Why Do Companies Decide To Go Remote?

Remote work offers many benefits for both companies and employees. There are numerous research papers and blog posts that describe the advantages of offering employees the option of working from home. Forward thinking companies take this advice to heart and the best of them are even building their teams fully distributed from the start.

At Telescoped we believe that remote work is the future and we’ve thought a lot about the benefits and drawbacks of this new paradigm. We have talked to hundreds of people and we have seen many different reactions to the question of whether working remotely could work for them. For a given person the answer to this question comes down to personality, role, and past experience. Ultimately the fact that each company and even each department within an organization has some entrenched beliefs and processes in place influences remote work openness.

We agree that remote work might not be right for every role and every person. Sometimes having a sales team co-located can be energizing. We’ve seen incredible results at the end of a quarter when hundreds of phone calls are made and high fives fill the room as the bell goes off with every customer close. This is the right setup for that sales team, but trying to answer an email or write a technical document with that loud team in the background might not be ideal for other teams.

Sources include: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Eurostat

The idea of recruiting a remote engineering team has become critical at a time when unemployment in the US is at an all time low and salaries in tech hubs have skyrocketed. We believe the time is right for more companies to broaden the hiring pool and consider hiring remote software engineers.

The Benefits Of Remote Work

For some of those other teams, remote work can be a very positive alternative to a co-located office. We’ve seen the benefits of remote work play out for both companies and their people. Among these benefits, the most salient ones are:

  • Improved recruiting: you can find people from a larger, global talent pool
  • Self-directed people: remote workers tend to be more entrepreneurial. They crave autonomy and are truly passionate about driving your mission forward
  • Happier and more creative people: OwlLabs published in the State of Remote Work 2019, that “those who do work remotely say they’re happy in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers”
  • Lower costs: companies and employees save money through lower real estate costs, fewer wasted dollars on expensive food, clothes and painful commutes
  • Positive impact on the environment: eliminating the commute takes cars off the street and reduces the amount of CO2 going to the atmosphere
  • Longer tenures: studies show that remote workers are more loyal and have higher retention rates
  • Increased productivity: People are more productive when they aren’t distracted. Giving your team the flexibility to fit work around their life is great for everyone.

The area where we see these benefits most emphasized is in software development – this is especially true if you ask the engineers doing the work! It seems that this is one area where the future of remote work is already here. Most companies already let some or all of their software engineers work remotely part of the time. Sometimes this is by design, other times it starts because of an exception like a spouse relocating, a bad winter storm or because they simply have a cold but regardless of what caused it, moving to a more flexible remote-friendly setup for engineers has very positive results.

For us, when a company doesn’t allow the engineering team to work remotely it is a red flag. It is typically rooted in a myth around the idea that in-person collaboration is more effective. We don’t agree and in fact we believe that keeping your engineers tied to a desk in a co-located office points at one of two problems: lack of trust or lack of process. The reason for this is that in order to take advantage of all the benefits of remote work a company needs to trust its developers and their capacity to manage their own time and their own work. This is only possible when they know what they’re supposed to be doing and when they have all the tools and context necessary to get it done. There needs to be certain processes and tools in place to ensure that everyone in the team can collaborate effectively.

The Benefits of Building Software Remotely

More process might seem like a negative but as companies scale this becomes a necessity. Remote engineering accelerates the need for companies to define and document processes. This helps increase the productivity of the existing engineering teams but also facilitates onboarding new people.

When things are well documented this translates to less miscommunication and less wasted time. On top of this everyone will have to think before they write that email, memo, requirement document or feedback message. This typically means better communication because your company will naturally attract and retain strong written communicators – this is a well kept secret of successful remote engineers.

Remote software engineers benefit from being able to control their environment. You can turn off notifications on Slack or your phone, but you can’t turn notifications off on an open office. Remote engineers are happier. Research from the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine shows that “After only 20 minutes of interrupted performance people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.” We live in a time when interruptions are part of our culture but unfortunately for engineers this means hours of wasted cycles. More interruptions equals more more mistakes.

An analysis of 44,515 software engineering tasks by a research team at the University of Calgary showed that for software developers “frequent task switching typically results in severe performance costs”

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Software Developers’ Perceptions of Task Switching and Task Interruption

Clearly remote engineers are more productive because they have fewer interruptions and because of that need to switch tasks less often. The research points out that “Developing software involves a mix of analytical and creative work, and requires a significant load on brain functions, such as working memory and decision making.” This loading and unloading of memory is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t sneak up on your engineers.

This cartoon illustrates the point well.

This might be an exaggeration but both walk-ins as well as meetings are truly the productivity killers for roles where context loading takes a lot of effort.

The same team from the University of Calgary in Canada has another research paper on the subject of interruptions and wasted time in software development, and the quotes speak for themselves “Meetings are the #1 productivity killer, especially the daily stand-ups. These meetings often sneak up on me since I’m so engaged in my current task, which means that I most likely did not stop at a good place (i.e. I stop in the middle of a subtask)”.

Companies that embrace remote work typically have fewer and more productive meetings. They develop an organizational muscle around documentation and asynchronous work. This is especially important to help software developers get focused and do their best work.

Another interesting finding from that paper is that “office noise” such as overhearing co-workers’ phone calls in an open office, or the random chatter of colleagues on the other side of the office is the most disruptive source of distraction to their work.

Remote software engineers benefit from working on their own schedule. This means that they can be on a roll and keep going without needing to stop. This way they get their work done more effectively.

One of the simplest things to do to avoid unnecessarily interrupting your engineers is to codify your communication protocols. When should you use email, Slack or a phone call?

Getting Your Roadmap Back On Track

Remote software development can be a forcing function to push your team towards a more professional and structured software development process. This together with a more productive group of remote engineers might be all you need to get your roadmap back on track.

In general, when we look at the benefits of establishing clear protocols for engineers to work remotely it is clear that everyone wins as part of this arrangement. More importantly the best software developers in the world are now selecting to work exclusively for companies that are geared for remote work. Our advice is to not miss out on working with the smartest, happiest and most creative engineers from around the world – go remote!

Categories: Remote Work

1 Comment

Private Equity Software · November 3, 2020 at 8:17 pm

when we look at the benefits of establishing clear protocols for engineers to work remotely it is clear that everyone wins as part of this arrangement. More importantly the best software developers in the world are now selecting to work exclusively for companies that are geared for remote work. Our advice is to not miss out on working with the smartest.

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