Remote work is often discussed from the perspective of independent consultants, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. However, there is a growing number of medium to large-sized companies that embrace telecommuting. What do these arrangements bring to these organizations and their employees? Are there any compromises to be made? Let’s find out.
Telecommuting As Part of Corporate Culture
Automattic, the company behind popular blogging platform WordPress.com, has more than 700 employees spread across the globe in 62 countries. All employees (including non-technical resources) are allowed to work from home. In 2017, Automattic closed its San Francisco office because few employees showed up. If “working from home” is not your cup of tea, the company can provide a $250 a month stipend to spend at a co-working space, or coffee shop of your choice.
Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s founder believes that a “distributed workplace”, is not just good business; it is also more ethically responsible. “Offices are very exclusionary environments, by definition, and the only people who can contribute are people who can physically be at the office and at certain hours of the day. On one level, that excludes anyone who’s life circumstances mean they can’t commute to work in a conventional office, At a larger level, there’s the 99.9% of the world that isn’t physically located in a place where they can make it to that office,” Mullenweg told Quartz.
In many regards, eXp is your typical real estate brokerage firm. It manages thousands of licensed agents to help clients buy and sell their homes; and has achieved a market cap of over $610 million. Yet, instead of having agents come to a physical office for meetings, presentations, or technical assistance, the company’s 13,000 agents and 200 staff employees go to work on a “virtual island”.
A small office in Bellingham, WA serves as its headquarters due to legal requirements. But make no mistake: the “real work” gets done in the digital space. eXp says that maintaining a virtual office (which receives 8,000 unique visitors per month), can lead to significant advantages. “We found that we have an ability that’s hard to find in the physical world,” told CTO Scott Petronis to Business Insider, regarding the efficient internal communication flow at the company.
Employees can report to work regardless of the weather, and there are almost no restrictions on how many employees the offices can support, low maintenance fees, as well as no geographical limits on recruiting talent. “It’s a great feeling to know that we can hire great talent regardless of where they are in the world,” Petronis added.
Within the island, your presence is symbolized by an avatar. You can adjust its hair and skin color, as well as face type. In late 2018, religious headwear and seasonal clothing options were added. It has been reported that some employees change their avatar’s clothing every day, just like in the physical world.
It’s interesting to note that survey data collected by the authors of the 2018 Global State of Remote Work report indicate that 56 percent of companies around the world support remote work in some capacity.
Sometimes Comprises Are Necessary to Maintain Team Cohesion
Automattic recognizes that occasional face to face interaction can be highly beneficial to maintain cohesion among its teams. The company organizes a yearly, “physical” meeting for seven days named the “Grand Meetup”. In general, employees should expect to travel three to four weeks a year to meet one another.
eXp enforces a strict “circle of silence” policy to ensure employees can work peacefully within the virtual island (an environment that can be distracting at times). “Private rooms” designated by blue dotted circles can allow workers to work individually or with a select group of people (everyone’s voices within the meeting can be heard equally and clearly). The company also organizes virtual 4th of July and Canada Day parties on the island so that team members can bond and relax.
For any organization thinking of adopting a “remote culture”, designing a rigorous structure for individual regular feedback, (bi-weekly or monthly depending on different factors such as your team size) can be beneficial. Creating a culture for continuous improvement may allow members to feel that they are personally improving, which can lead to increased work engagement and greater loyalty for the company.
Considering the benefits remote work can bring to a business’ bottom line, this should come as no surprise that more and more organizations of all sizes are implementing comprehensive telecommuting policies.