Working remotely–pros and cons

When the top executive at Yahoo famously announced earlier this year that she was requiring all employees to work from company offices, the dialogue on both sides—in favor of working remotely, and in defense of the conventional office setting—was fast and furious. There are significant arguments to be made for both points of view, of course. And the conversation is ongoing not just at huge tech companies but in small businesses—and nonprofits of all sizes as well.

Have you successfully worked with some or all of your staff offsite? Or are you assuming that this particular debate doesn’t and won’t ever pertain to your nonprofit? If the subject hasn’t come up yet at your organization, it’s almost guaranteed to eventually. Based on our experience with clients and colleagues, here are a few basic pros and cons to set the stage.

Working remotely: PRO

1. Getting away from ringing phones, overheard conversations and other distractions can create uninterrupted spans of time to think and write, or focus on detailed data work.

2. Not having to commute saves precious energy—literally and figuratively—and protects the environment.

3. There may be a huge plus in not having to dress and “get ready.” Some people spend more than an hour each and every morning getting cleaned up and made up. Whether that hour could be re-directed to something personal or professional, it’s valuable time.

4. There is an obvious plus in the flexibility for families and caregivers. One working-from-home mom we know is simply “out of pocket” from 3-4p when she is driving her children from school and sports. That’s an hour she easily makes up at other times, and her colleagues work around it.

5. It can allow you to have a diverse workforce in the geographic sense. Consider whether the pool of talent you can recruit from is limited by who lives nearby. Some of the nonprofit boards that RMA works with know this—some have directors living in different time zones, and rely on teleconferencing and email until it’s time for a retreat.

6. Not everyone is productive on the same schedule. Working remotely allows night owls and morning people to work when they are at their peak.

7. Limiting face-to-face contact forces you to be mindful about the time you do spend in meetings. If yours is an organization where meetings start late and always run long, changing the way you work by adding remote work options can really shine a light on your bad habits. In a good way.

8. Working remotely is probably the wave of the future, with younger talent more likely to demand it. Don’t let your lack of regard for this trend affect your nonprofit’s success down the road. It will surely benefit you later to consider it for your organization, even in a small way.  Perhaps start “trying it on” this year and see how it goes.

Working remotely: CON

1. Some ideas suffer from a lack of feedback and brainstorming. There’s always a danger of remote staff working in a vacuum. It can also be harder to mentor or train someone who is new to your field.

2. Even more than in a regular office, you are completely vulnerable to technology—internet access, remote access to servers, and the need to continually apply new practices and software.

3. Depending on your mission and the people you serve, there may be no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Unfortunately, what works for your staff may not work as well as for the people you serve. Can you strike a balance between office time and remote time?

4. Personal relationships between staff members probably do not thrive. Remember that not all value in a job comes from the work itself or from the pay.

5. For someone who struggles with being a workaholic, having a desk handy at home may not lend itself to a positive work/life balance.

6. There are potentially serious considerations about hardware and software, including protecting your organization’s intellectual property and databases. Meanwhile, literal access to information is an issue if your organization relies on paper files and has resisted going paperless.

7. Offsite work is not a fit for every person, and certainly not for every job. The latter is sensitive in that requiring in a job description that a particular role be performed on site must be driven by function, not by the preference or performance of the individual currently in the job. Meanwhile, without supervision, some workers simply do not rise to the opportunity, and do not perform as well.

8. You can obviously save on leasing office space, but having a remote workforce potentially creates other issues around expenses. If your team is comprised of independent contractors, then of course they assume the responsibility of how to manage, equip, and fund their home office(s). If your team is comprised of employees, however, there will be costs associated with each home-based work station that you will need to provide. It could be that writing a monthly check for leased space in a conventional office is the least of your budget considerations.