DO work from HOME

Reply to an article I read a couple of days ago.

Article originally posted at Medium

During this week I read an article in LinkedIn (I didn't know people use LinkedIn to publish stuff) and I immediately felt the need to answer to it; so, here I am trying to contribute to the discussion.

I work for a partially remote web development company (by partially I mean we have some full remote members and the rest of us usually go to the office but we can WFH whenever we want) and although I usually go to the office and I am not the best example of remote-worker, I recognize and really appreciate the value of the remote work. I have also worked by subcontracting with a full-remote company and that was a great opportunity to learn a lot from remote culture.

The author started by saying WFH works well for many people, but then he enumerates potential negatives and risks of working from home; I'd like to take a look to each one of them and give my point of view.

1. Besides death and taxes, recessions are also certain in life. For a boss it is easier emotionally to lay someone off who s/he does not see every day in the office. The recession will be here soon enough !

If the boss takes this kind of decisions based on emotions, I don't want to work with him. I mean, these decisions should always be taken "for the greater good", not emotionally.

2. Similarly, when a new opportunity for a project arises a person present physically is more likely to get it.

Again, considering the time availability of each team member, the new projects should be assigned to the right people (those with the skills set needed). If projects are assigned based on emotionally, I don't want to work there and maybe the time for my next career movement would be NOW.

3. Working from home is socially isolating. Tightly knit groups of people are impossible in a work from home environment.

I kind of agree with this one; however, if the right tools are used in the right way; this is no more a problem. An internal chat with a room for non-official stuff will be a great place to meet and talk about whatever and it will certainly help to reduce social isolation. From my subcontracting experience, I can tell that if remote culture is well rooted in the company; this is totally not a problem because the people will always use the right tools in the right way; so, this one, from my point of view, is a culture problem and we need to work to fix it in the environment where we are.

4. We are concerned with the output of the team, not of an individual. Working from home weakens various feedback loops in a team. Read my other post on feedback loops (“Co-workers should be sitting next to each other”).

In my work, these kind of feedback usually means peer code review, and it could totally happen on the source code management tool. Out of these situations (and out of my environment), a quick call (even better video call) could help with this point. Again, let's use the right tools in the right way.

5. Even for an individual it is harder to get questions answered, even to get someone’s attention when they are remote.

People tend to focus hard in whatever they're doing and hate to be interrupted from that, I think this happens everywhere. If you're sitting next to me and I'm really focused on something, you'll wait for my help until I can change my focus to something else. Personally, I feel it's easier to get questions answered via chat than in person when people are really focused. Again, if chat is not the right tool for a specific questions, calls should always be there for you.

6. Spontaneous is good for innovation — Ad hoc interactions, quick idea check, trial and error are essential ingredients of innovation. They get sterilized in a remote environment.

Valid. Ping someone in chat and talk there. Make a call if needed. This is again a culture thing that we need to work to make it work for remote workers.

7. Various electronic tools are a poor substitution for a white board discussion.

So, look for the right one and I'm pretty sure there should be one that fits your needs.

8. Studies have shown that people are more aggressive and more cryptic over electronic media.

I'd like to read a study about the more aggressive part. I totally agree the more cryptic part; written communication isn't as efficient as oral communication, however this is again a culture thing that we can improve. And, when chat totally doesn't work, you can make a call.

9. Typing is slower than talking.

Maybe, call and talk.

10. Perception and reality of accessibility- Who do you think people will go to, to someone who they see as sitting by oneself, or to someone who they have to write to, and who may or may not respond right away, or for an unknown period of time ?

I think people will go to the person that best could help, no matter if you can talk or write to him/her.

11. Influencing other people is incredibly hard over electronic media. Physical presence is much better. This triply applies to anyone who holds a position of responsibility.

Influencing can always be done with the right arguments.

12. Studies have shown that conflicts at home are more likely when a spouse works from home.

Again, I'd love to read the studies. I don't have a spouse, so I can't give a real opinion, however, the title of that sections says it all "balancing work and home" is the key.

13. When you work from home, your dog barking or a child crying may be cute to many. You however bring a certain image of yourself, unrelated to work, that may undermine the image that you want to project on others. You want to be seen focused on work and objectives, dedicated to the goals. Some may even think that when a call is over you will go attend to your child or dog.

My work is the only thing that I'd like co-workers and supervisors use to judge me. If there's something else they use for that, I'm in the wrong place.

13. Let’s not underestimate the power of the refrigerator stocked with food..

Another 13… Self control :)

14. Stress — People go home to relax. We have a mental switch that allows most of us to turn work off when we leave the office. Finding that switch is very difficult when you work from home.

Hmm, maybe. However, there are some ways to fix that: make right habits and stuff like that. There are a lot of articles in internet about this. Again, a culture thing (personal culture) that needs some work.

15. Being social, we have a tendency to trust those whose faces we see every day. Working from home is a sterilizer for many human behaviors and feelings — of which trust and appreciation are the worst recipients. The last 20 or so years of communication technology evolution can not undo millions of years of our own evolution. In the end most of us are social creatures.

"…whose faces we see every day". There's a daily meeting in Scrum methodology named Standup where people join to say what did they accomplish last day and what are they up to for today. I think this is a good idea to stay connected between all the members of the team and to see faces of everyone every day. Culture and right tools are, front my perspective, the answer to this concern.

After that enumeration, the author throws some phrases, one of them is "To progress you need to belong". I should say I totally agree with the need to belong; however, this SHOULD be a culture fix that we need to encourage in the work places. Remote people should have the same level of culture belonging than office people.

Besides all the points where I strongly disagree, the post finishes by saying:

The companies must work to mitigate the issues. It is not fair to leave it up to WFH employees alone. Companies that are not careful will lose the best talent because of various WFH issues.

Generalisations are dangerous. There are companies and teams that are able to negate whatever challenges there are, and create an atmosphere and ways for career advancement for remote employees. There are companies out there with virtual offices. Some or many of those produce even non virtual results, and non virtual profits.

So, as my final thought, I'd like to say (one more time), that all these problems/concerns can (and should) be fixed by using the right tools and by promoting a real remote culture in the companies.

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Submitted by kporras07 on Fri, 08/26/2016 - 03:42