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Coding Towards Utopia...by Rob Reynolds
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Remote Work: Placeshift and Stay Highly Collaborative Part 1

The biggest complaint most remote workers have in regards to working on a team? Feeling disconnected. The biggest complaint an office has about remote workers? They forget the remote workers are there and don’t always trust what they are doing. Want to learn how to get past both issues?

Hi, my name is Rob and I have a confession to make. I’m a remote worker four days a week. I’m a placeshift remote worker, and yet I am still highly collaborative with my team. “Placeshifting?” you say. “Highly collaborative?” you say. Over the next series of articles I am going to show you how this can be done.

If you are a business and you have not seriously looked into a technology known as Embodied Social Proxies, you are paying opportunity costs. You are losing money. More on that below. This series is for you so pay attention. I will highlight both business benefits and worker benefits.

If you are a worker and you have considered working from home (or just remotely) but you are not quite sure how you would make it work, this series is for you. Or you are already doing remote work and want to learn how to collaborate better.

Two Types of Remote Work

Timeshift – This is when you perform work at different intervals than the mainstream office may perform the work. Many folks have done this kind of work in one respect or another, even when working a regular full time job. If you ever went home and continued working in the evening, you have done what some might consider timeshift remote work. This series is not geared to this type of remote work.

Placeshift – Placeshifting is when you perform work at the same time as everyone else, but at a different location. This is what most people think of when they hear the term remote workers. If you ever have work from home days, you know what it is like to placeshift. This series is geared to this type of remote work.

The terms placeshifting and timeshifting are borrowed from media industry (television, music, etc) with respect to devices like DVRs. Not quite clear? When you record a TV show and watch it later you are timeshifting the show. Timeshifting dates back to the 1970s with VCRs and Betamax, while placeshifting media is a newer concept made possible by devices like the Slingbox. When you use a Slingbox to watch a show from a device like your phone at the same time the show is playing, you are placeshifting. The difference should be clear when you think of placeshifting as same time, different location and timeshifting as different time, location irrelevant.

This same terminology can be applied to remote work. Although I was hoping to coin the remote work types terminology, Anybots and GigaOm beat me to print with their recent article (How and why robots are placeshifting remote workers). At least this means the terminology is sound.

Bottom Line

Placeshifting remote work is not for everyone and not for every type of business work either. Some jobs have physical requirements or security requirements that negate the ability for remote work. Not every person is able to be productive in a setting outside the office (and the converse is also true). The world is not fair, okay? Get over it. If you are someone who can work by yourself and do so well without being easily distracted (read: there are ways to remove distractions in a work from home situation – I’ll touch on those), then it’s possible you have what it takes to be a remote worker.

Business: We Tried Remote Workers Before, It Didn’t Work

This is the argument I hear the most. The biggest problem with this argument is that it is subjective. Remote work itself is subjective/situational. No two remote workers are going to be alike, no two situations are going to be the same. It’s possible you tried remote work with an individual who was not able to work remotely effectively. It’s highly possible you had an employee who moved away and you wanted to keep them so you allowed them to work remotely. But you may not have set yourself (and the individual) up for success. How much planning and research did you do prior to these remote work situations? How much enabling were you towards your remote worker? Did you attempt to manage your remote worker in the same way as the centrally located folks? Have you even heard of Embodied Social Proxies prior to reading this?

The awareness I am trying to raise with you is that there are situations for businesses to make it work. And you can benefit hugely from remote workers if you do the proper planning, research and understand guidelines for making it work in your situation.

How Do I Benefit as a Business?

Talent Pool

Here’s a hard pill to swallow – you are limited by your talent pool. If you require people to be onsite for work, you are limited by the area in which you do business. I hate to be the one to inform you, but you are not the most awesome place to work. I’m sorry. No matter how awesome you are there is somewhere else that is more awesome and does x better. It’s a losing battle. Get over it already.

In this day and age less and less people will move just to work for you. If you expect the most talented folks in your industry to relocate for you, I have to tell you that 1990 called. I’m sorry to inform you it’s not going to happen in every case. And if it does, it’s borrowed time. Because someone else is going to attract them away.

It’s likely the most talented people in your industry will never work for you if you don’t have a remote option available. There are many reasons, but it boils down to where you expect your talent to live.

Happy Workers Are Superfans (and Productive Workers)

This is so huge I can’t even begin to give it the proper amount of attention. You want your workers to be happy. Tom Preston-Werner, cofounder of GitHub, speaks to this in a presentation called Optimizing For Happiness. Please go there now. The bottom line is that you keep your workers happy, and they are much less likely to leave your organization. Turnover costs are huge to a company. If you are not making your employees happy, they are talking to others about not working for you. They have their ears open to new opportunities. They are likely looking for other jobs as you read this.

If you think you are making your employees happy, I would ask what metric you use for evaluation. I’ll be the first to tell you that you are not doing enough to keep your employees happy. If you give out raises once a year and they are around 3-5% across the board, you might be doing it wrong. Not every employee is created equal, not every employee performs at the same level. Why would you pay them the same? Why would you give them the same raises?

I’m going to make a bold statement here: Your best people outperform your middle of the line folks by ten times. If you are not paying them ten times as much or even five times as much, you might want to re-evaluate how truly happy you are making your employees. If you are not challenging your employees, you are boring them and they will find something more exciting. If you are not doing x you are likely not making your employees happy. You need better metrics into what makes for happy workers.

Facility Costs

Your facility costs are significantly cheaper when it comes to remote workers. A remote worker or semi-remote worker can take up a lot less space than a full time worker. If they come into the office once or twice a week, they will take up some space during that time, but the rest of the week that space could be used by other remote workers when then come into the office. Think of this as space sharing.

Remote workers don’t bring/keep a lot of items in the office. Seriously. Get up and walk around your office. Take a look. Notice how much stuff each worker has surrounding their areas. Notice how much space they take up. Go ask how much it costs for the space of each worker you have in the office per month. If you don’t have this number on hand, you won’t understand what it costs for that worker.

This actually isn’t that hard to calculate if you don’t have it. Just find out the costs of your office space on a monthly basis. Electricity, rent, etc. Now take that number and divide by the number of workers you have on site. This will give you a rough estimate. There are ways to get more accurate estimates, but this is a good start.

For the space of that one onsite worker, you might be able to put 5-10 remote workers in there (if you build and use embodied social proxies which are highly recommended and will be discussed during this series). Imagine that. 5-10 remote workers in that same space. That means for every 10 remote workers you hire, you can only hire one onsite person. Kind of sounds weird to hear it like that, right?

Bigger Staff – More Work In The Pipeline

This is probably the most overlooked opportunity cost when it comes to remote workers. You are limited by the number of folks you have into what you can accomplish. When you open up to remote work, you also open up to the fact that you can take on more work. More work in some terms means more revenue for your business. This is huge.

Final Thoughts For Businesses

Remote work is not without its challenges. I can tell you that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. If you’ve tried remote work in the past and it didn’t work out, don’t let that be a limiter to trying again. If Thomas Edison quit the first time he failed, he may not have been credited with the invention of the light bulb as we know it! Failure is a step on the road to success. Food for thought.

Remote Work Series

  • Next up I’ll talk about what individuals need to be successful remote workers.
  • Building an Embodied Social Proxy, aka, the Remote Portal for a practical cost
  • Possibly other follow ups to come

Print | posted on Saturday, March 10, 2012 8:39 AM |



# re: Remote Work: Placeshift and Stay Highly Collaborative Part 1

I know what you mean regarding isolation. I've been a remote employee for a year and a half. Isolation is perhaps the greatest challenge followed by enforcing boundaries with my family during work hours.
5/9/2012 8:35 AM | Cody Skidmore

# re: Remote Work: Placeshift and Stay Highly Collaborative Part 1

You are on to something. As a consultant who works remotely in different time zones from my clients, I find the most productive hours are after they close shop and I am not interrupted with a barrage of emails. Looking foreword to some sort of ROI calculation I can use to justify increasing my hourly rate. Good job - (loving RoundhousE by the way).
6/21/2012 1:30 AM | Mike Brown
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