Working in a dispersed team has its share of challenges, but some of the fears that people have about remote work simply aren’t born out by the experience of real-world teams. Here are a few if the more common misconceptions I’ve encountered.
- Working outside the office is distracting. This is one of the most persistent myths I’ve run into. Sure, working from home can be distracting. But out of the remote workers I’ve talked to, the majority find their home office a better environment for focused work than a traditional office.Which shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After all, if you work with people you like, it means that your workplace is going to be filled with people you have a lot in common with, having conversations about things that are interesting to you! While I’m not proud of it, I’ve had hallway conversations that lasted for hours at some jobs.Not to mention that when people can see you, they are more likely to interrupt you to ask you a question or get a status update. Proximity invites disruption.
- It takes a special kind of employee to telework. Without a doubt, some people prefer remote work, and some prefer to be collocated with their coworkers. But no matter how you feel about it, it doesn’t take special teleworking DNA to be productive in a dispersed team. What it does take is education and preparation – and that’s what Wide Teams is all about.
- Close collaboration is impossible in a distributed team. Can you really work side-by-side with a coworker on a project the way you would if you were both sitting at the same desk? Yes, and I’ve spoken to the teams who do it every day of the work-week. It’s true that some distributed groups opt to practice more “loosely coupled” collaboration. But I’ve worked on and interviewed software development teams who practice frequent pair-programming using videoconferencing and screen-sharing. It takes a little getting used to, but with a little practice it becomes second nature.
- A dispersed team will never be as productive as a collocated team. I’ve spoken with members of a lot of distributed teams, and with rare exceptions most of them feel that they as productive if not more productive than their localized counterparts. Some of the unique productivity boosts that dispersed teams enjoy include:
- Being able to work from anywhere and having more flexible hours means workers feel free to work at times when they might otherwise not, such as tapping away at the laptop in bed, or while sitting in the waiting room at the auto shop. In fact, one of the commonly identified pitfalls of workshifting is that people work too much because they don’t have the transition from work to home to mark the boundaries of the work day.
- Some people are simply more effective when they can work from their favorite environment, be it a home office or a coffee shop.
- Telework is just about cutting costs. While some managers opt for a distributed team in order to cut costs, others realize that for knowledge work, recruiting talent without geographical boundaries is the only way to get the very best people. If the person who is the very best in her field lives by choice on a sustainable ranch in Montana, do you opt for second best? Or do you take the talent where you can find it?