Photo by Navid Baraty
Recently, Marissa Mayer created controversy when she mandated all remote workers at Yahoo to report for work in the office by June. Two opposing camps have swiftly responded to this action, one side supporting Meyer because she is energizing the company by getting people physically and mentally together, while the other faction chastises Meyer for not empowering brilliant employees who wouldn’t be in the workforce if not for the ability to work remotely.
I believe there is no black or white answer to this debate. Rather, it is more important to assess the culture of your company and decide on what would work best for you. Simply put, would you prefer your team to work remotely, or would you rather see them working from the office right in front of you?
At 500px, we currently have about 30 people working on different projects. At different times, we have had some people working remotely — whether it was their choice, or whether we had a contract in place for some form of remote work.
Did it work for us? Not really.
As stated above, I strongly believe that the outcome depends on the culture. I have personally witnessed some companies that can make it work, but that does not mean it would work for everyone else. Case in point, it did not work for us — once someone started working from home, they were no longer productive members of the team. Not because they were lazy or disorganized — no, we have the best people I have personally worked with — but rather because a lot of work we do requires hands-on collaboration. So working from home was at times as productive as not working at all. It’s not an easy assertion to make, and may seem overly generalized, but it is a statement that I am ready to make after going through my previous experiences.
I have spent considerable time rationalizing this to myself and have yes to find a definitive answer. For now, at least, I have a theory — in a startup environment, there are no simple and straightforward tasks that you can do on your own. You have to constantly collaborate, and to do it effectively, you have to interact with people on an up-to-the-minute basis. Or succinctly said, there is have a constant flow of information and you need to be available when needed. Working remotely is not conducive for this, such that being remote may equal to being ‘offline’.
Remote work also requires an impressive level of discipline. Personally, I find this to be the number one reason why it rarely works beyond startup founders or early employees who are heavily vested in the company’s success.
Whether remote work works for you and your employees is ultimately a very personal choice, but if I had to take a side, I would take Marissa Mayer’s side. The world around us is changing, but working in the office is still a great way to get a company united and achieve common goals.
Arguably, the concept of remote work has evolved a lot — for example, I’m typing this post not in the office, but rather in a cafe, between answering emails and doing some social marketing. However, from 9am to 7pm you would still usually find me in the office, because I need to talk to people, and they need to talk to me. In my absence, people rarely call or email, relying on me to just be there. And I get it, because my presence helps solve even the most complicated issues right there on the spot. Remote work is unable to deliver this feature, and, therefore, is tougher for growing startups to implement.
Contrubted by Evgeny Tchebotarev, COO at 500px