One topic consistently comes up when people ask me how we do things at 37signals: working remotely. Talking with a friend about how his team manages a widely distributed team it occurred to me that the key to really making working outside the office effective for your team is equality.
What I mean is that at 37signals there isn’t any distinction between our remote team members and those who work in the office. Of our team, 9 live in Chicago near our physical office and 11 live outside Chicago — a few even outside the US. All of us have the same freedom to work where we feel most comfortable. Even those of us that live in Chicago work outside the office much of the time.
What that does is create parity and a culture of work where location doesn’t matter. There are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done. I’ve worked with companies where remote team members were an afterthought. They had to sit through meetings on the other end of a speaker phone while the rest of the team met in-person. The team members who weren’t permitted to work remotely resented those who were, despite the remote team’s obvious second-class status. These days, I live over 500 miles from my nearest coworker but I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing.
My friend’s team learned a similar lesson. They found that making even their team members in the main office work from home leveled the playing field. The local team benefitted from the productivity of working in isolation and learned to embrace the same constraints as the remote team. That taught everyone how to communicate in a location independent way, making the entire team more effective.
Lack of parity for remote employees is certainly a big factor when a company tries and fails to integrate remote team members. Most any team can benefit from some time to work outside the office. Let your local team reap the benefits and open your company to a vast pool of talent by hiring the best no matter where they live.