The right investments matter in the business world - people, software, systems, processes. The wrong investment can make or break how fast you win or lose. However, with all the good investments out there, is the office the right one? Is a building/rent/lease/office-chairs-for-everyone one of the best choices to launch your product or service? I'm speaking about the tech world here, and in some cases it is. But in most cases, it isn't. This post is a defense of the remote worker (and if you don't want to read my rant, by all means watch the TEDTalk by Jason Fried, creator of Basecamp - 37Signals).
Having worked for mostly tech start-ups in my career, I've had the special privilege of working with the passionate, immensely-dedicated and powerfully intelligent. Start-up people are as special type. They don't quit, until they are forced to! I love it! With all that energy, ego and effort, can you imagine them being crammed in the office? Pizza-Friday would be total nightmare! The best start-ups I've worked with haven't invested wholly in an office, but offered a remote-working setting whereby the culture was built with trust and dedication to delivering the product. And I believe this is the best path for a start up. But what about beyond the start up?
One can make the argument for a remote-worker environment in the corporate world too. For starters, let's talk about talent. For tech leads as well as sales (key positions), talent matters most. Is it important to have the leash on your VP of Architecture, or would you rather hire a stud in Oklahoma City while keeping your HQ in Zion, UT (I mean, are there really a lot of chief technology architects in Zion? Maybe, but maybe not). Do you think this tech lead would want to move away from her family? Probably not. Do you think, if you made this request, they would move anyway? Yes, for 5x more the pay! So now you've lost money hiring this tech stud in Oklahoma, as she is now the most highly paid employee. Furthermore, she's pissed because she had to leave her family - there goes the productivity!
Next, there was a reason the movie Office Space was so funny! Just like Fried explains above, Managers and Meetings don't mix with Productivity and Success! An office just exacerbates politics and idea-conflict (something I plan to write about next). cramming people into a space doesn't make them instantly smarter and more capable. Instead, I'd argue for an open environment where the office IS a resource, not a burden. The office IS a place where people connect. The office IS a place where people can grow ideas. The office IS NOT a place where you go to work. The office IS NOT a place where you hate to go. The office IS NOT your headquarters and the brand. People are, and so is the product - invest there!
If you're in manufacturing, service or hospitality an office is worthy (although those landscapes are changing too with the peer-to-peer economy). I'm not saying that an office is always a bad idea, but one that needs to be carefully considered. An office investment needs to be about something different, something important. It shouldn't be a symbol of excellence, but an environment where people create excellence. If that was the culture of our office spaces, there would be an Office Space part II, but with a positive spin on the case of the Mondays!