With the advances in infrastructure to support telecommuting, more and more organizations are adopting a more remote workforce. While this has obvious advantages, what isn’t discussed as often are the drawbacks of having a primarily remote workforce. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been telecommuting for upwards of two years and love it however I’ve come to appreciate some of the “little things” that being co-located with your teams offers you.
This is a pretty easy one to get into. When not being physically in the same room with someone it immediately adds a barrier to communication. As a sales person if they can sell remotely and you’ll understand exactly what I’m getting at. Being able to read someone’s non-verbal’s (i.e. their body language) is one of the key elements to understanding and perceiving a message from someone. On one occasion we were doing a product demonstration for our client and our lead demonstrator was physically on site with our client while the rest of us were telecommuting in and joining via Skype. Coming out of that meeting and connecting afterwards for an internal debrief there were two polar opposite views of how the meeting went. The person who was on-site had the opinion that the client was thrilled with the demonstration and our product while those of us on the phone thought that the demo went horrible and that we’d be fighting another fire the next day. Thankfully the former held true and the client was truly thrilled with what was shown to them but it proves that over the phone, you lose that entire dimension of being able to pick up on body language and focus solely on tone of voice and word selection.
Team Building & Bonding
The other aspect to physical co-location that I’ve noticed plays a significant part of my day-to-day job is the constant team building and bonding that is done naturally by working side by side in a workspace. And I’m not talking about being able to slip out for lunch or after-work drinks regularly (although that’s a great and simple team builder), but the small talk in the lunch room, talking about the weekend plans, discussing the kids’ sports. Getting to know your team members on a personal level is a key element to building high-performing teams. Seeing your peers as people who count on you makes you want to go that extra mile for them, and them for you.
Having a remote workforce certainly has its distinct advantages – less office space to pay for, wider range of great candidates to choose from however when employers embrace the remote workforce (and I’m not advocating against it), there is always a cost and these two points are probably one of the most significant non-monetary costs that need to be considered when embracing a remote workforce.