There has been a lot of buzz lately on the decision by Yahoo CEO to cut work-from-home policy. It’s only sensible that I rather not comment on this without understanding the full details of their internal situation. However, I think it raises a valid question that we need to grapple with “Is work from home right for my software team?”
I have worked & lead local, partly remote and fully distributed open-source development teams. What I can tell you is that the following: If your organization culture, work style & tools are built for remote work (a great example is Canonical) then I believe work from home will work great for your team. If the nature of work or the culture is built for local interactions then it’s probably best you dont leverage work from home. If you are a startup building a culture from ground up then I would highly encourage you to build remote teams and work from home culture right from start. It will payback by leaps and bounds as your team grows.
With that being said let us address a few key question that get commonly asked in this context by:
Software Leaders & Managers:
- Can I trust my team members to “work” from home? : The foundation to effective leadership is trust. You must trust your team and employees to do the right thing. However, when you notice that the trust you place in them is being miss used – then take corrective action.
- Can part of my team be local and the rest remote/work from home? This can work if any only if you treat your local team as remote. What I mean is that the interaction you have (meetings, discussions, etc) need to be happening in tools that you remote team can participate in e.g., IRC, Basecamp, Wiki, WebEx, Google Hangouts etc. If you dont take a stance at treating your local team as a remote team then if extremely easy to isolate the remote team.
- Is my team member ready to work remotely? Let take an analogy from raising kids: you know when you kid is ready for potty training by the signs they show and their behavior. Similarly, a team member will show the signs like being able to work without much direction, takes initiative, proactively communicates both up and down, understands the big picture of the team and projects and how his work fits in. This will be a good indicator to consider them for work from home option.
- Our team is largely local but I want to try and experiment with team productivity using work from home? This is a bigger question perhaps a seperate blog post is necessary. But, first I would say you need to ensure you have systems in place to enable your team to working from home effectively. This does not mean just tools like VPN or conference bridge. This means that your team should be able to interact productively and share everything using online medium & tools. If you are not ready for this, then the next best thing is to allow a developer to work 1 day a week – you can call it “Coding day”. You can tell them that there will not be any meeting on that day for that employee and you will call his cell if urgent. Ask him to get a bunch of awesome features done!
Software Developers & Testers:
- I am a new employee in this team and I want to see if my manager will let me do remote work? If you team culture and team is mostly doign remote/work from home – then go ahead and ask. Be sure to build a good and convincing case on why you are ready for it. If not, I would probably wait for several months till you understand the ins and out of the team, job and boss before you propose anything. You must gain your bosses trust before you request permission to work to work remotely.
- I am a linchpin developer in my team – can I request to work from home? If you ask for it you will get it (most likely). But, dont be too selfish – think first about your team if your team will be better and more awesome at what they do if you are remote, then go ahead. If not, work with your boss to figure out something mid way.
- Am I ready to work remotely? See the signs above in the leader section. But, you will only know when you try it. Ease into it by trying one day a week and adapt.
With freedom comes great responsibility. Never ever misuse the trust the your team & boss place in you.
Tools and technologies are ready to enable work from home, however you need to carefully evaluate the team culture, work style and individual readiness to be able to effectively leverage its potential.
Update 02-March-2013: Scott Berkun posted a insightful post on this topic here