I've had not one, but two people say something along these lines to me in the last twenty-four hours: The promise of the 90s of all work being done remotely didn't really come to pass.
One of those people, Casey Charlton, explains further in an e-mail:
"the reality is I would probably get none [remote contracts] - even for clients I have worked for a few times and implicitly trust me and need my skill level"
And the following frustratingly contradictory remark later on:
"In the UK where petrol is extortionately expensive, cars are massively overpriced, and public transport is a very expensive joke, there isn't any perceptible move towards [remote contracts]. [...] Most of the time they would rather have someone with half the skill who would be in the office."
I've come across the same mindset in North America and as someone who prides himself in delivering efficiency in software, it's maddening knowing that efficiencies can be gained just in the logistics.
Casey mentions some benefits for the people who work remotely but there are measurable benefits for the employers as well. No need for office space is an obvious one. Most of the time, they don't need to provide a phone or a computer (except when you have to VPN in, connect to Citrix, then Terminal Service into a box in the office). Plus, I would happily compare my productivity both locally and remotely when you factor in interruptions (for example, I don't hold fire drills at home nearly as often as the average office building) and the fact that, since I don't work in the downtown core, I'm generally more efficient about scheduling time to run errands (i.e. I don't).
And yet, still this stigma exists that people who work remotely aren't as productive as their local counterparts. I would love to see some empirical evidence to study this because I can't imagine my personal experience is that different than the norm.
To me, the rationale behind the practice is the same as the one that leads to WebSense (sidenote: the Hillbilly's old home was deemed inappropriate at my last POB) and companies monitoring employees' IM and internet usage. And as I lamented in a previous post on that subject, it gives the impression that companies simply do not trust their hiring process.
It's an easy trap to fall into, particularly in my case because not only do I live in the caribbean but I have a nasty habit of assuming people have a sense of humour when I say things like, "I can't check in just yet, I got sand all over my keyboard." People don't like to feel like they're being taken advantage of.
But the thing is: I have tasks to complete just like anyone else. My work is available for scrutiny at any time. I'm held to the exact same schedule as the rest of the team. If I'm not pulling my weight, I expect to be canned plain and simple. And absolutely none of that is any different whether you work in the office, at your home in the suburbs, or across two time zones.
I have been lucky enough to work at three contracts where I performed all, or at least the bulk of the work from home. In every case, my performance was the same or better than it was when I worked onsite. And as far as I know, the clients were happy with the quality of my work and two of them have expressed an interest in working with me again. In fact, in early talks with a someone to follow-up on one of them on another project, I asked if it would be okay for me to visit my family in Canada on occasion and do my work from there. His response: "You can do the work from Mars for all I care. You know what needs to be done."
Another part of the mentality is that there's a general sense that it would be difficult to manage remote workers logistically. It's a problem people just don't want to have to deal with. "Oh, this guy wants to work remotely? Well, we're not set up for that, let's just find someone locally" and they don't even bother taking a look. There is a bit of truth to that but in this day and age, any such difficulties are easily overcome. Especially if you are dealing with someone who has done it before.
Still, there is a bit of truth to that argument. It's just one more thing that might go wrong so it's best just to go with someone where you have more control over their internet connection during work hours.
But the fact remains, there are concrete cost savings to be had with the practise. It baffles me why people aren't willing to at least consider it on a larger scale than they have.
Kyle the Lackadaisical