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Working "remotely" benefits who?

Feb 8 '13 20 Last Comment
deforestm
Feb 8, 13 11:22 pm

We know the immediate benefit seen by the employee... but does working from a remote location benefit the architect/owner?  I am often faced with this question and looking at it from both sides.  While the enticement of benefits being taken off the table for the employer, can any real productivity be received/measured by working from a remote location?

Maybe it would work if both parties where in the same city.  Then it would probably all depend on the needs of the firm.  What about from NY to LA? Red lines... maybe.  But beyond that... ? 

Then how would one accurately account for hours worked?  Or does a weekly rate for a list of weekly deliverables work out better. 

In either case, who does it benefit?  Where does the sweet spot lie in our profession for flexible work schedules and working remotely?

 

b3tadine[sutures]
Feb 9, 13 12:17 am

Perhaps our profession needs a reset around the idea of work? My GF works for a county agency that utilizes ROWE - Results Only Work Environment, and where you work, typically remotely, has no bearing on your ability to do the work, your environment must support your ability to do the work. I wish I could work this way, I'd be more productive if my employer cared about the work getting done, and less about the time put into getting the work done...

BrianYamagata
Feb 9, 13 1:44 am

The ROWE model is great in that it emphasizes quality over quantity; something that has a direct correlation to a remote work environment. Working remotely is very hard to monitor from the employer's perspective. There are programs that can track the time a software application is running, but who's to say that the person working didn't step away for two hours to run errands. That being said, remote work can really only be the ROWE model; an assignment is given, and as long as that project is completed within the given time frame, both parties are satisfied. As such, a salary is much more appropriate than an hourly rate. 

Proximity also has a huge role in terms of efficiency. Weekly meetings can be arranged in which productivity and schedules can be managed. 

With cloud services, email, skype, etc, I find it hard to believe that the limitation of a remote employee would be red-lines. With those applications alone, it's essentially the same thing as working from a cubicle, without a PM looking over your shoulder every 15 minutes asking how much longer the task will take. As a consultant, I've done everything from home, from SD to RFIs, with no problems. Also, my PC is far better than what most firms have in house, so any renderings/visualizations I need to do are done much more efficiently at home. Speaking of which, I'm far more accustomed to my own keyboard, mouse, monitors and desk set-up; the tools of today's designers. At home, I can do anything I would need to do at an office easier, faster and with a greater degree of accuracy than cooped up in a cubicle.

Working remotely benefits both the employer and employee; especially if within the same city. For the grunt, the working conditions are much more comfortable and controllable; unless you work at Google, Facebook, etc, where the working conditions are like an adult playground. 

As b3ta mentioned, our profession really should be about production rather than time. If project X needs to be delivered in 3 days, who cares if I time travel at the last minute to deliver it, or b3ta walks all 3 days...it's still delivered on time. 

BrianYamagata
Feb 9, 13 1:54 am

I should mention that prior to working from home, I had ample experience working in an office. It would be difficult for an entry-level employee to work remotely; they'd need that PM constantly monitoring them. I'd say that an intern architect would at least need to be proficient in everything from the conceptual phase to CDs, and versed in project administration before working remotely. Any licensed architect/PM should have little to no problems working from home given all the tools of the interwebs.

Some day the office will cease to exist; it's simply becoming more and more inefficient, even just to drive to work. 

MACWork
Feb 9, 13 11:49 am

I work remotely with my employer doing the same about half an hour's drive from me. I'm an intern with a little under 2 years experience under my belt and it's definitely not the most ideal situation. While there are benefits, I'd much prefer to have the guidance of my employer handy, rather than relying on Skype/phone/emails to communicate issues. I would jump at the opportunity to work in an office surrounded by colleagues to learn from, ask questions, or even socialize with..

I can say he's likely benefiting from me working remotely. Whether I'm home or at an office, I still have to deliver my work on schedule and complete, and I'm a salaried employee, so it doesn't matter to him whether I'm working from 8-5 or 9-6, etc. He doesn't have to pay the overhead of an office, we send work through cloud services... I expect he's doing quite well for himself. The only real hiccup is when communication breaks down and I don't complete a task in the way he had envisioned.

outthere
Feb 9, 13 12:12 pm

I work from home. It really does take a different type of person to work from home. I go into the office 2x a week. In order for it to work you have to have the following qualities:
1. Self motivated.
2. Self sufficient with a minimum of 3-5 years of meaningful experience.
3. Be able to get to the office atleast once a week.
4. Report to a senior executive.
5. Care about your work.
6. Care about being profitable for your firm.

I guess this all goes under the ROWE enviornment.

future hope
Feb 9, 13 5:54 pm

Letting employees work remotely benefits the employer when the employee otherwise would not be able to do the work.  For example, if someone has to leave at a certain time to pick kids up from daycare, but could work from home after they are asleep...

deforestm
Feb 11, 13 3:22 am

Personally, I think its a great situation.  And I agree with most.  It all boils down to communication, work load, and always knowing what the priority of the office is with respect to project load.  Most owners that I've encountered are about and about either hustling to move a current project along... and then while that's happening, he gets the call for yet a new project.  That news is most times delivered when he comes back to the OFFICE and sees you (or me) working on something. 

That kind of dialogue for me is critical because it'll throw a signal up "hey I know I told you one thing, now I need you to really speed that up because we have a new project!!! yeah, isn't that great?"

And then I'm thinking to myself lol, "great... I'm glad I'm ahead cause you'd really ticked if I wasn't." lol  But then I'll say, "Great."

But thankfully, I've always worked for owners who are thoughtful in their thought process with respect to time and allocating work.

toasteroven
Feb 11, 13 11:51 am

I'd be more productive if my employer cared about the work getting done, and less about the time put into getting the work done...

 

it's because we set fees based on staff hours.... and I bet they have bad timesheet data (i.e. staff who consistently worked 60 hours and only recorded 40) to properly set project fees - and they might have a cash-flow problem.

deforestm
Feb 11, 13 3:45 pm

toasteroven... that's entirely new but relevant, discussion lol.  Sounds like you're ready to start your own firm.

toasteroven
Feb 11, 13 10:03 pm

now why would I want to do that?

 

in my office we have a few people who work from home maybe once every couple weeks - typically it's because they have young kids and their spouses cannot work from home or take the personal time.  It has also come in handy when there have been major storms and it's difficult for people to get in, or if someone is on deadline and they just need a couple extra hours but would like to have dinner with their family.

 

I think it benefits the office because this is time that would have normally been lost in the past.  sure, they might not be quite as productive at home, but if used sparingly it's definitely a plus for morale.

deforestm
Feb 12, 13 2:27 am

Well that's interesting.  I guess that can be another benefit to the employer... not having to worry about employees needing a lot of time "off".

FYI, I'm looking for a ROWE situation here in LA.  Please inbox/email me if you know of one.

Apurimac
Feb 12, 13 5:32 pm

In an issue of The Economist I read way back when, it said that in almost all cases, employees who worked from home were more productive than their office-bound colleagues.  People tend to overlook how much of a time suck the traditional office is.  Commuting takes its toll on everybody so the first half-hour of the day is pretty much written off unless answering emails counts as "work".  The typical office jabber, while being the office's strongest suit, is also its weakest as I've had bosses waste hours of billable time just "shooting the shit" with their PMs.  Lets also not forget the fact that the typical employee will spend about an hour of billable time a day surfing the internet / playing minesweeper and before PCs there was the ever popular "staring out the nearest window".

People aren't robots and bosses need to remember that when they become bosses.  Letting experienced staff work from home when they want to is one of the best ways to accomodate them.

tint (there is no there)
Feb 13, 13 10:34 am

I work from home. I can get up early, work from like 6 to 10. Then just be available by e-mail all afternoon for questions, document retrieval, etc. Makes for a much happier soul. Both parties benefit. Do it if you can.

heavymetalarchitecture
Feb 13, 13 11:19 am

I'm on my 10:30 surf the internet break myself. Our office policy is that anyone who needs to work from home can do so periodically if its cleared with their studio leaders. 4 of the 5 studio leaders in the firm allow this weekly. This is the story of the 1 who doesn't. One day one of my studio mates thought she would take her red lines home and finish them while taking care of her new sickly puppy. Asked our studio leader and his reply in front of everybody, dead serious was, "how do I know you're not going to sit on the couch eating bon bons?".

Despite it being hilarious, inappropriate, and weirdly out of touch (bon bons in 2013?),the issues in this case were a controlling boss and a disconnect between the time he believed it took to complete tasks and the time she believed it would take.

deforestm
Feb 13, 13 10:12 pm

@heavymetalarchitecture... nice story. 

I guess how would one distinguish... or is there a way of knowing which firms will or will not allow work from home situations?  Are there tell tale signs?

I've never worked for one.  But I am in search of...

IamGray
Feb 15, 13 5:16 am

"how do I know you're not going to sit on the couch eating bon bons?" 

Hilarious! 

Just a question to you guys in the states, but is it at all common for an office to be almost entirely staffed by "freelancers"? I ask because this seems to be more and more the norm for small offices in Berlin. Employers are off the hook for paying health insurance or any other benefits, but still expect the same level of control over their workers as if they were company employees. A true independent contractor has the flexibility to pursue projects elsewhere, negotiate their time as they see fit, and of course is billed on a project basis or an hourly rate (as opposed to a pre-determined monthly salary). This is a pretty common source of tension and frustration amongst my friends, but the achitecture chamber doesn't seem to have any desire to intervene, and in this economy workers will put up with it (much like fresh graduates taking on jobs as "interns", because at least it's something). Anyways, even though they're legally and officially freelancers (with all the associated costs), the thought of working remotely would be unthinkable.

won and done williams
Feb 15, 13 8:35 am

Just a question to you guys in the states, but is it at all common for an office to be almost entirely staffed by "freelancers"?

This is how a lot start-ups operate. It only makes sense from a dollars/overhead perspective and as long as the contract employees are truly contract, i.e. billing an hourly rate for the completion of tasks and not being a misclassified 1099 strapped to a desk for 40+ hours/week, it's really a win-win for both sides. The free market at its best. ;)

However, in the situation you describe above, the sentence, "the thought of working remotely would be unthinkable," tips that the contract employees are probably not independent contractors. In the U.S., this could be reported to the IRS (i.e. the tax man) and the employer could be fined, pay back taxes, and have to reimburse employees for overtime and self-employment taxes.

IamGray
Feb 15, 13 8:49 am

Exactly won and done...

They're of course not fee contractors in the true sense... Just an easy way to circumvent tax and labor laws. Similar to the prevalence of low or un-paid "interns". It's totally illegal here too, but "everybody does it".

Stephanie BraconnierStephanie Braconnier
Feb 15, 13 3:30 pm

I work in Berlin - about half the senior and middle staff at my office (of 30 people) are 'freelancers' - you wouldn't know it by seeing them, though. They don't have other creative work they do, they work more overtime (probably to cover their extra costs?) and have permanent desks. Many have been 'freelancing' here for several years.

Weird thing is, they are not young & desperate. Most are very well experienced, in their mid to late 30's and are running the projects. I feel like they could easily get full positions if they wanted to, so maybe there is some hidden advantage that we don't know about.

deforestm
Feb 16, 13 4:42 am

Not that I'm any moderator of this great discussion... but did the topic transition from working remotely to freelancing?  I know that there's a correlation, but help me to connect the dots.  Is it just as easy to find full time flexible or remote work?

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