A while back Scott Edinger wrote an article in HBR about remote workers being more motivated than office workers. He asked; Who is more engaged and more committed to their work and rates their work more meaningful? People, who work in the office or remote workers?
His conclusion was that remote teams are more motivated and work harder than office workers. This may sound surprising. Almost everyone in project management tells you teams working in the same room are more productive than remote workers.
So where the truth lies? Which teams are better for your projects? The answer may surprise you. It all depends on you as a project manager, on the type of the project you work on and people whom you hire to work with you. Let me explain.
How to engage Remote workers?
If you have the right people who like to work remotely and you have put in place good communication tools for the team to collaborate, then remote teams are as good as local teams.
There are a few areas which remote teams actually work better than local teams. For example in projects involving research, most team members work independently but need to have real-time access to their colleagues at any time to collaborate. In such teams, having the possibility of remote work enables you to bring the best talent from anywhere in the world together for your project.
For the above reason, the research projects which are done in universities always involve researchers from multiple universities and academic centers.
Another area where remote workers have an advantage over office workers is the software development projects. The tools available to software engineers make it possible for everyone to work remotely from anywhere on earth and still be connected 24/7.
The process of writing code, merging it with the code from other team members and testing it is totally automated in the software industry. So regardless of where a worker is located the process is the same.
In addition software engineers tend to be productive at odd hours. Most of them work late at night and produce their best results at those hours.
Another advantage of using remote workers is the fact that in most high tech hubs like Silicon Valley or Boston finding good talent is becoming increasingly hard. It helps to be able to hire the right talent from anywhere in the world.
As an added advantage the language barriers which existed a few decades ago don’t exist anymore. English is universally used by all college-educated workers today.
Where does remote work not work? In projects that the work could not be defined properly and the team needs to produce physical gadgets for experimentation.
So my advice is to go ahead and find the best talent for your project regardless where they might be. Having the right tools and procedures will make any remote team as effective as local teams if not higher.