Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's Not That Big a Deal

Used to be that having remote workers took a lot of extra work. You know, the tech guys had to set up banks of modems and workers had to have extra ISDN lines put in their houses and such. It was a pain.

But in our wonderful modern age, technology is no longer a meaningful barrier to working from anywhere, at least for the majority of knowledge workers. All the technology commonly used by remote workers (video conferencing, VPNs, home broadband internets, instant messaging, voice over IP, laptops, mobile phones and texting) is ubiquitous and trivial to deal with. Moreover, for the next generation of workers, these tools are seamlessly ingrained in how they interact with the world. They don't even notice them when they use them. (Whereas I, elderly Gen Xer that I am, almost keel over whenever I receive a bit of text on my phone -- "Ooooh look, someone's sent me an epistle on the telemaphone!" Cue the youthful eyerolling.)

So the only meaningful barrier left between the workers of the world and widespread telecommuting is the attitude of managers. And this is at once the easiest and most difficult thing to change. Telecommuting requires managers to think in a different way about what it means to supervise workers, but I don't think that business can afford to wait to change its collective mind about this stuff. Your key players are increasingly coming from the under forty set, and we intuitively understand this relationship between ubiquitous technology and work. Smart companies will harness this flexibility and enjoy a significant advantage over those folks who still think that people have to exist in the same physical space in order to collaborate.

All you have to do is change your mind.


Anonymous said...

Eh, I'm a 27-year-old with three laptops and a Blackberry who rolls her eyes at the idea that the main impediment to telecommuting is always stodgy old managers. Telecommuting might be fine if you spend most of your time on the phone courting donors, but it just doesn't work in most technical environments.

Stella Commute said...

Thanks for writing, Anon Y. Mous. Every job is different, and it turns out that development requires quite a lot of on-site-ism, as I need to be meeting with the experts and doctors at my place of employ as much as I need to be out and about with donors.

Frankly, the technical job I just left (web site stuff, database stuff, mass email stuff, server stuff) was incredibly easy to do from afar -- I mean really far away, like 2,000 miles. What made it work well? I was very experienced, and I had a manager who supported remote work 100%. Specifically:

- He was able to videoconference, VoIP, and the like.

- He measured what I did by output not by face time.

- He was willing to try it -- he started out skeptical but gave it a go and found that it wasn't horrible.

Look, if you are using remote connection and communication technology to work in your spare time, there is absolutely no valid reason that you couldn't do the same to work during normal business hours. It really is a question of changing managers' minds about what "work" means.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I followed the link from Evil HR Lady and didn't realize this was solely a telecommuting evangelism blog until I explored a bit. I can tell I'm not going to convince you that I understand the dynamics of my workplace better than you do ;).

Stella Commute said...

Well, yeah, I don't know where or how you work. True enough. But having done the Real Office thing for a long time, then the telecommuting thing, then the Real Office thing again, I just don't buy that it's not possible to telecommute effectively in an environment that supports it. The technology isn't the problem at this point, it's people.

My position in a nutshell: Not every job will work remotely, but where they can, why shouldn't they?