullerton has a great article in Fast Company on that very topic this week.
Over 35% of Mozilla’s global workforce—full and part-time employees, contractors, etc—are what we affectionately call “remoties.” And that’s before I count the thousands of volunteers who aren’t even employed by us that contribute every day.
Remoties often struggle to feel connected to those of us who work in offices, and we invest a lot into travel for workweeks, team building, and face time to counteract it. But we also get to hire the best people, no matter where they are and what life circumstance are keeping them in their current location. To stay effective and cohesive, we adapted our culture. Today we flow seamlessly in and out of chat rooms, video conferences, and collaborative document editors to work with people around the world. I have staff in five timezones who I speak with daily. It’s not an event—it’s just how we work. Some days I wonder why I bother going to my office, when I spend most of it on a video chat with my team.
This model isn’t for everyone, and we’re not perfect at it either. I won’t judge those who think it’s organizationally not a fit, who aren’t prepared for the investment, or who feel it’s not right for their strategy. And besides: they’re leaving some incredibly talented people out of their hiring pool as a result— more for the rest of us.
YES! This Is The 21st Century
My answer ia a big YES! This is the 21st century and technology allows us to break free from the limitations of physical location to work across geographical boundaries and time zones. Marissa Mayer’s recent edict that prohibits remote working arrangements will prove to be a short sighted attempt to motivate her employees and will fail miserably.
The key with all this is flexibility. While working from a remote location is not always the best arrangement in all situations; without that option, the organization will miss out on greatly enlarging their pool of possible contractors and employees who may not reside in a near-by physical location and either not willing or able to travel to a central office to perform their work tasks. I love Jason Fried’s stance and philosophy about business and Melissa Meyer could stand to learn a thing or two from him.
It’s the results of the work that matter. If I were Marissa Mayer, I could care less where and when that work was performed, as long as it met company objectives and expectations and preferably exceeded them. Sure, it’s always good practice to schedule time when your team can meet and collaborate in person which helps deepen working relationaships more than remote interaction can. A balanced approach tends to work best. Instead of dictating how your staff has to work, senior leaders should be encouraging ownership of work and make it their prioirty to build trust with their staff. Only then will the entire organization truly succeed.
Yes, How Else Would They Get Work Done?!
If they don’t, how else are they going to get anything done? I don’t know about you, but most of my meaningful work gets done between 5 to 9, not 9 to 5. I’m with Jason Fried on this. While all of our employees come in to the office everyday, when real work needs to get done, it’s GTFO of the office time. As Fried has said, developers and designers often need long, uninterrupted periods of time to get meaningful work done.
When someone taps you on the shoulder or starts a conversation across from you, it rips you away from that place you were. That place where time stands still and you have absolute clarity about what needs to get done. That place where you are under the hypnotic suggestion of the productivity fairy. That place where your brain rewards you with a constant drip of dopamine as you see the results of what you’re creating. A place that, if allowed to stay there, will add more value to the company in 4 hours than a typical 40-hour work week with distractions, interruptions, meetings and manager inquisition.
Absolutely, Most Companies Should
Absolutely, most companies should be open to allowing people to work remotely. Studies have shown that remote workers are more productive, and companies and employees save time and money by being flexible.
Less office space means less overhead for management, and eliminating or reducing the commute saves employees gas, time and, money that would otherwise be spent on lunches out or dry cleaning.
Unless the person’s job is to be physically present, for instance a hostess or greeter, then the location in which someone does their work has very little impact on productivity. In my personal experience, working in a large office with cubicles can, at times, be very counter-productive. It can be challenging to tune out all of the ambient noise, snippets of conversation, and environmental distractions long enough to focus on mentally demanding tasks. The fact is, I wind up doing work that requires concentration off-site, during the two days per week I work remotely.
Companies should also consider how a remote work policy benefits them in terms of retention. Studies have consistently shown that more than 80% of employees would like the opportunity to work remotely, which means companies that are willing to be flexible can have their pick of top prospects.
They’re also going to save money because they won’t lose people who need to relocate due to their spouse’s work arrangement, family demands, or other circumstances. Advertising, interviewing, and training just one new employee can cost upwards of $18,000, so the cost savings should be enough to persuade most fiscally minded managers to consider allowing remote work.
The benefits don’t end there, either. Think of how many bright, talented women leave their jobs after having babies because childcare is prohibitively expensive and their office situation isn’t flexible. If they could shift their hours and work remotely, they could continue to contribute to their employer’s bottom line, and maintain the professional skills that will keep their career on track.
Of course, if management has permitted remote work and employees have missed deadlines or the client experience has suffered, then it makes sense to reexamine the policy, but it really should be a case-by-case analysis, rather than a blanket rule. I’m sure the much maligned Yahoo CEO had her reasons for pulling the plug on the company’s remote work program, but most companies could benefit from a more measured approach.
Kerry O’Shea Gorgone (@KerryGorgone) is an attorney, new media specialist, and educator teaching Internet marketing at Full Sail University in Florida.
It Depends, But It Can Save Time and Money
The decision to employ a remote workforce varies on the position that person holds, and obviously this will range from department to department. There will always be jobs that require the employee to be physically present, whether it be for collaborating with a team or managing other employees. The key to making a remote workforce successful, no matter how many members of your company work at home, is hiring the right employees. Make sure they have the self-discipline to work from home and the ability to manage their own time to make deadlines as assigned. Also look at promoting the most qualified of the team to management, then provide them with the proper training to lead the team—this will give them the tools to run your company efficiently.
Just think about the amount of time and money that employees save by being able to work remotely. There are so many parents who have been able to benefit from this business practice. Having a remote workforce also makes the company more environmental friendly, and therefore our world a better place.
I have a wonderful editor who works remotely from the other side of the country. We have a weekly meeting where I discuss my expectations with her and assign project due dates. It works beautifully for us, even with a three-hour time difference.
The corporate world, of course, can be different. Take stock of how many times a week you truly need to speak to each employee in person, rather than by email, telephone or Skype. Think about how often you use those three modes of communication when the person is in the office nearby! Use this information to create a meeting schedule and have your employee come in for face-to-face time accordingly. If projects or workload means that they need to be in-office for a full day or more, then by all means implement it—but don’t do it for the sake of doing it. There’s nothing worse than hearing from a manager: “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Technology is opening up new and wonderful ways to collaborate, team up and accomplish goals, both personally and professionally, in this day and age.
In business, kindness and leadership goes a lot further towards achieving success than showing your employees a lack of trust and respect. Collaborate, share, respect, trust, grow and learn from your team. However you end up configuring your workforce, a healthy working environment will foster creativity and produce results in any field.
Absolutely; Remote Workers Are Here to Stay
Remote workers absolutely have a place in today’s tech landscape and we are here to stay, just not on Team Yahoo, unfortunately. Much of today’s online content comes from professionals who work from home, including me.
Just like working in an office, there are pros and cons to working from home.
Here are the benefits I’ve personally experience from telecommuting every day:
- More time with my three kids
- Zero childcare expenses
- Zero commute
- Zero fuel (and other car-related) expenses
- Zero office politics
- Zero dress code (yes to T-shirts and yoga pants!)
- Flexible work hours
- Loneliness (zero face-to-face interaction with coworkers, no friendly water-cooler talk) Full disclosure: I rent a desk in a nearby co-workspace office to alleviate this, but seldom use it.
- Putting in too many hours and overworking (working from home makes it easy and quite tempting to work anytime, outside of normal working hours, especially in the middle of the night and even during family meals, at times)
- Lack of productive continuity (due to stopping and starting often to pick up kids from school, take them to extracurricular activities and doctor’s appointments, along with a flurry of household and other family-related responsibilities, including meal prep and laundry)
- Constan pressure of having to be entirely self-motivated and self-disciplined (there’s no client or boss looking over your shoulder, making sure you are doing what you have committed to do)
Working from home gives me the flexibility to forge ahead in my journalism and children’s streaming TV careers AND be an active, involved mom in my three children’s lives. Telecommuting enables me to balance my work and family goals. But the right balance is extremely difficult to come by. I’m constantly battling to stay focused and on-task. Telecommuting certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s absolutely necessary for me, at least until my kids are grown and off at college.
Kim Lachance Shandrow (@lashandrow) is a Los Angeles-based tech journalist who specializes in writing about social media marketing, startups, smartphones, streaming TV, mobile apps and green technology.