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Currently I’m working for a company, at home. It’s a small company: my boss is located in Mexico, I’m (project leader) here in Spain, and there are 3 developers in India. We just use Skype, Google Docs and email, and we have no big problems, just the ones related to the time zones.
“When you work remotely you work less”, they say. Actually this is the usual excuse for bosses to avoid telecommuting, because they feel they can control you less. But this idea is totally wrong!
Let me explain an interesting effect. Imagine a man working in a office with fixed time (like 9am to 5pm); when he sees the clock marking 5pm he stops working and runs home (except just in case of a final deadline for a project). That is, he doesn’t really take care about finishing the job. Perhaps he has not done a lot of it, and instead he spent a couple of hours with minesweeper! Meanwhile, I don’t have a really daily schedule: but I usually do something like 9am to 6pm, with some stops. The thing is that when I see 6pm in the clock, I do NOT stop, just think “is the task (scheduled for today) done?”. Usually it’s not done, so I work a couple of hours more. Of course it depends on each person, but usually remote working make you more implicated with the job.
On the other hand, the company is forced to have a really good system to schedule tasks. Other methods to control the work that everyone is doing are welcomed as well. Things like an updated calendar for tasks, good version control system and code reviews, ways to verify the quality of software, job reports, etc. The company has to firmly use methods of control in order to survive. But this is a good thing: the work is better organized! In my case, we usually have a meeting on Friday (evening, morning) to set the tasks for each single day of the next 2 weeks, and review the tasks done during the current week.
So, the real benefits of telecommuting, from the company’s perspective: no need to rent an office (and no need to pay its bills), better organization of the work, and happier employees. Sounds good, specially nowadays with a economic crisis around. The only real problem is the communication with the team, but with video-conferences you can reach a just enough level of interaction. However, this doesn’t work for all kind of people, but you can train them (even remotely!) to work with the discipline needed to telecommute effectively.