Milton Chen is CEO and founder of VSee, which develops video chat and screen share tools for remote work and telehealth, and co-author of the XMPP video standard. He contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been getting all kinds of flak for a recent memo that bans Yahoo employees from working from home. I don’t blame her for her stance. Managing remote workers takes extra effort and getting them to work together as a team that is just as productive as a face-to-face team is even harder.
It isn’t just about missing water cooler conversations, but the little speed bumps to communication and creative collaboration that accumulate and reduce productivity. That’s why top tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook don’t encourage working from home, but have all kinds of perks to lure employees to stay on campus.
I founded VSee with the idea of creating a simple tool that lets people work remotely with the same productivity as being physically together. With a team of 30 people spread around the world in 10 cities, we’re our own lab rats to help us understand why remote work can fail, and how it can succeed.
Here are some things we’ve learned over the last five years:
Employees must overlap work with remote teammates at least 50 percent of the time.
Teammates must be able to reach each other for quick decisions even if they are working remotely. This requires a minimum 50 percent to 80 percent work-time overlap. If a teammate can never be quickly reached, then they need to go, since this leads to productivity loss.
Don’t make decisions over email.
In enterprises, decisions are made as a group, and should be made face-to-face. However the convenience of email still makes it the default method of corporate communication, and it becomes easy to slip into trying to make decisions via email — this is when you get CC email ping pongs that go back and forth for weeks. Studies of how our brains work show that the text medium is a terrible one in which to make decisions — our brain is designed for processing pictures and images, including faces over HD video.
Use a tool designed for creative teamwork.
Using the wrong tool, one not designed for teamwork, causes communication friction and results in productivity loss. For example, Skype and Google+ Hangouts are great social tools, but are not designed for creative teamwork: They don’t allow for simple annotation over screen sharing. WebEx is a great presentation tool, but it requires too many mouse clicks for work such as brainstorming, critiquing a design or hacking out some code, where the workflow requires rapid back and forth exchanges. Creative teamwork requires seeing faces and being able to share any application with a single click.
Such a system is what we are focused on developing and we currently serve 8,000 enterprises, from IBM to the Navy SEALs to the U.S. Congress to high-energy startups.
Remote work can be just as productive as being together face-to-face provided teams follow the three golden rules listed above.
As Richard Branson has pointed out, “The world is connected ... If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly, and with high quality.” These days even if you go in to work, many of your coworkers and customers will be in another location anyway.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.