Is remote work, too remote?

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So it’s a little soggy out in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, VA decided to cancel school. The Federal government is also opening late and its flu season, which means a lot of people are out of the office today. I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife drew the short straw this morning which means that while she will be trying to work from her home office with three kids doing some serious stress testing of their toys, our walls, and her sanity, all less than 10 feet away. This got me thinking about working from home, the pressures of family and work life, and how an organization should deal with these issues. On the one hand we have never been as prepared as a society to enable working from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. I am living proof of that having held conference calls, webinars, etc from hospitals, on vacations, and from my home office.

The question then becomes how connected is too connected and how close a tether to the “real” office do you need to retain to be effective. Openly, I do not fall in the camp of those who believe the end of the communal office is near. I truly believe that working together physically improves collaboration and teamwork. I love video conferencing because it is closer to real physical meetings, but it still isn’t the same as being right next to someone. There is a certain element of teamwork and collaboration that I just don’t feel is possible from a remote location. It’s one of the reasons why I can’t ever foresee my company going towards a remote workforce in a big way, despite the huge advantages from a cost standpoint. I just don’t believe you can hang on to the esprit de corps and sense of community that comes from sharing a physical space. I don’t mind having people work from home in order to get projects that require uninterrupted concentration complete, or when the cable guy is coming to the house, etc. I just don’t see it as a sustainable everyday model.

Of course most of my view into this is shaped either by view of the work my company does, which is consultative, or the work of our clients, which varies from large private sector to large public sector. I can certainly see advantages for some of our clients, particularly those with small-scale presences in many locations to remote work. It makes sense in these types of cases to set up your teams to work primarily from their home office or to leverage shared space, etc. Obviously, for retail, manufacturing, etc the need to be onsite is different than in the knowledge work community. How does your organization manage remote work? Is this the right approach? What are the pitfalls/benefits you have found?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

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