Remote working (a clarification)

I think I have come across a little more negative about the concept of remote working than I intended in my earlier post. Actually I am entirely supportive of the idea and know organisations like Mozilla, Automattic, Open Knowledge, 37 Signals and many many others make it work brilliantly. Hell even JISC made a pretty good stab at it back when I worked for them. I really enjoyed the books ‘Remote’ by Fried and DHH as well as ‘The Year Without Pants’ by Scott Berkun. I am, to all intents and purposes, a believer.

What I think is difficult, maybe not insurmountable but certainly hard, is making that work in an organisation where it isn’t the norm for the majority of staff without it becoming divisive in the wider organisation. When you already have thousands of staff for which many working anywhere but at their desk is all but impossible for REAL security concerns (rather than the more prevalent imagined ones that can be overcome) then providing that opportunity for a subset of a subset of people is likely to cause friction.

I also tend to believe that digital/development teams benefit from interaction with the rest of the organisation – from the people who create what we disseminate. While we absolutely do practice ‘user driven development’ an awareness of the challenges and constraints facing the rest of the organisation stands everybody in good stead and this can happen almost by osmosis in a co-located environment. Again it is certainly doable in a remote working situation but it is much harder. It may well be worth it.

At ONS we do have something of a precedent with our ‘field force’ (the staff who actually do the face to face surveys) who do work remotely based all around the country so like I said I am not sure it is insurmountable just harder than it perhaps is with what I tend to call ‘green field’ organisations – i.e. those that are new enough that they can embed modern, digital by default thinking from day one rather than try to bolt it on or embed it in a working culture decades in the making.

This is clearly just all my opinion and it isn’t like I am not used to being wrong!