Distributed teams are getting more and more common, but too many businesses still cling to outdated assumptions
For the last few years, our team has been living and breathing remote work.
It works well for us, and for hundreds of other businesses. It can work well for a lot more.
Still, I see comments and emails like this pretty often:
Remote isn’t for everyone. There are companies that struggle with it, and not all employees work best in a distributed culture.
And if a business thoughtfully considers their team and situation and decides that remote isn’t for them, that’s great; they should absolutely stick with that decision.
But I see some knee-jerk arguments against remote work popping up time and time again that simply aren’t true.
These objections are almost always built on false assumptions or refusal to see alternative approaches to achieving a goal… a “we do things this way because that’s how they’ve always been done” mindset that keeps many of us from making progress.
Below are the most common anti-remote arguments I hear, and what I usually say to people when I hear them.
1) A “Water Cooler” Is Critical for Culture
“Your culture improves when people can congregate in the office and chat about non-work things.”
This argument isn’t entirely without merit. It’s true that having relationships with your co-workers that aren’t based 100% around work is tremendously valuable for your team’s culture.
But it’s also not something that you can’t reproduce in a remote environment.
For us, that water cooler is Slack.
Rather than discouraging non-Groove discussion, we embrace it as a huge part of letting our team members show off their “real” selves, and of getting to know one another as more than just “our [developer/designer/marketer/CEO/support agent/etc…].”
The water cooler isn’t what’s important here; it’s just a symbol for a place where your team shoots the breeze. And that can happen anywhere.
2) People Are More Productive in an Office
“Offices are built for work! That’s where people get the most work done.”
This is one of the arguments that I find most condescending and disrespectful to workers everywhere.
“People” aren’t anything, and any statement about where people are most productive will only apply to some people.
Everyone has their own work style, their own preferences, and their own “optimal” conditions.
Remote work actually recognizes and embraces that.
If you’re most productive in an office, you can work in an office. That’s what co-working spaces or Regus rentals are for.
But if you’re most productive from your home, or a coffee shop, or the library, then remote work gives you the freedom to do that, too.
3) You Need an Office for Work/Life Separation
“People are happier when they can get into and snap out of work mode, and coming to and leaving a physical office helps them do that.”
Again, I’ve found that the concept behind this argument is true. Carrying your work with you in your head 24/7 is not a healthy or particularly pleasant way to live.
But that separation can be achieved outside of the office, too.
Some people on our team do that by working off-site. Others do it by dedicated a separate room in their home as an office. And some even simply have a dedicated desk in the corner of a room that’s only used for work, creating a separation in their mindset when they’re sitting there versus when they’re not.
There are also ways to digitally accomplish this as well: turning off email notifications on my phone at the end of the day works wonders for me.
4) It Adds to Your Valuation
“Startups with the entire team in a single office get better valuations than remote teams.”
My thoughts on taking loads of VC money and trying to build a unicorn are well documented.
It’s not for us.
But even if it was, this is an argument that, if I hadn’t actually heard it from two separate investors looking to buy a stake in Groove, I wouldn’t believe to even exist.
The fact is, maybe some companies looking to make an acquisition would prefer to acquire a co-located team.
But you know what drives up your valuation far, far more?
Revenue. Customers. Growth.
These are metrics that, if focused on, will bring you huge gains in the value of your business.
The potential gain from having a co-located team, in comparison, is marginal.
Having a team in an office is an easy thing to accomplish—much easier than actually growing your business—so I can see why it would be a tempting choice for an entrepreneur looking to maximize their return.
But it’s short-term, small-picture thinking.
Focus on making your business as successful as you possibly can. Figure out whether you can accomplish that better with a remote team or a co-located team, and decide based on that.
If you want to cash out, that’s what will help you create an attractive target for acquirers. If you execute well, you’ll have more offers than you know what to do with.
5) It Makes Meetings Easier
“Having everyone in the same room makes meetings more efficient and effective.”
While many startups rail against them, I’m not opposed to meetings. I think that sometimes, they can get things done faster.
But I also think that meetings are far too often leaned on by people who don’t want to make a difficult decision and would rather punt it to a group.
And often, these decisions aren’t even that consequential. The color of your CTA buttons shouldn’t require a meeting.
Jason Fried puts the true cost of meetings into perspective brilliantly in his TEDx talk, where he points out that a one-hour meeting with eight people isn’t really a one-hour meeting at all; it’s a meeting that just consumed eight hours of productive time from your team.
So, to respond to this objection, my first challenge would be that perhaps meetings shouldn’t be easy.
If there were more barriers to meetings, we’d have fewer of them, and waste less time.
But for when meetings are necessary, the tools exist to make them happen. I have successful meetings every day using Google Hangouts, which has only gotten better and better in the last couple of years.
And there are dozens of tools like it now, depending on your needs. Whether you need to share screens, loop in people on phones, work together on documents or just about any other collaborative process you can think of, it can be done with tools that are now available and affordable.
6) There Are Too Many Distractions at Home
“If I can’t see what my team is doing, then how do I know they’re not sitting on Twitter all day?”
Twitter exists everywhere, whether you’re at home or at the office.
And if you have so little trust in your employees that you’re blocking Twitter on your office firewall, then you have issues far bigger than social media distractions.
The reality that I’ve found to be true is that if you measure people by the work they get done, rather than by the hours they spend on it, your team will accomplish more, not less.
They’ll still take time for Twitter and Facebook and all of the distractions that exist everywhere; but their work time will be more engaged since they know their performance is being measured on output and the quality of that output, rather than simply by the time they’re spending in their chair.
Hiring the right people—the ones who are accountable for their work—is important here, but it’s important in a traditional office too. However, in a traditional office, it’s a lot easier to make the mistake of assuming that an employee who’s present is an employee who’s producing.
How to Apply This to Your Business
Remote work isn’t for everyone.
But if you’re going to think about it, then it’s important to give it a fair and thoughtful consideration rather than a knee-jerk dismissal.
I hope that this post helps to clear up a few misconceptions and get a few more businesses open to trying the system that’s worked so well for us.