Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Post: Remote management and telecommuting with a global team

Author: Balaji

Several years back when I first visited the US, I heard about the concept of remote management and telecommuting. Not to sound all cheesy, but the first picture I got, was from the movie - Johnny Mnemonic ( My initial reaction was, how can you work like that? You do not have any direct interaction with your team, you do not have someone breathing down your neck (literally) and yet, you’ve got to get work done while you’re seated at a remote location!

Well, several years forward, this is exactly what I'm doing. With several innovations in technology, that’s cheaper, faster, better internet and telecom access, with client locations all over the globe and with supervisors not interested in shelling out for "relocation"; telecommuting has become the new mantra for cost savings. Think about it, rather than having a manager for every location, have the team/s report to one manager, globally. Let the manager remote manage the teams and travel only when needed - for high level meetings, client interaction, quarterly/yearly all-hands meeting, etc. Daily discussions and updates can be done via teleconference calls and video conference calls. Give the manager an incentive to work from home (or typically known as telecommuting) and you have a winner.

Here is what the company gets in return:

No more wasted office property on one more person - this equates to a big number. Reason - electricity, infrastructure, cubicle (office space), parking (majority of companies share office spaces and have to pay for the parking), office space, coffee, snacks, transport.... you name it! All of which is additional expense, sometimes ranging in big bucks, is a pretty tempting lure to the office to tempt the office worker to work remotely!

I have personally seen instances where companies have offered monetary incentives to employee(s) who were not required to be present in the office, to work from home! And believe me when I say this - the office was a ghost town the next month and the company successfully released three floors from their office building, back to the owner. Talk about savings!

What’s in it for you?
  • Work @ your own pace - as long as you deliver to the deadlines!
  • The only person you have breathing over your neck is you!
  • It increases job satisfaction and reduces stress, since you get enough time to manage work-life balance.
  • You pollute less. No driving/riding to the office. Contribute to a greener environment.
  • Reduces commuting costs to and from work.
However, there is a flip side to this.
  • Identifying which program allows a person to telecommute is a big decision.
  • Setting up a home-office that’s equipped to handle your work assignments, might prove to be a challenge.
  • Telecommuting would mean that you work alone. So getting immediate help from team members might not be as easy as walking up to their cubicle. Dependency on call or mail could take away valuable work time.
  • There is a high risk of losing the edge on interpersonal communication.
  • Most often, telecommuters spend longer hours at work, since they are dependent mostly on calls and emails to get notifications/news from the office. It might prove to be stressful.
  • If you do not have the motivation to work remotely, you might end up needing a new wardrobe in the plus size!
  • Finally, you may never want to move back into an office!
Well, when it comes to telecommuting and managing teams, I’ve been there done that. I’ve been managing my team remotely for well over two years now. It’s possible, as long as we can clearly identify the circumstances which allow for telecommuting and when you really need to be at the office. Setting expectations with the manager and the management is just as critical.

For now, I’m ready to move back into an office, back into my cabin. Well, of course, like all addicts, quoting the withdrawal syndrome.

About the author:

Balaji is a seasoned manager with global experience in the IT industry, spanning multiple service & business lines. He has worked with several multinational companies and is currently working in the PMO office of a global equipment pooling organization.