Remote working is a trending topic with Google Founders talking about how it will end the 40-hour work week, Marissa Mayer’s no work-from-home edict, and Tony Shae’s focus on increasing collisions by having workers live/work in a company community. I think remote working presents a huge opportunity for companies.
Caveat, this post focuses on work that does not require in-person collaboration as a necessity (e.g. home construction). Also, as context, I’ve managed remote workers for many years and I’ve experienced a proliferation of tools coming to market to help facilitate this practice. I currently work at Oracle where more than half my team is remote and where I work remotely quite often.
Working from home with 5-month old laptop-holder :-)
This post does not focus on how to manage remote teams rather it makes a case for how optimizing for remote work can be a competitive advantage. From where I stand (as a partial-remote worker) I see the biggest benefit as a quality of life improvement. As the father of a 5-month old, working from home allows me to have lunch with my little boy once in a while. That’s priceless. The benefit for my employer -or for any employer for that matter- is a bit more complicated.
Before spelling out this benefit, I’ll address a common fear that’s associated with remote work that should not be. It basically boils down to managers feeling like they cannot measure work product if the employee is not within sight. In my opinion this has absolutely nothing to do with remote workers. In my experience, I’ve seen non-remote workers squander time effortlessly while in the workplace (e.g. Facebook, shopping, etc). You’re deluding yourself if you think you can “see” work being done by watching workers.
Having a great system to measure productivity is a pre-requisite for management regardless of where workers are in my opinion. For my wife’s business, we use Asana to manage projects, productivity, and collaboration. I think it’s a great solution for supporting remote teams.
There are a couple of key benefits for the company including an increased pool of potential employees and the ability to acquire talent affordably. Though I don’t have great data to support this claim, My own experience is that I work a bit longer and with less interruptions when I’m at home. ConnectSolutions shares some data on this based on surveying. I’d also suggest that remote workers may be even more loyal due to the quality of life benefit. Either way, something’s working here because 40% more workers are doing so from home in the last 10 years.
On the topic of productivity, I have a nuanced perspective. I agree that when I’m at home working uninterrupted I get more of a certain type of work done. I’d suggest that this is most pronounced with work that I can do on my own (e.g. tasks I own, email correspondence, solo-creative work, etc). However, I think remote workers miss out on the most productive interactions with other workers that often occur spontaneously at the water cooler. This is what Tony Shae is optimizing for.
Companies can address this in-part by bringing employees together on a regular basis. At Oracle, my entire team comes together at least twice a year for highly productive “onsite” meetings. Even with the cost of travel this does not come close to offsetting the cost benefit of remote workers. Granted this will never produce the kind of gains as a system optimized for collisions but it will offset some of the gains. Companies that are optimized for remote work make up the difference by affording more workers on the same budget.
In conclusion, I think happy employees working within a disciplined system for measuring productivity can be a competitive advantage for many companies. I do think that it requires a unique approach to management and the application of solutions to manage productivity but more and more managers are gaining that experience today. I hope this is a useful framework for exploring if remote work is appropriate for your company.
I’m happy to report that I’ll be presenting a talk entitled “How Social Technologies Create New Languages” this year at SXSW. If you’re attending the event I hope you’ll join the session and share it with your friends. As the title suggests, the topic explores the idea that language and social technology are in a coevolutionary state. Many of the ideas I’ll be presenting are inspired by Evolutionary Linguistics or Psycholinguistics, a relatively new discipline within linguistics which is being championed by folks like Stephen Pinker. If you haven’t read The Language Instinct it’s a great introduction.
My presentation makes three basic claims that I’ll explore/defend:
- Social technology is a primary driver of language evolution.
- As social technology augments language, it becomes part of the language.
- As language and social technology coevolve expect more intermediation.
That last point, focuses on how social technology has the potential to surface insights in real-time that will affect how/when/what we communicate. Besides Evolutionary Linguistics the other major inspiration is work that companies like Oracle (where I work) are doing in the marketing automation space (via Eloqua and Responsys). Part of what I’m ultimately interested in exploring is what will happen when this technology becomes available via consumer applications.
I hope to see you there! Oh, and if you’re interested in getting a sense of the sessions that I’ll be attending while at SXSW here’s my schedule.
I’m in great company when it comes to Eloqua’s recent marketing leader roundup. Check out their slideshare below.
I’m on board with Matt Heinz regarding the importance of process, though I think of process and culture must also be tightly linked. And to Tony Zambito, I say that the process must include a protocol for community engagement and response. I’m also inspired by Craig Rosenberg whose focus on buyer personas speaks to the importance of personalization …. a key theme of my recent presentation on how marketing automation is increasingly integrating social. And yes, Koka Sexton, that means getting the sales team involved. Enjoy.
It’s amazing how much tech there is for marketeers but it’s also amazing how much further the tech needs to come. The giants of tech are chasing the promise of a fully integrated tech stack to run your entire business. The up-and-comers offer a compelling case as to why granular services/platforms that plug-and-play well will offer more flexibility and value. The giants buy them up when it’s necessary to slow down the market/innovation and the little guys ask marketers to consider carefully just how much integration/speed/insight they can really leverage … right until they get acquired. Marketers should be scared of lock-in but they also need to be security conscious. Meanwhile they’ve got to run their business on their current stack while envisioning how they’ll upgrade it over time to remain competitive.
In front of this backdrop, marketers get on stage to debate just how tech savvy they’ll have to become. You’ve got the Pragmatist who just wants to buy a good experience for her customers. She recognizes that not everyone can win on customer experience and that many of her customers win with repeatable no-frills value. You’ve got the Thought Leader who spins a yarn about the frontier of personalization across touch-points. You’ve got the Consulting Firm that is going to build the integrations that you’re going to pay them to manage. And you’ve got the Internal Marketing-Technologist who explains why owning it in-house is the way to go even if he works with consultants to supplement his practice.
In 2014 I predict that it’s that last guy who’s going to win the debate.
I’m always on the lookout for perspective on how social networks are impacting our society. Here are two recent pieces that bubbled up through the noise this week.
The first speaks to fundamentals of how we have traditionally connected to our social networks and how technology is augmenting this practice. The arguments is basically that we’ve #gamed/#hacked human behavior and that we’re undermining the intended goals of the behavior in the process. I see this as apposed to how social networks position what they do as “amplifying existing social behaviors” (an idea appropriated from Steve Job - 6:75). I’ll let you decide which you think is really happening.
The Innovation of Loneliness from Shimi Cohen on Vimeo.
And then there’s this article on Facebook Fading from the Bits blog of the NYTimes. A quote “… during a quarterly earnings call, David A. Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, made a startling acknowledgment. Facebook had noticed “a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens,” he said.” Is this just a momentary lull in the meteoric rise of the platform or is it a deep glitch in the growth-hacking model that they’ve developed?
Combined these articles point to a technology that is not fulfilling it’s promise and the fact that we’re beginning to see the evidence of this fact. I find this view a reductive because I Facebook has both amplified existing behaviors and hijacked them. In terms of the data shared in the recent earnings call, citing a single datapoint is not sufficient evidence to identify a trend. There are many factors at play that could impact this point including Facebook’s aggressive acquisition strategy.
Instead, when I survey this discourse about Facebook I observe that there is an appetite -even a desire- to see Facebook stumble. Call it a backlash and this impulse gets conflated with comments about whether or not we’ll even be talking about “social business” in a few years from now. In my opinion, businesses have always needed to interface with (be social with) our social networks (in our neighborhoods or news-feeds) and that’s not going to change. If social business is about how we manage that interface than I think it’s got a long future, whatever we call it.