Remote vs. In-person

Many organizations are nowadays practicing some kind of distributed work management. Typically some employees in some departments are working out of office in a while it’s because it’s convenient to them or they have some emergency at home that has made it temporarily necessary, or they just needed a quiet place to complete a report. It is tolerated sometimes for some individuals primarily because they are highly competent and they have threatened to leave the company if they can’t work flexibly. But sometimes these kind of ad hoc efforts cause jealousy and resentment among other employees, which they see as a highly desirable perk.

Today, however, with the proliferation of low-cost conference calling and internet web conferencing, it’s not just about staying in touch with remote individuals; distributed project teams have become far more common in many organizations.

It’s true that managing office work remotely is not so difficult. If the team understands what’s needed, understands the goals and can meet deadlines, it just isn’t necessary to be in the same room with them, or even meet them. I know of more than one successful company made up of staff based all over the world who will never actually meet each other. It can work.

However, allowing employees to work remotely isn’t just a matter of tossing people out of their assigned workplaces and having them do the same work from different places. When face-to-face interaction is restricted and replaced with less frequent electronic communication, not only personal relationships undergo dramatic change but business processes themselves must be redesigned to reflect the new work environment.

Also, we humans are physical creatures, and there’s something irreplaceable about sitting together, looking into each other’s eyes, and deciding how to be a team.  Working in the same location has, of course, the intangible benefit of built-in accountability. Upfront, everyone needs to be on the same page about expected effort levels and deliverables.

I’ve always worked in traditional corporate environments where most staff is on hand and regular meetings are held to hash out policy and plans. As a manager and consultant at meeting-happy organization it seemed like we even have staff meetings even to decide on what burger to order. Working with the colleagues in the same building, and being able to meet in the same room lends itself to spontaneous brain-storming and problem solving.

Again, with the technologies in hand, managing work remotely is not that difficult. Remote management is not only a possibility, it can work. As I said earlier, business processes must also be redesigned to reflect the new work environment for successful remote management. The silver lining is that there are many cases, where it does work.