Remote Work Works

Why working remotely makes us a happier, more productive, more successful team.

@author Charles Pick
@date August 28, 2015

Codemix is a distributed team - we have a head office near York, UK, but our team is spread out all over Europe. This is no accident, we’re big believers in the benefits of letting people work from home full-time, especially for companies such as our own.

Here’s some reasons why remote work works for us, and how it could benefit your company.

Better access to top level talent

This is the killer reason. Skilled software developers are in high demand at the moment and the market is extremely competitive. Companies which do not allow remote work are necessarily limited in their ability to attract the best talent. They’re restricted to recruiting people who are either already in their local area, or are willing to relocate.

Put simply, experienced professionals are less likely to want to relocate for a new job - people tend to have families that they don’t want to uproot and other commitments in their area. Persuading these people to move in order to join your company can be extremely expensive.

This leaves recruiting in your local area, which presents its own set of challenges - if you’re located in a large city then you’re competing with other firms who also want to attract the best people. If your company is based further afield, you might find it hard to even find enough skilled people within a commutable distance.

Companies with remote work policies are at an obvious advantage here because we’re free to hire people based purely on their skill set, no matter where they live. This means that we have access to the best people in the world in their respective fields, not simply the best of the bunch in the local area, who happen to be available at the right time.

Greater autonomy = more engaged, productive team members

One of our fundamental values is that we do not care where or what time our employees work, but we do care about the quality of that work and that it’s delivered on schedule. This cuts out a huge amount of micro-management which is so commonplace in most workplaces that it almost goes without saying. For example, the following are total non-issues for our company:

  • How long people take for their lunch breaks.
  • What time people arrive for work, or what time they leave.
  • How our team members dress.
  • People that enjoy playing loud dance music at work vs those who adore tranquility.

This affords our team members a great deal of flexibility that is hard for more traditional companies to compete with. Want to go traveling the world? No problem, just take your laptop!

The other side of this is that each team member has a greater level of personal autonomy over their own work. It’s proven that the more autonomy workers have, the more effort they put into their work. In our case, everyone knows exactly what their responsibilities are and what is expected of them, and this means that they’re better engaged and more productive than they otherwise would be.

Encourages diverse opinions, leads to greater creativity

Having team members with diverse cultural backgrounds leads to a lot of interesting, healthy debate and discussion around our work. This is crucial to preventing stagnation and fostering a creative environment in which everyone is able to share their ideas freely. There is no pressure to conform to a particular way of thinking, and this freedom leads to a lot of innovation and creativity.

This diversity is also especially important when we work on products which reach a global audience. Things that are normal and taken for granted in one culture are often perceived totally differently in other cultures, and being aware of those differences gives us and our clients a distinct advantage.

Better communication & collaboration between team mates

It sounds perverse, but we’ve found that being distributed leads to better team communication and collaboration. The nature of remote work means we make extensive use of online tools such as github, slack and trello (and email of course), and these tools help us keep better track of our progress and create an open environment where everyone can collaborate on projects together. Everyone can see each others’ work, so the team is better informed. Most of our communication is text based and can be searched and referred back to later, so if we’ve forgotten the details about some particular technical conversation, we can just look it up, rather than bothering the other parties by asking the same questions again.

Better documentation means fewer single points of failure.

Related to the above, working remotely forces us to put more effort into clearly describing and documenting the products we deliver. This is vital because it means that key knowledge about a particular system is never locked up inside one person’s head, it’s always readily available for the rest of the team to refer back to.

Onboarding new team members is much easier

Because virtually everything we do is written down and clearly documented, when we bring new people onboard they find it much easier to hit the ground running and start being productive straight away. This is in contrast to the long lead in time that most companies experience when they introduce new people to the team.

Reduces the cost and risk of hiring

Hiring is one of the most expensive, time consuming and riskiest activities a new company can take. Even worse, for most companies a good proportion of newly hired candidates do not work out long term and many leave within the first 6 months. Poor candidates can drag down team morale and incur a net loss of productivity.

It’s cheaper and faster to interview remote candidates, easier for us to try them out with a small (paid) initial project and easier to verify the quality of their work. This is much harder when interviewing people for traditional roles, especially if they’re already employed elsewhere.

In summary, remote work lets us work with the best, most talented people in our industry, and lets us keep those people happy, motivated and engaged with their work. It’s incredibly cost effective and brings with it a whole host of organisational advantages that are not immediately obvious from the outside. For us, this has made a crucial difference to the efficency and ability of our team - it means that even though we’re small, we can comfortably handle large scale projects which would traditionally involve much larger companies.