Notwithstanding the cheesy title, remote working is a pressing issue that most startups must confront, whether they like it or not. There are no definitive answers, but the general opinion as gleaned through survey data is that startups are much more amenable to a remote workforce. It’s not that surprising, considering the need for startups to stay lean, coupled with the lack of an existing business structure.
The primary consideration for startups, especially in big cities where real estate in a prime location carries a huge premium, is the operational cost. Why pay thousands of dollars in rent and utility bills if the same work can be done by a remote workforce managed to use collaboration platforms and tools offered by online marketplaces such as Elance and oDesk?
There’s an underlying assumption here that remote workers will perform just as well as employees packed into cubicles. Actually, this is rather subjective and can easily go both ways. It’s critical to hire the right people capable of communicating properly and producing results even without the boss breathing down their neck. If it doesn’t work out, the lack of team work can kill a promising startup very quickly.
On the other hand, if the remote workers do manage to gel as a team, the firm will grow much faster than a more traditional startup. A Telework Coalition report notes that businesses save $20,000 on average for every full-time employee working remotely instead of commuting to the office every workday.
The second consideration is about the talent pool, productivity and a telecommuting employee’s commitment to the startup’s success. By opting to hire remote workers, a startup virtually eliminates all geographic barriers in the hiring process.
Silicon Valley may have a huge pool of skilled workers, but it can’t hold a candle to a talent pool that covers not just both coasts but also every major tech hub in the world. There’s also a lot to be said about having employees in different time zones.
A cubicle worker freed of the hassles of a commute should ideally be able to increase productivity by putting the saved time and energy to good use. Again, this only works if the right people are hired or when a few select workers with a demonstrated record of being able to produce results independently are allowed to work from home.
At the end of the day, the decision to opt for a remote workforce is not just about the bottomline or an HR strategy to improve employee retention levels. It’s largely about a work culture that has to filter from the top down. Newly hired Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer set into motion an incredibly important chain of events when she issued diktats banning Yahoo employees from telecommuting.
If Mayer manages to turn Yahoo around, her decision to yoke workers to the cubicle will get at least some credit, and that’s not going to help supporters of a remote workforce. We’ll just have to wait and see how that one works out.