Throughout the year 2017 I found myself working in a half dozen spots across 3 continents and many more timezones. This experience led me to develop an increasingly lucid conviction about the profound benefits that remote workforces can bring to a business.
I feel that often when a company rejects remote hiring, or revokes remote work policies (such as former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously did in 2013 while kicking off her tenure that ultimately ran the company into the ground) an implicit or explicit dimension of the decision is lack of trust. If you cannot trust your employees to do work when you are not watching, then indeed you should not have a remote team. I would caution that if you find yourself this circumstance it may be a signal of a much larger issue with your team makeup and probably demands urgent introspection.
Defaulting to non-disruptive communication
One of the most profound benefits of having a remote team is that generally team members will default to asynchronous and non-disruptive forms of communication. This can benefit workers in any role but it is particularly valuable for developers, who rely on having blocks of uninterrupted time to focus and think through complex problems.
Even synchronous meetings benefit as they are generally organized in a more deliberate manner and unfold with far greater focus and intention than in traditional office environments where it is more trivial to pull people into a room.
Asynchronous team communication often has the side-effect of generating good records/documentation of business activities and decisions over time, which can also be a tremendous overall benefit to a company.
Remote team structures enhance team members’ happiness in many important ways. One very essential dimension in which remote team structures enhance morale is in eliminating commutes. Commutes are often demoralizing exercises that claim significant chunks of time in one’s day while offering no direct renumeration. For employees who would otherwise have significant commutes, the ability to work on a remote team can eliminate a substantial source of anxiety and wasted time. Perhaps even more important, for those on your team who have families or significant others, a remote team structure generally means more time spent with loved ones.
Cost-effectiveness and talent optimization
For companies that are based in areas with competitive hiring markets and/or high cost-of-living like New York and San Francisco, maintaining a remote team means tapping into a talent pool hundreds or thousands of times the size of that which is locally available. It also often means more affordable salaries aligned with national or regional markets rather than those of ultra competitive tech hubs. Even if you peg salaries to your local, competitive market, you generally get far better talent-per-dollar than hiring locally.
Extended business hours
For businesses that are customer-facing/client-service or have an on-call component (such as IT) having a remote, globally-distributed team often means getting extended business or on-call hours for free.
A decade or so forward, I believe that in many domains remote workforces will be a default choice. The tools to facilitate effective remote workflows are relatively new. To name some of the most critical:
- Broadband internet
- Reliable videoconferencing (such as Google Hangouts)
- Collaborative office suites like Google Docs
- Team chat tools like Slack
- Workflow management tools like Trello and Jira
These tools have mostly emerged in the past decade and a few of them only truly reached maturity in the past few years. I believe that many overlook the significance of these collaborative tools. I think that because these tools are relatively new the practice of remote work seems unproven and risky, but over time maintaining largely remote teams will become as rational a business choice as sending an email rather than couriering a letter.