With all the hype surrounding remote working and the number of technological tools available to enable collaborative working, it would appear remote working is still a controversial and complicated topic, with a lot of people keen to list the cons first.
I outlined our experience of remote working at Azrights in my last blog, and want to explore this topic more here. With companies like IBM and Yahoo, both big tech companies (and it seems that a lot of tech companies love working remotely) reversing their positions on employees doing just that, what message does that spread to the rest of the business world, with regards this form of working?
As you’re probably aware, I am a huge advocate of working remotely. It has not only allowed me to fall in love with my business once again, but it has given me the gift of time and the freedom to get on with the task of running the business, rather than simply managing the office.
But does this time and freedom come at a detrimental cost to my business? I wanted to know why these large corporations had changed their minds on a practice that they once couldn’t get enough of.
Case study: IBM vs Dell
At the same time as IBM made its reversal announcement, Dell released a statement saying that they were wholeheartedly embracing remote working. Dell stated that they understood the value in having their employees save time by not commuting daily, and that the company itself would make tangible savings, to the tune of $12 million per year, by not having to pay to accommodate these workers during the working day. Dell has a goal to have 50% of their workforce work remotely by 2020.
For IBM however, who at one point had 40% of its workforce work remotely, the fact that employees were no longer in the same room, was deemed to be negatively affecting the company’s creative output.
IBM believe that having their employees back in the office, will lead to better collaboration and faster output. Which is surprising, considering the recent advancements in technology to enable remote working.
So for IBM, technological advancements may be incredible, but nothing compares to having actual human relationships, contact and discussions in person.
IBM’s reasoning echoed that of ex-Yahoo chief, Marissa Mayer. She firmly believed that employees working side by side was critical for the company moving forward. That impromptu meetings and hallway chats were what drove a company towards greatness, that they created opportunities for speed and quality, something that couldn’t be done when working remotely.
For IBM and Yahoo, having someone breathing over your shoulder would seem to drive productivity. This can’t be right.
The value of working remotely
But what about employee happiness?
Of course working remotely allows the company to save money on office rent, but can you seriously put a price on someone’s happiness and the value it adds? Forbes reported that workers were happier, felt more valued and were more productive when allowed to work remotely.
The secret they said was maintaining good communication and ensuring that employees have complete clarity as to what is expected from them.
So maybe for vast organisations like IBM and Yahoo, it proved too difficult to drive the sort of culture change that is needed for successful remote working to be effective. Reading David Heinermeler Hansson’s book Remote provides invaluable insights for anyone leading a smaller team who wants to create a successful culture of remote workers which actually enhances the business. I’ll be applying many of these ideas as we expand the team to include more remote workers.