The Virtues of Telecommuting
By Jonathan Goodyear
My consulting company was working to win a job with a new client a few weeks ago when the topic of work location came up. Some of you may be familiar with the fact that ASPSOFT is a virtual company; we have no home office. Instead, each consultant telecommutes, and only occasionally travels to the client s office. This new client wanted all the developers to work at the same location, citing that such an arrangement afforded a 5% productivity gain. I disagreed with the analysis and asked for the reference to the document that backed up the claim. The client couldn t produce it. I suspect that he heard this common misconception somewhere that he couldn t recall.
The conversation got me thinking again about the virtues of telecommuting versus working in an office. Some companies still haven t bought in to the concept. A few years ago, I wrote an article about how to land a telecommuting gig (http://angrycoder.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=3). I will admit that the reason I started my business based around the concept of telecommuting is because I simply didn t like working in an office. However, I have discovered over the past seven years that there are sound business reasons for telecommuting to reinforce that initial desirability factor. Here are some of those benefits (from one business owner s perspective):
1) I don t have all the overhead that an office entails (e.g., mortgage/rent, utilities, phone, Internet, etc.). In a business that revolves around hourly consulting rates, anything I can do to reduce expenses and stay competitive is a real plus.
2) I can hire people who live anywhere. My consultants are top notch, so they naturally have many options with regard to where they work and for whom. Most of them aren t going to pick up and move to Orlando, FL, because I think it s the greatest place to live. The reduced overhead mentioned above also means I can afford to pay the salaries top-notch developers want, while still keeping my rates competitive.
3) My employees aren t compelled to rush over to the cube of someone whose buddy just sent them the link to a funny YouTube video (http://youtube.com). At-home distractions pale in comparison to the time lost to office conversation. Telecommuters can handle social conversation by e-mail and instant messenger, which can be addressed and answered when it won t break their concentration. Developers need long periods of concentration, so this factor alone is huge.
4) I ve found that peer-programming and assistance can be handled even more effectively using a collaboration product like GoToMeeting than in person (http://gotomeeting.com). I never was a big fan of having to look over someone s shoulder (or vice versa). The same applies for impromptu meetings, where everyone can have relevant documents on the screen in front of them, instead of squinting to see the details from a projector, and potentially not having a laptop or tablet PC to take notes.
5) If something needs to be addressed after hours, each of my employees is set up to handle it from home. For all you readers who thought this list was going to be completely skewed in your favor, think again. There are definitely some trade-offs to the telecommuting arrangement. Your employer will most certainly take advantage of your expanded availability. Consider this give and take long and hard before pursuing the arrangement.
6) You avoid having meetings for the sake of having meetings. I don t think this one needs any further explanation.
7) In my company s particular situation, my clients don t need to come up with space to put the consultants I place on their project. We do a lot of work with small, independent software vendors, so this can be an important factor for them.
It isn t all peaches and cream in the world of telecommuting. If you ever do want to get the team together for a meeting or social occasion, it can be difficult and costly. It is definitely more work to maintain the corporate culture. My direct experience, though, has been that telecommuting can be an extremely effective method of conducting business in the software development industry. There will always be situations where in-office work is preferable, but blindly requiring employees to be in-office is old thinking that will many times yield less productivity than a telecommuting arrangement.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http:// www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto: [email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http:// www.angryCoder.com.