Friday, March 21, 2014

The Downside of Co-located Teams

There's been a lot of talk about how valuable it is to have team members co-located in the same physical office space. While there’s no doubt that proximity can foster exchange, requiring people to work in an office vs. remotely from their home or other location has many drawbacks that I think far outweigh the potential benefits of co-location.

Here’s a list of reasons against co-locating team members that I hope all executives and managers promoting co-location have carefully considered. I’d like to hear comments.

Master of My Domain

When working at home, the worker is the master of his or her domain and has much greater control over all of the following focus-busting realities of working in a co-located space:

1. Interruptions – Just as proximity can enable random positive interactions, it can also facilitate non-productive interruptions.

2. Office Noise – is very distracting. The solution for many is to wear headphones and listen to music. In my opinion, people wearing headphones are not approachable.

3. Unproductive Breaks – Taking a break at home is way more productive than at work. Food and drink are typically more readily available. Tossing in a load of laundry or taking care of a quick personal/family task energizes and can remove a pending distraction to make one more focused on work.

4. Forced (phony) Interactions – People are less likely to make small talk and engage in non-productive chit chat. At home I don’t have to worry about being waylaid on the way to the bathroom.

5. Gossip – are much less impactful at home. My experience is that spreading gossip is typically a random event that may be considered a crime of opportunity. That opportunity is somewhat removed at home.

6. Food Smells – can make some people sick to their stomach. How does one escape these at work?

Does anyone think working in the office improves work-life balance?

Work-life balance is one of those areas where many companies give lip-service but do not actually support.

7. Family care and Events – are easier to attend when one doesn’t have all the overhead of travel.

8. Sustainability – is all the rage. I can’t think of one aspect of sustainability that is improved by requiring people to co-locate. More gas, more waste, more space, more energy are used.

It Costs the Employer More…

9. Costs – office space and office equipment are not inexpensive.

10. Moves – Constant reconfiguration and the inevitable moves are a huge distraction and cost a lot of money.

And it Costs the Employee Even More…

11. Clothes – Not having to purchase a work wardrobe is an important benefit of working remotely.

12. Commuting – the shortest of commutes can add 1 hour a day to one’s life. And goes up from there. Mix in the possible need to buy a car, pay insurance, pay for parking, etc. and you have a really significant expense.

Do the math: this is 200hrs a year of wasted time and 1000’s of dollars of expense. Then there’s the sustainability angle.

13. Lunch – it’s way easier and less expensive and usually more nutritious to eat at home. There’s preparation time to bring a lunch or there’s a time hit to go out for lunch every day.

14. Increased taxes – In some instances, remote workers can avoid paying higher state income taxes when domiciled in a state where rates are lower.

One can argue that working at home provides a tangible benefit to the team member in the area of $5000-$15,000.

Does Proximity Breed Creativity? Or Contempt?

The above are the practical and largely easy to understand and measure aspects of allowing team member to work remotely. Then there’s the more nebulous aspects and questions as to whether forcing people to work physically close together actually facilitates creativity and problem solving. But that’s a topic for another post.

1 comment:

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