Working from home

There is quite an interesting discussion about working from home on CNET and on tecosystems.  Part of the debate focuses on Sun’s iWork program for employees who wish to work from home or some location other than the main office:

The nature of the workforce has changed — markets are dispersed, workforces are distributed and mobility
with security is a must.  iWork is Sun’s solution for its mobile and distributed workforce consisting of
innovative technologies and business best practices and processes that support employee mobility and choice,
team collaboration across distance, and organizational flexibility with enhanced security.

One of the obvious tensions is between allowing employees the flexibility of working where they are most comfortable and having all your employees under the same roof.  Marion Vermazen published a post which looks at whether Sun’s iWork is dangerous:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the dichotomy between the
value of people being able to live and work wherever they want and the
idea that teams need to be co-located to be most effective and
creative. I was in a presentation yesterday where the lady presenting
talked about things that work to make teams effective. Among other
points she emphasized the need to keep people working on the same thing
together, minimize time zone differences, and budget for travel because
face to face interaction is particularly important.

On the other hand the success of Sun’s iWork program and the
evidence before us says that work is becoming more distributed. More
and more people are working from home or from where they choose to
live. We get feedback all the time that Sun’s policy about employee
work environment choice is a big incentive for people to come to Sun
and stay at Sun. But there are still managers at Sun who believe that
their people need to come into the office every day. Are they wrong or
are the people who push for choice naïve in thinking that innovation
and collaboration can still thrive when workers are geographically

It seems clear that connectedness, trust and transparency are key.
There are certainly lots of ways to foster these characteristics in a
team. But what struck me as I was writing this is that what is perhaps
most important is the desire to be connected, to build trust, and to be
transparent. It really doesn’t matter if your co-worker is in the
office next to you or half way around the globe. If you don’t value and
seek out others to connect with, to have conversations with and to
build relationships with you aren’t going to build an effective,
creative team.

For my part, I believe that flexibility is pretty important.  It does depend on the person concerned and is not an ideal solution for everyone.  Some people thrive in a clearly structured work environment where they are required to be at their desks at a certain time and leave at the end of the work day.  Others don’t want to bring work home with them or feel they would be too distracted to work from home.  Then again, there is also the issue of access to company resources and colleagues.

It used to be very difficult to work effectively from home especially where your work depended on the used of information and documentation located at the office.  For example, as a lawyer I must have access to my files to do anything and the majority of my files are paper-based.  As Stephen O’Grady pointed out, things have changed and are changing and working from home is becoming more and more feasible, even for people in occupations like mine:

All I can say now is, my how things have changed since those days. Some
of it’s infrastructure improvements (broadband, primarily), and some of
its the crushing weight of corporate real estate, but whatever the
causes, more and more organizations are allowing if not mandating work
from home. As near as I can determine, there’s not one guiding
principle leading businesses to make this decision; for some it’s
primarily economic, for others it’s employee satisfaction, for still
others it’s a mix of both. And although we in the technology business
have been characterized as outliers here, I’m not sure that’s true; WBZ
(AM radio in Boston) had a brief segment a few weeks ago on call center
employees working out of their homes. So while I don’t think there’s
much hope for assembly line folks manufacturing cars from the comfort
of their couches, I do think it’s a mistake to regard the trend towards
work-from-home programs as an anomaly unique to the tech industry. With
the available communication technologies and infrastructure – not to
mention mechanisms for judging productivity – many industries may find
that work-from-home is an option for certain user populations.

As Ed Frauenheim pointed out, it is about flexibility and effectiveness:

Figuring out how best to set up remote work situations has a certain
urgency these days, because a number of firms in the tech industry are
giving more employees flexibility in the way they do their jobs.






What do you think?

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