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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Remote Workers

David from 37signals asks why we aren’t hiring remote workers. He brings an example of Mark – their new systems administrator who lives in different time zone (an hour of difference). David’s point is that you shouldn’t care about geography when hiring and just choose best available candidate, no matter where he lives. If you have other opinion you’re “crazy”. By the way comments following the post are great reading, which I strongly recommend.

Well, call me “crazy” then. I prefer to have whole team in a single place. The place where I work everyday. I managed team which was located in two cities and third was under development and now I work with people in three different locations, so I guess I have some experience to share.

Possible issues with remote workers:

• Commitment. Sure, if someone really likes what he’s doing he’ll be motivated and committed to do his best. At least as long as he doesn’t find another more interesting activity. It can be a pet project. It can be a game. It can be a family. It can be new absorbing hobby. It can be whatever. Then, work will go down on the priorities list. So will the commitment.

• Collaboration. There is one, extremely efficient method of communication. “Real” meetings. You hear tone of voice, you see gestures, you can use easily whiteboard, etc. Everything is easier. Everything is faster. You don’t have to deal conferencing infrastructure, voice and video quality, whatsoever. You don’t lose time on writing down things you can say in much shorter time.

• Interferences. When you work at home there’re many things that disturbs you. Wife or husband, children, this darn guy who dares to park on your lawn, refrigerator begging you to eat something, brilliant idea to go shopping right now, your faulty internet connection, etc. Sure, at work you have distractions too, but they’re usually work-related – colleague asking you about last bug-fix, boss requesting actual status, intern begging for help. At the very moment you don’t push your own work, but still help others to do theirs.

• Emergencies. I’ve experienced a lot of situations when someone accidentally heard about some emergency situation being discussed and helped to deal with the problem. Only because she was accidentally in the same place. If she had been at home she wouldn’t have helped. Knowledge is always shredded among many people. They won’t share it if there’s no occasion to do that.

• Control. Yes, I hear you: manage, don’t control. Sure, go optimists – everyone in the team is easily manageable. Unfortunately it isn’t true in vast majority of cases. There’re many people, who need to be controlled or they won’t be very helpful surfing the web and drinking coffee instead of doing real work.

• Progress. It’s especially important when you work with some newbies, who have to learn everything from basics. They will ask. The more they’ll ask the faster they’ll learn. You should make asking as easy as possible. Having phone/communicator contact only isn’t the best choice here. Oh, that means you shouldn’t send your interns far away unless they’re a pain in the ass for you.

• Performance. Here, I won’t say it is the rule, but statistically performance of remote worker is usually lower than the one working with others. Usually at least several factors from the list above affects remote’s performance. Yes, there’re people who are immune and they perform superbly no matter where they work – if you have them in the team you should build them an altar.

Having said that, I’m not religious about the subject. Today I have at least two colleagues in the team, who are working in different cities and they perform very well (yeah, I know, I should build the altar or something).

Nevertheless, when recruiting I’m still “crazy” and look people willing to work in my town. Hey, haven’t I just mentioned that I’m happy with my remotes? Yes, but first, it’s really hard to find this kind of people and second, I believe they’d work better if they could be with the rest of the team on a daily basis.

in: entrepreneurship, team management

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