I run a company where we all work remotely, and it works very well for us, so I’m always interested in reading opinion pieces on the subject, such as: Connected But Isolated: The Real Problem with Working Remotely.
Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has recently bought a backlash against working from home into the spotlight, and it’s no secret that other companies have a hard time making it work. One of the things I often think about is why it works so well for us, given that larger companies with larger budgets to throw at tools and technology find it hard to make it viable. This snippet gives me a clue:
A conversation with a remote worker begins asynchronously (usually in an email) and can take minutes, hours or even days to respond. If that conversation is better had synchronously (e.g. on a conference call), a meeting or call needs to be scheduled—which takes more time and asynchronous conversations to set up.
We use persistent text based chat rooms running on our IRC server as a key part of our work day. Where possible, everyone’s in IRC when working (and often, even when not) so it’s easy to ping someone and get a quick response as to where they are. The constant chat (work related and otherwise) and things such as a quick “bbl, lunch” line makes it easy to avoid the issue mentioned above, where you don’t know if a worker is actually working today, whether they’re busy, or busy ignoring you. Add this voice/video tools when needed, on top of in person social events, and you’ve gone a long way to avoiding many of the negatives associated with remote working.
It also makes a big difference that in our case everyone is a remote worker. When you have 90% of a workforce in an office, they can feel resentment of the 10% that’s sitting at home wearing no pants sipping on a beer while not responding to your email – that resentment has potential to inflate the perception of the time it takes to get a response from a remote worker.
IRC is such a simple technology, and while it might not work for every time, it helps give us some good social aspects to our work days and allows us to quickly collaborate then needed, while still allowing us to benefit from the positives of working from home (i.e. no pants needed! Wohooo!).