people working on laptops in a cafe
PHOTO: Tim Bish

Allowing employees, contractors or freelancers to work remotely is a hotly debated issue with passionate views on both sides. Agile software development presumes or demands collocated teams, yet many companies outsource engineering. Can we run a collocated team if one or more developers or QA might be in the Ukraine, India, Chile, Serbia or another country?

Is Collocation All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Companies aiming for collocated teams believe that teammates must sit together for work to be most efficient. If there is a question, someone can turn to their neighbor, ask and get an answer. But can’t we do that just as easily using modern technologies? From Slack to texting to Zoom video calls, it’s no longer difficult to reach another human who is online and get information or clarification. 

The fallacy of the collocation dream is that not everybody is immediately available. From endless meetings to lunch or other breaks, even your collocated teammate isn’t always sitting next to you.

Collocated teams share task boards and other physical representations of the work in progress. Modern online technologies can also replace our Post-It Notes and physical boards. Most project management software tools currently offer boards that contain moveable “cards.” These can be used identically to notes on the wall, minus the wasted paper.

Related Article: The Dual Rise of the Digital Workplace and Remote Work

Jobs Aren't Offering the Perks Workers Really Want

A 2013 survey by Robert Half asked 1,500 workers and 600 HR managers what employees wanted versus what their job offered them. Eighty-eight percent of workers wanted more flexible work schedules, 66 percent wanted a compressed workweek, and 55 percent wanted telecommuting.

With Forbes announcing that by 2020, 50 percent of the workforce will be remote and many will be freelancers, employers need to evolve with the times.

Related Article: Remote Working Isn't for Everyone

The Many Advantages of Remote Workers

  • Increase worker retention. If you might lose someone because of the commute, location, or something they’re juggling in their lives, a remote working situation could keep that worker. Worker retention is also beneficial to the company, who won’t lose that knowledge or spend time and money listing the job, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, etc.
  • Opens up candidate pool. Do you need to find the best mobile UX lead in Charlotte, NC? Or anywhere that someone is willing to work in the eastern US time zone?
  • Saves money on the office environment. From paper, pens, desks, phones, laptops, coffee and snacks to saving on the required amount of office space and the utilities to run that space, companies are reporting huge savings.
  • Lessens distractions. A well set up home office provides much fewer distractions than the office environment, improving productivity.
  • Eliminates lateness. Not having to travel can reduce workers’ chances of being involved in commuting-related accidents or delays.
  • Increase productivity. Remote employees generally work more and call in sick less.
  • Allows for better comfort and accommodation. An individually designed setup is better for all, especially for anybody who is differently-abled or has special needs.
  • Reduces worker stress. Less stress leads to improved worker satisfaction.

Related Article: Identifying the Missing Link in Remote Working Strategies

Debunking Remote Work Myths

Companies have reasons and excuses ready to go when workers request to work from home, completely work remotely, or need more flexible time. These include:

  • “It won’t be fair to the other people in the office.” How so? Will workers be jealous that others are being given flexible time? If you want fairness, offer it to 80 percent or more of your company’s roles.
  • “You’ll be taking care of your kids all day and won’t get any work done.” Sadly, this does sometimes happen but given the statistics on increased productivity when working from home, this is not the norm. Where appropriate expectations are set with managers, and where appropriate boundaries and childcare can be established, telecommuting workers with children can be as productive as any child-free worker.
  • “Our work environment is great! We have free potato chips, an espresso machine and foosball!” This seemed cool 20 years ago when workplaces never did things like this. Now, it’s taken for granted that your workplace will offer free coffee all day long. This is no longer something special or a perk, nor it is a substitute for the benefits of remote working for both the worker and the employer.
  • “I have to monitor my team and make sure they are getting things done.” This level of distrust will be felt by your subordinates whether they are sitting in your office or sitting at home, and could lead to more difficulty retaining workers. Many micromanagers have moved their style over to Slack and other tools, constantly checking on employees through live chat, which removes this as an excuse to make everybody come into the office.
  • “We tried it before and it didn’t work.” Technology is most likely much more advanced than when you last tried it. With virtual whiteboards, online task boards, live chat, video conferencing, collaboration tools that emulate Post-It Notes on a wall, and project management systems as well as faster internet connections in the average house or apartment, companies should give it another try. Select workers who are best with time management and have a good home office setup as your guinea pigs. Bonus points for any worker who has previously successfully worked remotely.
  • “We allow engineering to be remote, but not our creative workers. UX and visual designers need to come to the office.” Why? What makes them different from a developer or QA engineer? All workers must be communicative and collaborative, sharing their ideas and work with their own department, management, and cross-functional teams. All types of workers might, in an office setting, walk over to a white board with a colleague and flesh out an idea. However, this can be reproduced virtually with tech and tools.

Related Article: 5 Tips for Hiring Remote Developers

Give It (Another) Try

Remote work, telecommuting, working from home, and flex time are the future for tech jobs. It’s what employees, contractors, and freelancers often prefer. It offers companies financial savings and better worker retention while attracting the best candidates regardless of their geographic location.

In the future, remote work might be as expected as that coffee machine.