How Working Remotely Empowers Employees and Fails to Make Business Sense

There has been some interesting controversy recently with regarding to remote work.

Let me sum it up by putting it in two camps: “Marissa Mayer is wrong, remote work is empowering brilliant employees who wouldn’t be in the workforce otherwise” and “Marissa Mayer is right, because she is energizing the company by getting people physically and mentally together.”

Whatever side you take on this  Mayer argument, it’s important to look at your company and see whether this works for you. Would you allow your team to work remotely, or would you rather see them working from the office right in front of you?

At 500px, we have about 30 people working on different projects. And at different times we had some people working remotely—whether it was their choice, of whether we had a contract in place for some remote work.

Did it work for us? Not really.

I strongly believe that the outcome depends on the culture, as I have seem some companies that can make it work, but it simply doesn’t work for us. Once someone is working from home, it’s as good as not working at all. It’s not an easy assumption to make, and may seem overly simplified, but it’s a statement that I’m ready to make.

I’ve been trying to explain it to myself a lot, and I yet to find the one and only answer, but at least I have a theory—in a startup environment, there are no simple and straightforward tasks that you can do on your own. You have to collaborate, and to do it effectively, you have to interact with people on up-to-the-minute basis. That is, have a constant flow of information. Be available when needed.

Remote work has a bit of leeway here, so that being remote may equal to being “offline.” Remote work also requires impressive level of discipline. Frankly, that is probably number one reason that it rarely works beyond startup founders or early employees who are heavily vested in the company’s success.

Whether remote work works for your and your employees is, ultimately, your choice. But if I had to take a side, I’d take Mayer’s side. The world around us is changing, but working in the office is still a great way to get a company united to achieve the goals.

The concept of remote work has evolved a lot: for example, I’m typing this post not in the office, but rather in a cafe, between answering emails and doing some social marketing. However, from 9am to 7pm you’d usually find me in the office, because I need to talk to people, and they need to talk to me.

In my absence, people rarely call or email, relying on me being there. And I get it, because it helps solve even most complicated issues right there on a spot.

Remote work just unable to deliver that feature. And therefore is tougher for growing startups to implement.

Photo: Navid Baraty