Remote teams

Remote vs. In Office?

Amir Siddique Founder at Siddique Consultancy & i-invest

September 18th, 2016

Marissa Meyer from Yahoo! told remote employees to either quit or to work from an office space. Nowadays it seems with technology things and people are much closer than in the old days. What are your thoughts?

Steven T.A. Carter

September 18th, 2016

From a purely financial perspective, remote wins hands down. After people, the next largest expense for most companies not directly related to product (supply) is real estate. Want to start a swanky new startup in the Bay Area or NYC? Be ready to fork over the equivalent of 2 or 3 FTE developers or senior managers in rent every month for a 50 person company. If you need face to face time, find a place you can rent a small office for say 10 people and have people meet there when they need to. Not having to slog into an office from where you live is a benefit 9 days out of 10 in my experience. You have way less fruitless, unending meetings and you tend to get more done. This assumes of course that you have motivated, smart people and a good management team giving them all direction. 

Carole Bennett Full Stack IT Professional | Dallas Director, Women Who Code | Advisory Board, The Iron Yard Dallas

September 19th, 2016

Another way to look at it is this;

45-minute commute x 2 per day = 1.5 hours
x 5 per week = 7.5 hours
x 50 weeks per year = 375 hours
/ 40 = 9.375 work-weeks per year

That's over 2 work-months of productivity that's lost per worker per year; not counting the additional costs of transportation, higher risk of lost time due to accidents, higher stress levels and decreased focus. Are you prepared to compensate a highly skilled worker for that 2+ months of productivity? Does the benefit of an in-person environment offset that cost for an entire team?

GTM, Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Basecamp - these are all tools that can mitigate the issues encountered in remote teams. Whiteboard sessions? There are Slack plug-ins that can support that, as well as a myriad of real-time collaborative tools (I'm very fond of LucidChart, for example, for diagramming and whiteboarding). I've participated in geo-dispersed retrospectives and planning sessions; the biggest downside to that is when multiple people are using a single microphone, and that's an easy situation to remedy. 

So - factor in these costs when considering onsite vs. remote; if you can use full-time remote to lower your start-up costs (and draw in superior talent), without losing productivity, I'd highly recommend that approach for getting your business off to a profitable start.

Brandi Suttles

September 20th, 2016

Keep in mind. Melissa Meyer demanded all employees work onsite while she had a nursery constructed next to her office. As the CEO that a perk she is entitled to, but also means she got to turn a blind eye to reality of a harsh commute and the ways teams can collaborate with modern tech. There is benefit to the team collaborating in-person, but does it have to be daily. Try a mixed model. I worked a startup with no flexibility on work structure (no remote, ever) and all it did was breed resentment from the team. The decision was based on fears of the team being ineffective, rather than how they actually worked in a remote setting.

Gary Gitelson VP of Engineering at mPerpetuo, Inc.

September 20th, 2016

I have been a remote employee, a manager of remote employees, and a leader of large distributed teams. The answer depends largely on the work, and on the team.

For individuals who are remote, the key is over-communication. It is too easy to be "out of sight, out of mind". If the team forgets you exist, you might as well not exist. To some degree, it is on the employees to keep themselves engaged and part of the team. It is also the job of the leader to engage them, and to foster communications. There are great tools now for distributed teams, and there are lots of ways to keep a team collaborating even when many or all of them are remote.

It also depends on the work. It is often better to carve off large chunks of work for a remote team or a remote individual, rather than having them tightly integrating with a team over very small deliverables. This also means that it depends on the phase of the project. Often, it is hard early on, during the design phase when things are very fluid. But once people are "heads down", it becomes easier. As has been mentioned, many local employees are sitting in headphones at their desk anyway, and they can be doing so remotely just as easily.

Every team functions differently, and every project is different. If you can make it work with remote employees, they often appreciate the flexibility, and many will work harder as a consequence. But there are overheads to distributed communication, and in some projects, or with some people or teams, the overheads outweigh the benefits. It is a balancing act that ultimately, you have to judge for yourself for each situation individually.

David Crooke Serial entrepreneur and CTO

September 18th, 2016

I very much prefer to have the team close where we can whiteboard. There is no substitute for in person interaction both in efficiency and in the team building aspect. Google has also gone to single site teams. Anyone who has worked with development can tell you that sharing a project between offshore and USA that requires close collaboration will fail. If you can split the project into discrete pieces then put those in different spots.

Zhenya Rozinskiy Partner at Agile Fuel

September 18th, 2016

Your initial inclination might be that it's easier and better to put everyone in the same room because collaboration is easier that way. You may also know many projects that fail because teams are distributed or people are remote. 

Being a leader of colocated team is a different sport from one where you are in charge of a distributed team. The rules are different. You need to focus on different soft skills, you need to set different priorities and establish different rules. As a leader, you need to give people different guidance when they are local vs distributed.

There are many tools today that allow you to make distributed collaboration easy and to get the best out of your teams. As a leader your goal is to build the best team there is and don't limit yourself by one's location. 

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

September 19th, 2016

I'll add this to this conversation.

Getting someone to work on site is costly, specially for an startup. What I mean is, if you demand people to come to the office they should be formally employees.

Put it in another way: I've seen bright people willing to work, as long as it is not on site (i.e. able to work remotely), and I have seen startup difficulties of capturing talent some one because they don't have a site.

My opinion is, the best way to begin of a remote team and only move to local team when the business allows you to do it, not before.

Best of lucks!

Faisal Memon iOS Department Technical Lead at Citrix ShareFile Quick Edit

September 18th, 2016

If you are a new leader, getting people in the office to build rapport, trust, and develop a shared vision is important as Meyer had recently joined before giving the edict.  At yahoo there was suspicion that people whilst remote were not 100% committed on their tasks (this is debatable).

Nowadays, skills are "deeper" in that there are more specialities.  That means different perspectives amongst differently skilled staff collaborating to a goal.  So for that, you have more need for face-to-face discussions and consensus building.  Technology is more leveraged now, so smaller teams need to tackle jobs previously done by an extended team.  So the benefits of close working are now more amplified than before.

Also with noise cancelling headphones, quiet rooms/focussed pods, etc. you can be both present and isolated as needed.

Collaboration tools on the other hand have become excellent.  With VOIP, desktop/screen/mouse+keyboard sharing, you are virtually sitting next to the other person.  (GotoMeeting for example).  This pulls things the other way in favour of remote working.

So whilst it may appear we're going back to the old days, there are complex forces pulling in both directions, and overall I think focussed hot spots seen in the high tech industry will only grow stronger in the medium term.

Rob Mitchell Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce

September 19th, 2016

I've done both remote/telecommute and on-sight with teams that are a mixture of domestic (here in USA) and offshore. There are pro's and con's to both situations and, unfortunately, the real answer is ... it depends.

As others have pointed out, many domestic offices involve employees with headphones and quiet rooms and, yes, core business hours, but there's usually so many extenuating circumstances that in any given week, the proverbial "I have to leave at 'X' o'clock for 'Y' appointment" will alway happen in life and you're just adding stress for the commute around it.

My $0.02 is try to find a balance that works for everyone. Its not easy, but in the end, everyone will sacrifice as much as they can at various times for a given project at different phases. Usually. As a leader, there is much you can do to help employees see and follow your vision. As a follower, you have every right to question and nit-pick until either you buy into the vision or find a different job that makes you more comfortable. 

John II Entrepreneur - Technologist - Software Architect. The Code Wookie is focused on helping people get the most out of tech.

September 19th, 2016

I have found the answer to most question to this or that is yes. The key here, as mentioned before is balance. In an Agile/ScrumI shop, I found that having people on site for (1) Sprint Planning, (2) Back Log Review, and (3) Retrospective is key as these are the times face to face communication is most needed. It also helped build team work. Beyond that, the use of tool such as Slack, Google Hangouts, and other interactive tools allowed people to collaborate effectively. I do not believe this would be the case without the face to face.

I you have a geo diverse team that cannot do this on a regular basis, pulling the team together (or at least key representatives) face to face to kick off efforts, and periodic reviews / deep dives improves communication. With electronic communication, you can too often forget the people on the other end are in fact people. Video also helps with this.