There are definite advantages to having an entire workforce under a single roof. After all, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face communication, the increased possibility of spontaneous collaboration, and always-entertaining office gossip. But there may be just as many reasons for a company to consider satellite offices or encouraging telecommuting. I thought it’d be fun to break down the pros, cons, and a few simple tips for company’s looking to make the leap to a distributed workforce.
Flexible Work/Life Balance
“You can get out to the grocery store when there isn’t an evening rush, can take an afternoon nap if you need to, and can even switch up work locations to increase productivity,” says Danya Cheskis-Gold, director of community at Spark Capital, and a speaker at an upcoming South By Southwest panel on distributed companies.
Can Hire The Best People—Wherever They Are
The best hires aren’t always the ones that happen to live within a reasonable commute a company’s HQ. And if you’re based in an area with a dearth of technical talent—or where certain types of workers are prohibitively expensive—being able to look elsewhere can be vital. “We can hire where talent lives,” says Lori McLeese, HR lead at Automattic.
Increased Creative Diversity
Not only do distributed companies have access to a greater pool of potential employees, but it’s far more likely that workers will come onboard with different perspectives, experiences, and ways of tackling creative problems. “We have very rich discussions because we hire people with very different background,” McLeese says. “We have Automatticians in 30 countries.”
One lesson we’ve all had to learn the embarrassing way: Sarcasm doesn’t really work in email. Nor do the other, perhaps more positive, subtleties of communication that can go a long way towards keeping workers motivated. “Tone and personal warmth don’t come across in email. This can make feedback seem more harsh, and it can be harder to detect when someone’s unhappy,” Cheskis-Gold says.
“Not everyone’s going to have the same work schedule,” says Cheskis-Gold. “This is especially tricky when it comes to managers and managees. You have to define at the get-go how you plan to work, when it’s best to communicate with you. And then be ready to make compromises.”
It May Not Save Money
With less office space and equipment to pay for, some employers view a distributed workforce as a way of cutting costs. This isn’t always the case. “I see companies thinking of moving to a distributed model because they think they’ll save money,” says McLeese. “For us, it’s important to meet face to face to build camaraderie and trust. Our travel budget is probably much larger than companies who sit in the same office together.”
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
It’s a common office complaint: Workers are sometimes judged more on who seems the busies, and not who is actually getting stuff done. A distributed workforce is a simple way of cutting through the crap, and letting results speak louder than minutes or meetings logged.
Everyone, and particularly managers, has to believe in evaluating people on what they accomplish, not how much time (or lack of) they put in,” says McLeese. “If someone values face time over accomplishment, a distributed environment probably won’t work best for him or her.”
Play Around With Different Methods Of Communication
Skype, email, IM… there are more ways than ever to stay in touch with far-off coworkers. But each comes with their own tradeoffs—particularly when it comes to what interpersonal cues come across. That’s why the best bet may be to try them all. “Don’t be afraid to try multiple methods—chat, voice, video—what works for one team/company may not work for another,” McLeese says.