Remote Work Denial Is a Bad Look

When out-of-state recruiters email me about their awesome tech company, my first response is always something along the lines of, “You support remote work, right? I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.” When the response comes back as a flat denial of the possibility, suddenly that hot tech company seems very old-fashioned. And old-fashioned is not a good look in the tech industry. I always think to myself, “Really, you’re one of those? Well, that’s embarrassing.”

If “Agile” could be said to have traditional values, one of them might be colocation. I’ve come to view this emphasis as a bit na├»ve or idealistic in the present day.

As Keith Richards says in an article for InfoQ about distributed Agile:

Most of the agile body of knowledge that has been written is based on the utopian situation of one team, one ‘product owner’ and one location. Although this is still often the case, is it the exception or is it the rule? Having worked for well over a decade now on implementations of agile I find that multi-team, multi-location, multiple business area and even multi-time zone agile is more the norm.

If agile is to thrive over the next 10 years then it not only has to work in a distributed environment (i.e. an environment where we do not all work in the same place), but it has to work well in order to deliver the most value to an organization.

Mike Cohn, in his book Succeeding with Agile, expresses a similar thought:

A few years ago, collocated teams were the norm, and it was unusual for a team to be geographically distributed. By now, the reverse must be true. Personally, I’m now surprised when someone tells me that everyone on the team works in the same building.

Not a good look

You can think face-to-face, in-person communication is most efficient, and I won't argue with you, but it ultimately doesn't matter as the remote work trend will not be stopped.

When I see tech companies taking a hard-line stance against remote work, I can't help but think, “Imagine how dumb you're going to look in a few years.” I truly do not mean to offend anyone’s sensibilities with what I’m about to say and hope my point gets across regardless of your particular political beliefs, but remote work denial feels very much to me like people vehemently opposing the legalization of marijuana or same-sex marriage at this point--do you really think you're going to stem this tide? With all due respect to your beliefs, this is happening anyway.

Get on the boat now before your company has been too badly embarrassed in front of the people it wants to hire. Remote work is still a differentiator in this moment of time. What are you waiting for...your competitors to do it first? You want to clean up in the talent wars? Figure out how you're going to make remote work effective for your company and then shout it from the rooftops.

From the closing sentiments of Remote:

Life on the other side of the traditional office paradigm is simply too good for too many people. Progress on fundamental freedoms, like where to work, is largely cumulative. There might be setbacks here and there from poorly designed programs or misguided attempts at nostalgia, but they’ll be mere blips in the long run.

Between now and the remote work–dominated future, the debate is likely to get more intense and the battle lines more sharply drawn. Remote work has already progressed through the first two stages of Gandhi’s model for change: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We are squarely in the fighting stage—the toughest one—but it’s also the last one before you win.

Remote work is here, and it’s here to stay. The only question is whether you’ll be part of the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, or the laggards. The ship carrying the innovators has already sailed, but there are still plenty of vessels for the early adopters.


Anonymous said...


This is an argument about convenience. What I'm interested in is data, actual data, that supports the seems-to-be-accepted view that working remotely doesn't cost anything.

All my experience with remote workers tells me that it does cost something. Sometimes it costs a LOT. But that's anecdotal.

You want companies to support remote workers? Prove it doesn't cost anything. I suspect you can't.

L J Laubenheimer said...

When a person is trained properly to work remotely, with a remote team, good things happen.

But first, the person needs to learn how to work without the crutch of a bunch of people around telling him/her how to work.

Thing I see as essential to remote work:
* Common core hours - This is when teams are online to collaborate. It shouldn't be the whole day.
* Good chat and teleconference software - This also requires the habits and etiquette to use them. Slack and Skype are good tools, and there are lots of ok tools for screen sharing.
* Well communicated work tasks, goals, and processes. One thing you need to know is what needs done, why it needs done, and when it needs to be done by.
* Management that knows how to manage remotes - Lots of managers don't have a clue, which lets goof offs goof off.
* Periodic face time - Monthly get-togethers in a common place for a meeting. No, this is not for skull work, it is for socialization.
* Productivity and time management training - Remote workers need to have all the tools they can get to find the best way to manage their time and workflow. One size does not fit all.

Remote working saves more than the despised "open plan" on office space. While a certain core staff may need to be in the headquarters to handle physical stuff involved with the business, and form of electronic deliverable can be done remotely.

Anonymous said...

Remote workers tend to be more productive, usually by double digits, but tend to be the first to be laid off.

Kevin Brown said...

To the first poster, cost nothing? How about significantly less than a cubicle rat's cost? Infrastructure costs run approximately $9,000/yr per worker on average in the USA, and MUCH higher than that in large cities and the Bay Area.

When IBM instituted a serious telework program they slashed $50 million dollars from real estate the first year and their current estimate is nearly $1B in total. McKesson saves $2 million a year, Oracle saves $68 million a year in real estate costs.

Then there is a cost of productivity and availability. The Prairie Dogs stuck in cubicles will only be available 6.8 hours/day on average due to commutes, the PITA of being stuck in an office causing them to "ditch on the dot" and leave work ASAP.

So Meh to being a cubicle rat.

BTW, Grand Rapids is a very nice place. Just can't take the Winters though!

Bob the Builder said...

To compare the 1960's struggle for civil rights to remote work is a absolute joke. You are not fighting for a just caus ein anyway, its just lazyness..plain and simple