The corporate intranet has a bit of a feature today on remote working that I have been perusing whilst providing TLC to an email recovery process I am having to suffer at the moment. My employer has a very positive attitude towards home working and is promoting this way of working. Sadly, it is not an opportunity that comes my way much. I posted a comment to one of the key articles. A bloggised version of my comment follows.
I am a mobile worker expected to work on client sites most of the time. I very rarely get the opportunity to work from home, am at the mercy of the client for communications facilities (and even desk space), and hardly ever visit one of "my own" offices.
The technologies that support remote-working are very familiar to me. I have led development teams spread around the world in the past using mostly phone, email and instant-messaging from its earliest days.
Despite my positive experience of remote working, I have never found a way to overcome on a practical day-to-day basis the gap between the level of communication one has in face-to-face meetings in workshops and other key meetings and the level of communication one has when using remote working options.
We all know that the spoken and written word represent only a fraction of the content of the communications that take place between people working face-to-face. People who know each other very well are able to compensate to some extent for the loss of information when interacting remotely from each other. The greatest need for this lost content though tends to be when working with new people, in the early days of team building, and when there are conflicting agendas.
I have rarely left key meetings without hearing colleagues discussing the body-language of the people around the table and consideration being given to the level of confidence we can have in what we heard ("do you think she believed that?", "I didn’t get the sense that he was going to deliver the new system on time", "it did not look like she really understood the alternative design even though she agreed with the proposal").
In the long run, I am sure "virtual-presence" technologies will overcome many of the limitations of remote communications but until then, I think for many complex client engagements and particular types of work there is no choice but to be together. I wish it were not so.
I would be delighted to hear of approaches others have put into place to help overcome some of the limitations I have alluded to. Maybe I can create more opportunities to work from home before my children have left the nest.