Using this interesting and full of references article as starting point, I want to express my point of view about “working in office” v.s. “working from home” or more in general “remotely”.

The idea of the article is that even workers themselves prefer working in an office because of the following reasons:

  • office will promote team productivity, which is the kind of target a company should aim to (while working alone/from home will promote individual productivity).
  • spontaneous collaboration, in the sense of generic talking/meetings that sparks unexpected new ideas about how to deal with some issues that would have taken long hours to be solved by a single worker.

Said that, the usage of wide open space offices will bring also noise and visual distractions (from my point of view, even different working pace between colleagues can be a distraction).

Well, this topic interests me for two reasons. The first is that I like very much all kind of collaborative tools, software and techniques so that I enjoy the idea of try them out. The latter is that in the last three year and a half I worked in automotive projects where the client was thousand miles away, so that I had to travel a lot (e.g. weekly business trip for the last 6 months in a row), which have been a big cost for my company and a great stress for myself. Why not working remotely? Well in this case I agreed that working close to my team wasn’t totally a bad choice, even if traveling so much has been very tiring.

Basically the biggest problems were:

  • Hardware: automotive requires specific hardware, which is often created at the same time of the software. It’s like developing Android OS features or apps for a phone yet to be released: teams work on prototypes and prototypes change over time, require fixes, have different versions and so on. It is not so simple to give each developer all the hardware he can require for all the time of development and hardware is often shared among people of the same team.
  • Project choices: I also had to plan and design some features, so I spent lot of time to talk with my contacts about possibilities, choices, problems, etc.
  • Communication tools: spontaneous communication really works well. Many times I had a problem I just raised my head and directly asked my colleagues, and they did the same. Also I won’t even talk about how good is to share generic ideas and chatting with colleagues that are experiencing the same stuff you are. In fact when I had the chance to work remotely it was weird at the beginning. Technically no real issues, I kept working at the same pace, with no big distractions except that communication was slower using e-mails and was not spontaneous at all. The only emergency we had in that period had been tackled with a phone call, after having found a room available, that is slower.

Also, the office is a place where junior developers can learn, if everybody is at home, how they can learn anything.

So I think that working only remotely is not totally OK, but a mix between normal offices and remote office is a interesting solution and should be promoted where possible. In order to make this combination effective the key are the tools, which have to be compared against verbal and direct communication which is an effective, evolved and easy to use technology impossible to outclass.

I only know free tools like Skype, Hangouts, etc. since I didn’t had the chance to use commercial platforms for team communication (which I think are more suitable) like Slack, but even those are far better than phone. Using advanced chat I have everything at my hand, indexed and easy to find in a second time, I can share designs, drawings (with €30 one can have a pretty decent graphic tablet), schemes. Using a Wiki I can have all the information I need. The list of possible solution is quite long. So it’s only a problem of tools, but it’s the company that has to invest on those tools, so if the company won’t encourage this kind of work style, there isn’t much a worker can do.