A few thoughts on working remotely

I keep hearing from a lot of IT companies that it is very difficult to find good software engineers these days. They are either too expensive or unavailable because they already have plenty of other work (or both).

From an engineer’s point of view I can definitely concur. For the past several years there has been quite an interest in my LinkedIn profile. Recruiters, company founders, HR staff, and others contact me with work opportunities on a regular basis, probably averaging to at least 1-2 offers per week. By the words of my friends and acquaintances their situation is similar, we all have to turn down work on a regular basis.

Competition between companies is fierce, driving the daily rates up, although monetary aspects, while important, are not necessarily enough to attract talent by themselves. According to the Stack Overflow’s 2018 Developer Survey, factors such as the technologies used, opportunities for professional growth, work atmosphere, and the ability to work remotely are all high on the list.

The exact tech stack is often tied to a particular project, product, or a company standard, and might thus not allow for much flexibility, and the same can hold for the opportunities for professional development to some extent. On the other hand companies can significantly impact the work atmosphere and flexibility, the two aspects where even smaller companies can compete with large corporations on a level playing field. Some additional organizational effort is needed, of course, but these things do not actually cost hard money. Yet plenty of companies do not use this to their advantage, avoiding remote work like a plague, while at the same time limiting themselves to a local talent pool only and then expressing concerns about the “overly heated IT job market”.

In my experience, the most often heard reasons for such aversion are the ones listed below.

We cannot know if people actually work when not in the office

I do hope your company does not fall into this category, because then you have a management problem. People’s productivity should not be measured by the time they spend warming their chair in their manager’s sight, but instead by the output they produce. If you cannot assess the output, then the problem lies elsewhere.

People working remotely are less productive

This might or might not hold. Some people lack discipline and cannot shield themselves from distractions and temptations their home environment offers. Or they might feel too lonely and their motivation fails. These are both valid reason and remote working is not for everyone.

On the other hand, there are people who can self-manage themselves well and can focus on the work. I consider myself a part of the latter group. I would go even that far to say that sometimes working in an office can be less productive because of all the noise, random interruptions by other people walking or chatting in the hall, and similar.

In fact, one of my most productive days in the last six months was when my temporary ISP in Spain experienced some issues and I had no internet for a full day and a half, meaning no Slack, emails, meetings, and other non-programming work. I was able to produce a streak of twelve uninterrupted and highly focused effective hours, producing a bug-free, efficient, and easy to use program component in that session – that was the feedback I received from reviewers.

And just how does that compare to modern open space offices with beanbags and ping pong tables many companies see as a must have?
(hint: open space offices tend to be noisy, and noise reduces concentration and hence productivity)

Communication and collaboration suffers

There is some merit in this concern. It is definitely easier to communicate in person, because that form of conversation has the most bandwidth. On the other hand, with proper organization and by using the right tools, the difference in practice can actually not be that big. It does require people to be good communicators, however, and some adjustment to a more asynchronous way of working. Not everyone would feel 100% comfortable in such setup.

Information security

Unless your organization implements enterprise-level security protocols with strict firewall rules, isolated networks, verified and restricted software running on all worker’s computers, extensive automatic log analysis and intrusion detection mechanisms, chances are that your systems are not all that more secure if you demand physical presence and ban all remote work. In other words, if set up properly, allowing people to collaborate remotely does not necessarily mean that your data is less secure.

I mean, do you physically check every person that leaves your premises for a chance that they might be carrying a USB key in their pocket with confidential information that they just stole from the company?

Just a rhetorical question…

The bottom line is that if you have trouble finding IT talent, perhaps give remote working a try. And I do not mean just to start tolerating or allowing it, try to embrace it. It will give you access to a much wider talent pool, and give you an immediate competitive advantage over other companies that compete for the same IT professionals on the local job/contractor market.

The past winter in Central Europe was considerably long and cold, well above the long statistical averages – but I could not care less, as I spent almost half a year on Canary Islands, enjoying the pleasant weather, good food, proximity to the beaches, and all the other goodies the island life brings. Hey, I was actually sunbathing and swimming in the sea on the Christmas Day!

Can your modern open space premises offer anything close to that experience? Can you now better understand what a digital nomad like me would have to give up if agreeing to sit in the office to work?

A picture is worth a thousand words:

La Palma view
It’s hard to find an office matching this work environment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: