I’ve finally thrown in the towel on full time “remote workers”… they’re just not as productive as being in the same office.
Over the past 3 years at BrightGauge I’ve tried my hardest to implement the philosophy that full time remote work is just as good as being in an office full time. We hired a team out of San Francisco (some that were remote themselves) while I was full time in Miami, we’ve hired contractors from all over the world, and we’ve tried local contractors working remotely. None of these team members were anywhere near as productive and collaborative as we are in the office now in Coral Gables, FL.
We have always followed the philosophies of one of my favorite software companies, Basecamp. They wrote a book on the amazingness of Remote Work and essentially said that with a strong team and the right communication tools, teams can work from anywhere just as well as they do physically together (and perhaps even better since it minimizes office distractions). Even though they sell the tools to facilitate remote work, I felt their strong philosophy was not just a clever sales tactic. Maybe I had blinders on!
It first hit me that I could be wrong when reading the Steve Jobs biography back in early 2013. There was a whole section on his belief that creativity and the best type of collaboration happens when people are in the same location and can almost accidentally bump into each other. He built offices around this belief so that even different departments were likely to see each other during lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, etc. From the article I quoted, here is what he said:
“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
The reason remote work was so attractive to me early on was (1) offices can be extremely unproductive with distracting people and wasteful meetings and (2) its often hard to find talent in your local area.
Though logical and attractive reasons, they both proved to be just plain wrong. Offices can be distracting but thats the fault of leadership to let the culture go off course. Meetings are controlled by leadership as well. They can be very wasteful but the right meetings are extremely important and essential to progress for teams.
Regarding talent, my new belief is that talent is EVERYWHERE. Leaders just have to be patient and find the right fit for their team. In many cases as well I believe the right office culture can make a less talented person go beyond their capabilities and be “great”. I would love to call this effect the “LeBron Effect”. LeBron James, star NBA player, makes everyone around him play like an all star because he sets his teammates up for success. That’s the beauty of teamwork and collaboration.
Ultimately, though, for the right person in a good role a remote work situation can work and we do have winning examples of this at our other companies. These are the exceptions to the rule (there are always exceptions). From my experience, these few remote workers have three traits in common: (1) They communicate extremely well via email (response times are very fast), (2) they keep up with the office hours of headquarters, and (3) they care immensely about the company.
We’ve found that instead of allowing full time remote work, that we promote flexible work schedules and remote days. This year we’ve even tested out having team members work abroad for a few weeks to give true flexibility and to allow anyone to “shake things up”.
Ultimately, though, we love it when everyone is in the office working hard and working together. Nothing is better for building camaraderie and building culture than everyone being together. Steve Jobs was and still is right!