Remote vs. on-site work
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of things changed both in our personal lives and in the way businesses function. Plenty of companies were forced to operate remotely, and this move turned out to be a serious challenge for most of them. There's no doubt that such a transition can strain professional connections, and that both employees and employers might need some time to adapt to their new workplace reality. However, remote work has sneaked in the web digital world long before the Coronavirus outbreak, and flattening the curve of the health crisis actually isn't its only advantage.
Yet, it seems that working on-site is still the corporate standard. Mainly because it's generally believed to be easier managing on-site employees, monitoring their performance and upgrading their skills. The managers in lots of companies, especially bigger ones, simply don't trust their employees enough. They're used to relying on sensor-based methods for measuring productivity - working hard is when the whole team is "heads down" on their desks, or when people are coming early to the office and leaving late. Another major concern is that the insufficient face time between remote working colleagues leads to disengagement, miscommunication, errors and inefficiencies. As a result, there are lots of companies whose infrastructures and cultures have never been suited (and are now struggling) to support working outside of the office.
But as off-site work is currently experiencing a sharp surge, we wonder whether it might become the new normal. Over the years, remote work has had its upward and downward trends, and the Yahoo and IBM stories is an interesting examples.
In 2013, the Yahoo's newly-hired CEO Marissa Mayer recalled their home employees, in an effort to encourage better collaboration. Nonetheless, several months later she acknowledged that productivity is actually better when employees are working alone (from home). Meanwhile, more than a third of staff had left in that year, and rumor has it that most remote workers actually continued telecommuting.
A few years later, in 2017, IBM asked thousands of employees to come back to a traditional office as company leaders believed that working together in person would foster more innovation. A shocking move, especially considering the history of the company which had been a pioneer for remote work throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and by 2009 40% of their global employees already worked at home (IBM reported that that policy allowed the company to sell off its office buildings at a gain of almost $2 billion). That remote reversal coincided with 20 consecutive quarters of decreasing revenue for IBM, however, by looking at the financial reports from the following years it does not look like things have changed significantly for the company. What has been confirmed though is that the elimination of the IBM's remote work policy resulted in the exodus of many senior talented employees who valued that flexibility.
Working from home in Bulgaria
As you might expect, the corporate perception of remote work in Bulgaria isn't much different than the global one.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak the majority of companies offered on-site jobs only, with many advertising several days a month remote option. On top of this laughably limited offer, a lot of companies actually allowed working from home only to senior employees. It is generally believed that junior employees are unable to upgrade their skills properly if they work remotely. We cannot disagree more with this perception and we'll tell you why.
We've hired several people without any experience and they have grown out to be very solid and professional web developers while working entirely remotely. There are people in our team who have started out working from their homes, and now, several years later, they are one of our strongest full-stack developers and devops.
While it really must be difficult for larger companies to organize their remote employees, the question is not whether telecommuting can work, but how to make it work efficiently. To put it simply, it's not about the staff, it's about the management. There's an ever growing number of tools and technologies that can help both employers and employees achieve their mutual goals.
Besides, numerous studies show that remote workers are happier and healthier due to their better work-life balance and that translates into increased productivity for their employer.
Our experience with telecommuting
As a web development company operating remotely for 12 years now, we passionately believe that remote is the new normal. So, here, we'd like to share our own experience with remote work and why we prefer keeping it that way.
We actually did have an office in Sofia until 2008. Then, after weighing all the pros and cons, we decided to switch to working remotely 100%. Here are some of the advantages of off-site operation:
- We don't waste two hours every day in commuting. So, people can instead use this time (roughly 10 hours per week per person) to relax, be with their families, friends, or do whatever makes them happy.
- We can choose freely where to live, so we aren't forced to spend our time in crowded cities, if we don’t want to.
- We can concentrate better and increase our effectiveness as there aren't any of the usual distractions related to working in an office with 20 colleagues or more.
- We make up for distance with regular communication (Slack, daily standups, project meetings, pair programming sessions, one-on-one calls). We also organize team meetings several times a year and spend some quality time together over a pint and some nice dish. Besides, some people form our team have developed cordial relationships over the years and often meet up over the weekend.
- We also find telecommuting has done good to our communication with clients, 99% of whom are based abroad (US, Australia, elsewhere in Europe). So, we have to work remotely with their product owners, project managers, designers & developers anyway. In such cases our experience in remote working is actually a big plus.
In these challenging times the business will surely have to learn new ways to be flexible and this is where the companies that already have adopted remote working will have the upper hand.