Working from home. Telecommuting. Home office. These new working styles are popular and even shared in many companies. However, it is not part of the distributed working culture. Here is why.
I am sure everyone knows someone who works at a global company where the employees have several days per months or weeks to work from home. Alternatively, they are working from home, but they need to check-in to the office regularly. There are also many work opportunities for stay-at-home parents to work online. All in all, these setups are great, but they rarely work the same way as a distributed business.
As a distributed business manager, you can learn a lot from these practices. Among the many, there are the necessary project management skills and workflows that you can do online, the mastery of video calls, remote employee engagement, and flexible working hours due to the lack of or reduced commute. However, businesses who run on telecommute practices are usually not truly distributed businesses. They share more similarities with companies who do their client work offshore and outsource the work.
These companies tend to minimize the engagement with their work-from-home employees. There is no culture where employees can fit in, and there are only task management issues. The information is hoarded and not shared – they tend to skip cloud technology, and the information is not openly accessible to everyone. They tend to operate more on a command and control structure with a hierarchy or managerial leadership in place – and not having a flat structure with collaborative work.
So the most distinctive sign: they tend to use email. A lot. The only email, maybe they have an internal chat with horrible user experience and non-flexibility. These companies are not distributed – they have work-from-home employees and operate their business on the same principles they figured out in the 1980s but switched their analog lines to digital. Most of the times, these companies can thrive when they have an actual office – their team is empowered and motivated when they are in there, but they tend to get lost when they are working from home. It is because the basic principles of business operations don’t change when an employee is working from home. Technically they are at home, but they are still in the office.
If your work-from-home approach is different – okay, there are some exceptions. However, if you do the same, make sure you avoid these mistakes and build a truly distributed business from the ground up.