As our world becomes more electronically connected and tools to facilitate global communication become commonplace, the questions around the value of remote work as a norm in Information Technology begin to evolve. The original questions swirled around connectivity and communication. With those questions for the most part resolved by technology, to work remotely or not becomes more of a question of teaming, communication and productivity.
Two years ago, after many years in the office cubicle environment with my team, I had the opportunity to relocate which necessitated working remotely from a home office in a different state. While the initial months were a personal struggle, I now find it to be wildly productive and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That being said, I suspect this arrangement is not for everyone or for every company. In my experience, a case can be made for either remote or not remote depending upon the situation and the persons involved.
The case for remote:
Back in the day, the cubicle farm provided a great teaming environment. With the advent of more geographically dispersed teams and others working remotely, the cubicle farm has become a cacophony of people on conference calls and can be very distracting.
In order to effectively work at home, a distinct office space with all of the necessary supplies and equipment is a must. With the home office firmly in place, the distraction of “walk up” traffic to one’s cubicle is eliminated. Electronic messaging and such still allows for this communication, but the interruptions can be controlled and productivity increases.
For teams that are well-established and high-performing, the change is almost transparent. Communication transitions fairly easily from face-to-face to electronic and the occasional office visit keeps the team together. My experience has shown me that after some time passes, the office visits are nice, but less critical to communication.
For individuals who are self-disciplined and self-motivated, remote work can greatly enhance productivity. While I don’t find it necessary to wear business attire in the home office, as some “experts” suggest, keeping regular business hours, not doing household chores while working and sticking to a normal office routine seem to best enhance productivity.
The case for the office:
For job roles where continuous collaboration is required, the office is probably a better bet. While the technology is in place to facilitate this sort of communication, there are just some roles or projects where sitting next to each other is invaluable.
For family situations where a dedicated office or numerous personal disruptions are unavoidable, a home-based arrangement is simply not going to work. No one wants to hear your dog, cat, kid, etc. on a regular basis. Keeping it professional is the key to making this proposition successful.
If one is not self-motivated enough to make the effort to stay and be connected or pick up projects as if in the office, then remote is not the right answer for that person. It is incumbent on the remote professional to go out of their way to establish clear and frequent communication, not their teammates.
Being the only remote worker when everyone else is on a centralized office does not rule out remote work, but is a bit more challenging. It takes special effort to remain engaged when everyone else can chat by the proverbial water cooler.
There is not a “one size fits all” answer to working remotely. For many technical roles, with the right person, the right team and the right situation, experienced high-performing workers can be retained regardless of location. However, it’s not as simple as just deciding to move the laptop to the home office.