Is remote work, too remote?

So it’s a little soggy out in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, VA decided to cancel school. The Federal government is also opening late and its flu season, which means a lot of people are out of the office today. I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife drew the short straw this morning which means that while she will be trying to work from her home office with three kids doing some serious stress testing of their toys, our walls, and her sanity, all less than 10 feet away. This got me thinking about working from home, the pressures of family and work life, and how an organization should deal with these issues. On the one hand we have never been as prepared as a society to enable working from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. I am living proof of that having held conference calls, webinars, etc from hospitals, on vacations, and from my home office.

The question then becomes how connected is too connected and how close a tether to the “real” office do you need to retain to be effective. Openly, I do not fall in the camp of those who believe the end of the communal office is near. I truly believe that working together physically improves collaboration and teamwork. I love video conferencing because it is closer to real physical meetings, but it still isn’t the same as being right next to someone. There is a certain element of teamwork and collaboration that I just don’t feel is possible from a remote location. It’s one of the reasons why I can’t ever foresee my company going towards a remote workforce in a big way, despite the huge advantages from a cost standpoint. I just don’t believe you can hang on to the esprit de corps and sense of community that comes from sharing a physical space. I don’t mind having people work from home in order to get projects that require uninterrupted concentration complete, or when the cable guy is coming to the house, etc. I just don’t see it as a sustainable everyday model.

Of course most of my view into this is shaped either by view of the work my company does, which is consultative, or the work of our clients, which varies from large private sector to large public sector. I can certainly see advantages for some of our clients, particularly those with small-scale presences in many locations to remote work. It makes sense in these types of cases to set up your teams to work primarily from their home office or to leverage shared space, etc. Obviously, for retail, manufacturing, etc the need to be onsite is different than in the knowledge work community. How does your organization manage remote work? Is this the right approach? What are the pitfalls/benefits you have found?

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

As a 7-year remote worker, I can tell you that it’s a lot more challenging than I originally anticipated. You have to double or triple your level of communication with colleagues, make sure that you get face time with folks at regular intervals and find ways to make a break between work and home.

One thing that I did a couple months ago was to visit a co-working space downtown a couple days per week. It’s been excellent because I experience the energy of other people and get ouf of the house occasionally (sanity check). A bonus is that this particular place has standing desks, so it also contributes to my overall physical health as I get 2-3 days per week where I am not sitting all day.

All in all, though, I enjoy being remote and not sure I could actually go into an office every day again! But you have to be intentional about making it a viable situation over the long haul.

Profile Photo Erik G Eitel

The virtual meeting, in my opinion, has a little ways to go in terms of bridging the gap between the physical office and the remote workers. Google Hangouts, Skype, Oovoo, etc are all great stop gaps, but I still feel like I’m talking to my relatives in Slovakia when I’m on one of those calls. I think something along these lines will make for a more productive call while maintain a business atmosphere (at least for large team meetings):Obviously there’s many set backs to something like this… cost, technology, space, etc. But I think it’s the direction that the virtual meeting space needs to go in order to fully bridge the gap between in-person and virtual meetings.

Profile Photo Henry Brown

For the last 7 years of my career I was working out of my home, 1500 miles from the “office“…

Had dedicated work space which enabled excellent work vs personal life separation…

As Andrew, had to work very hard to ensure some reasonable level of communications between team members. In my case, because one of the team members had been a co-worker prior to the 7 year tour and we had developed somewhat special skill set to enable communications, which enabled us to insure that all important communications was shared with the other team members…

Because of the remoteness of my office I don’t believe that there was any “jealousy” over the fact that I was required to work remotely…

There were minor issues, during the 7 years, because one of our supervisors/managers did NOT believe that he had enough control when we “teleworked”/worked remotely. Was able to overcome most of the opposition by always coming in under budget and usually prior to agreed upon deadlines…

Profile Photo William Thomas

As a supervisor, I find the hardest thing when I’m working from home or off-site is communication with my staff. When I’m in the office, I can see and hear them, so know that they are in the office and working. We can quickly communicate when issues arise. When I’m teleworking, I need them to communicate with me and let me know where they are and what they are doing. They don’t always do this to my comfort level. I’m trying some cloud-based project management webwear, but this requires them to be proactive and log in, then update their status, and then add information on the work they have done on the project. But after a few weeks participation waned as more immediate issues and needs arose.

Profile Photo Guy W Clinch

Hi Joshua,

I’ve blogged my answer @ https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/answering-joshua-millsapps-question-is-remote-work-too-remote.

Spoiler Alert! I am a die hard advocate for remote work. I am convinced that the benefits accrued to the organization, the person, our environment and our country far outweigh the negatives for the over 40 percent of us to whom remote work makes sense.

Thank you for making this dialogue possible; you asked a great topical question. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments below and I look forward to what other will have to say.

Warmest regards,

Guy

Profile Photo Adam Arthur

Responding to the passage of the Telework Enhancement Act that was passed in December 2010, I saw the opportunity for virtual environment platforms to make a real difference in telework. The act underscores the growing need for better secure remote access to ensure that only authorized users gain access to government networks and information. As mandated by the law, federal agencies must improve the use of telework as a strategic management tool.
The idea of working remotely and using digital tools to accomplish business is not new; however, I’ve been working on moving the office “feel and appeal” to the screen for 2013. Pertaining to government, there has been a real lag in adoption of telework initiatives, partly based on the perceived (and stated) lack of accountability. With my system’s ability to make things seem more “realistic” and monitor performance and activity, there is a real opportunity to change the way government works. I’m even suggesting that a virtual office is able to tell us more about productivity then those who work face-to-face.
Virtual offices satisfy many other priorities of the government, such as environmental improvement, continuity of operations, systems redundancies, security, and expenditure. With the potential to integrate legacy and proprietary systems (also upgrading those that need to be done away with), virtual offices have the potential to save taxpayers billions.

Profile Photo Terrence Hill

I agree that a blended/hybrid approach is the way to go with remote work. If we all used collaboration software like MS Communicator/LINC and Adobe Connect, the sense of isolation is alleviated. I think the future involves a form of office-sharing/co-working like Andy recommends and I am definitely a fan of stand-up/treadmill desks. Every once in a while, I make it a point to come back to the office to re-connect with others, but like many others, I will never go back to working in a traditional office fulltime. Only a small minority of employees still yearn for the traditional office setting. We will never be able to convince this minority to convert and unfortunately many of them are managers, usually the same folks who like the old paper-based world.