I was wondering what you think about the feasibility of building a team consisting of employees who work at home. I don't mean a completely remote team; I am talking about local people, and certainly with some measure of face-to-face meetings and physical interaction when that level of collaboration is required. I just mean people who work mostly at home on a day-to-day basis.
As far as I can tell, corporate America is mostly terrified of telecommuting. Admittedly, it can be legitimately said to pose some very real management challenges. But no matter how much I consider that, I just can't see a justification for paying for office space and forcing people to spend time there for 8+ hours a day. I think I agree very strongly with what PG has had to say on the topic of corporate office space and its relationship to talented individuals and their productivity.
I agree that it's harder to manage remote people, and I've certainly taken stock of the allegedly widespread tendency for remote workers to take advantage of their independence and lack of direct oversight. And lack of consistent and direct communication can certainly be an obstacle. But I think there are technological solutions to these problems: better backoffice tools, better collaboration and messaging tools, VoIP, instant messaging, presence, good ticketing and workflow management systems, etc. I think the technology is there to make up for the shortfall.
Now, admittedly, the angle from which I am approaching this problem is a little bit orthogonal to the typical dilemmas of web startup entrepreneurs. I am 23, and at the moment, I am trying to grow my VoIP / telecom systems integration and engineering consultancy beyond a one-man show so that I can get to the point where I can be a product company. In other words, I suppose it's fair to say I am taking the "consulting route" that PG speaks of in his various essays on startup funding. Good, bad, I have various reasons for that, but the goal in the end is to end up with actual "deliverables" - no mistake about it.
Still, the reason I mention that is because consulting is a business model that lends itself to measurement of individual productivity a bit better than, say, a software startup. Product development and engineering - pure CAPEX, none of which is directly rebilled or amortised any way (especially in a short time to market) - is a little more murky. And certainly, there are some business models where almost the entire risk can be shifted onto the employee, as one sees with commission-only work-at-home salespeople. In my case I think I'm in a happy middle.
Regardless, I'm not going to go all Japanese quantitative management on people. I want to build a progressive and humanity-affirming company where people are happy and proud to work on interesting problems in the telecommunications space. I am just wondering if I am being too idealistic here about remote work; are people just going to take advantage of me, in the main? Or is it reasonable to suppose that I should be able to afford them the benefit of working wherever they want as long as they meet certain criteria as far as productivity, availability, and good communication? (All my prospective employees are excellent written and verbal communicators, and I would not have it any other way.)
I am in Atlanta, a city notorious for its vast, empty suburban sprawl, unconscienable freeway distances, and gridlock traffic. I really, really don't want to compel anyone to trek through this disaster of urban planning and infrastructure design to my office if there is no real point.
Does anyone here have experience building a team like this? If so, can you share tips on what strategies you used to make it work better?
Thanks a lot!