I have been fortunate enough to have many clients invite me into their environments throughout my career at Omnitech. Recently I came across an article from Martin Fowler, “Remote versus Co-located Work” (2015) that sums up a couple of ways we work with clients. Many of our engineers spend a large part of their week working remotely in client environments, and Fowler’s article highlights many of the challenges – and advantages – of working in co-located environments. Even though the article is a couple of years old, many of the points are still valid and hold true today.
He describes four different types of work models in the article. A single site where everyone is co-located at one location. The multi-site team has two or more co-located groups at different locations. Satellite workers where most of the team is together, but a few people often work remotely from home or another office. Lastly, a remote-first team consisting of everyone working from separate locations.
Over the years at Omnitech, I have had the opportunity to help clients by working remotely and co-located in their environments. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, which I will cover briefly based on my experience. Most of our clients prefer to have us on location and for a good reason. This allows us to seamlessly integrate with their team and help form relationships that can improve collaboration and productivity. Communication is less of a barrier when everyone is located near one another. Even though there are excellent online collaboration tools such as screen sharing and video chat, nothing is as effective as walking over and talking with the person directly.
However, there are some disadvantages of being co-located and not working remotely. One downside has to do with development tools. Often while working remotely we use our own systems configured to increase individual productivity, however, when co-located at a client many times we use their computer systems, which may not have many of the tools we are accustomed to, this could lead to a slower start to get up to speed productivity-wise.
Sometimes team members who work off-site can also lose the sense of community that working next to others on their home team experience. Since so many of our engineers work remotely at clients, we make it a priority to get together for lunch and learns at least weekly. We want to keep our focus on continued learning without leaving anyone behind. These weekly touch-bases also allows us to bring in issues or questions back to a larger group to brainstorm solutions that help us problem solve more efficiently for our clients.
There is not a simple answer to the dichotomy between co-located and remote based teams. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Companies should embrace the challenge and support an environment that builds better team interaction while allowing individuals to be more productive. While you may not be able to choose how or where you work, keeping communication a priority will help you successfully navigate the waters.