Sponsored By Aspose - File Format APIs for .NET

Aspose are the market leader of .NET APIs for file business formats – natively work with DOCX, XLSX, PPT, PDF, MSG, MPP, images formats and many more!

Fighting the remote mindset

I’ve had not one, but two people say something along these lines to me in the last twenty-four hours: The promise of the 90s of all work being done remotely didn’t really come to pass.

One of those people, Casey Charlton, explains further in an e-mail:deckchair

"the reality is I would probably get none [remote contracts] – even for clients I have worked for a few times and implicitly trust me and need my skill level"

And the following frustratingly contradictory remark later on:

"In the UK where petrol is extortionately expensive, cars are massively overpriced, and public transport is a very expensive joke, there isn’t any perceptible move towards [remote contracts]. […] Most of the time they would rather have someone with half the skill who would be in the office."

I’ve come across the same mindset in North America and as someone who prides himself in delivering efficiency in software, it’s maddening knowing that efficiencies can be gained just in the logistics.

Casey mentions some benefits for the people who work remotely but there are measurable benefits for the employers as well. No need for office space is an obvious one. Most of the time, they don’t need to provide a phone or a computer (except when you have to VPN in, connect to Citrix, then Terminal Service into a box in the office). Plus, I would happily compare my productivity both locally and remotely when you factor in interruptions (for example, I don’t hold fire drills at home nearly as often as the average office building) and the fact that, since I don’t work in the downtown core, I’m generally more efficient about scheduling time to run errands (i.e. I don’t).

And yet, still this stigma exists that people who work remotely aren’t as productive as their local counterparts. I would love to see some empirical evidence to study this because I can’t imagine my personal experience is that different than the norm.

To me, the rationale behind the practice is the same as the one that leads to WebSense (sidenote: the Hillbilly’s old home was deemed inappropriate at my last POB) and companies monitoring employees’ IM and internet usage. And as I lamented in a previous post on that subject, it gives the impression that companies simply do not trust their hiring process.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly in my case because not only do I live in the caribbean but I have a nasty habit of assuming people have a sense of humour when I say things like, "I can’t check in just yet, I got sand all over my keyboard." People don’t like to feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

But the thing is: I have tasks to complete just like anyone else. My work is available for scrutiny at any time. I’m held to the exact same schedule as the rest of the team. If I’m not pulling my weight, I expect to be canned plain and simple. And absolutely none of that is any different whether you work in the office, at your home in the suburbs, or across two time zones.

I have been lucky enough to work at three contracts where I performed all, or at least the bulk of the work from home. In every case, my performance was the same or better than it was when I worked onsite. And as far as I know, the clients were happy with the quality of my work and two of them have expressed an interest in working with me again. In fact, in early talks with a someone to follow-up on one of them on another project, I asked if it would be okay for me to visit my family in Canada on occasion and do my work from there. His response: "You can do the work from Mars for all I care. You know what needs to be done."

Another part of the mentality is that there’s a general sense that it would be difficult to manage remote workers logistically. It’s a problem people just don’t want to have to deal with. "Oh, this guy wants to work remotely? Well, we’re not set up for that, let’s just find someone locally" and they don’t even bother taking a look. There is a bit of truth to that but in this day and age, any such difficulties are easily overcome. Especially if you are dealing with someone who has done it before.

Still, there is a bit of truth to that argument. It’s just one more thing that might go wrong so it’s best just to go with someone where you have more control over their internet connection during work hours.

But the fact remains, there are concrete cost savings to be had with the practise. It baffles me why people aren’t willing to at least consider it on a larger scale than they have.

Kyle the Lackadaisical

This entry was posted in Working Remotely. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/kyle.baley Kyle Baley

    Yes, well let’s not open that discussion up in a technical blog. Geographically, you’re correct. It’s not part of the Caribbean Plate. Politically and culturally, it is a Caribbean country. According to most call centres, it’s part of Latin America.

    And if you’re making a satiric comment on the Bahamian experience vs. other Caribbean countries, I can’t comment as I’ve never visited another one.

  • http://mark@hotmail.com mark

    The Bahamas ain’t the Caribbean.

  • http://blog.goinsane.co.uk Casey

    There are certainly issues with remote workers…

    I would say from experience that remote working makes *me* more productive, but that is becase I am usually the one other people tend to come to for advice and help. For those people I am sure it makes them less productive, so they have to wait for me to come into the office, or deal with some less useful medium like email or telephone.

    Remote working also makes me more productive as I tend to get into a flow, where I churn out code at a rapid rate, and even someone asking me if I wanta coffee can break that – let alone an analyst asking for input on some complicated story.

    For Agile, I would say that remote working certainly is very difficult – I prefer face to face stand up meetings, and they really should be daily. Pair programming (whether official or just ‘as it happens’) is also virtually impossible remotely.

    I guess … when I am the employee I prefer to remote work (which benefits me and my employer) as very rarely do I work in a real Agile team … when I am the employer I don’t want remote workers because I will be using far more Agile processes and need people to see each other.

  • Johan

    Where is the agile thought in this?

  • http://eric@ericswann.org Eric Swann

    I have the option to work from home a bit and in fact did this week due to physical difficulties. I enjoyed having that freedom. But I want to point out that you also miss a lot of “organic learning”. At work I discover a lot of factoids and domain knowledge through informal conversations with my customers and teammates, and sometimes just overhearing others! I don’t get this at home, even though I might be able to crank out more “solo work”. I think it depends on your perspective about what’s more important to your job, communications/learning/teamwork, or pure production. It really does depend on the job. I’ve also split a project with an India team and another with a Costa Rica team and let me tell you those were a lot more difficult than having everybody on sight. We did a virtual standups every day, but on self-organizing projects with high expectations, this makes understanding others and their ideas very tough sometimes. IM and other things help but it’s hard to replicate face time. Hopefully we will have better technology to do so easily very soon!

  • http://www.vinull.com Michael C. Neel

    Remote workers (and by this I mean not located in the same area – working from home, yet 20 minutes from the office isn’t the same thing) are very poor at collaboration. The daily interaction among team members, talking code, new methods, design options, etc is lost when your developers are remote. As a developer, I’ll take a single contact as a remote developer, but not as an employee where I’m part of a team instead of a hired gun. Is this trade off worth it I guess depends on the company and what the developers are working on.

  • http://www.theruntime.com Eric Wise

    I’d take a 5% paycut to work at home 4 days a week. I do believe you need face time once in a while especially in the planning and review phases.

  • http://codebetter.com/blogs/kyle.baley Kyle Baley

    @Jimmy: You’re absolutely right. There are a *lot* of challenges to overcome. I started to include some but that will wait for another post when this one has had some time to settle.

  • http://sharpbites.blogspot.com alberto

    “I can’t check in just yet, I got sand all over my keyboard.”
    Haha, that’s so hillarious! xD

    I am on my way to try to do my after-lunch hours remotely.

  • http://grabbagoft.blogspot.com Jimmy Bogard

    For one thing, remote team members that aren’t in the same time zone +/- 1 hour, are very difficult to work with. We have a team 12 hours on the other side of the globe, and we waste a lot of time with detailed emails going back and forth. Conference calls at 6AM are not very fun, either.

    Even with remote team members in a close time zone, we noticed that 1) they missed out on important human conversations that led to 2) them not really being part of the team. We kinda strive for the XP-style Whole Team, which can be very difficult to make work with remotely.

  • http://www.haveyougotwoods.com Dave Woods

    It would be good to find some evidence on efficiency. I feel that I have worked way more efficiently from home without the 1 hour coffee breaks and 2 hour lunches that happen when I go into the office. Not to mention the reduced numbers of meetings and other interruptions I attend when working from home.

    Another thing is that there can be some cost savings with hiring remote workers out of town. If your company is in a city with a high cost of living you can save some more money by hiring someone in a city with a lower cost of living. Hiring someone in a cheaper city should yield a cheaper rate. But don’t forget to factor in the quality of the developer too!