Telecommuting's Powerful Benefits
More than 34 million Americans telecommute on an occasional basis at the least. While it may not be for everyone, the future of telework appears bright.
This week I'm writing from Panama (currently exploring RioMar) as I begin what will be a several-year adventure researching living and, eventually, possibly retiring outside of the United States. This is something technology allows us to do, but so few of us feel comfortable with as most of us die within 20 miles of where we were born. This was driven home the other day when my wife went on a trip with a number of friends, virtually all of which had never traveled out of the state, let alone out of the country.
In my own case, I was born in one part of California and now live in another part. That is hardly a stretch, but I have to travel a lot in my job and generally I find that I can work from a hotel or a table at a conference almost as easily as I can from home. With the spread of telepresence and more reliable high-speed networks worldwide, it is only a matter of time before many more of us can divorce ourselves from living in close proximity to our companies and cramped local housing and instead live in a smog-free tropical paradise. But unless we've considered this, I bet that most of us will miss the opportunity when presented.
Let's explore the freedom that technology can give us.
I'm increasingly seeing VP-level hires who choose to not relocate and instead manage their units from their home. Recent hires at EMC and Lenovo do this and it seems to be working out just fine as both are well-regarded in their current roles, and since they have to travel for their jobs a great deal anyway, why not have as a home base a place they want to raise their kids?
In fact, this might actually be better for some because it forces written objectives over the more common subjective reviews that favor social skills over actual accomplishments in most companies. Often, when you don't socialize with a subordinate, you can more objectively review their work against their peers-something that works against remote employees who are high performers today.
Of course, the easiest jobs to perform remotely are those that are task-based-sales jobs are measured on sales closed, writing jobs on the quality and the amount of output and even clerical jobs on the amount of work completed. Architects often have to visit work sites to observe the actual construction, but they can handle most of the actual creation, and often do, remotely. The best jobs, if you want the opportunity of being remote, are those that are measured by what is done and are closely contained by the individual.
Team projects are far more difficult to handle remotely, but I ran an international team once and it went surprisingly well. The key is to divide up the tasks into clearly defined parts and measure the results so that folks falling behind can be identified and helped before they put the effort into critical trouble. You need to hold regular meetings to keep things in sync, but when I did this, videoconferencing was rare and while we used it, it would have helped a great deal to be able to see folks more often on the screen. I think seeing someone from time to time with the group helps to forge the team and without that, the result just isn't as powerful. But you can now use videoconferencing from almost anywhere.
Downside to Remote
One thing that hasn't changed is that if you want to reach the top ranks, you do have to do some time at company headquarters. And if you want to be CEO, you likely need to live there. If there are contenders for the job, it is my experience that the local person has a social edge over the remote person, but this forces a choice because what you'll also find is the more senior you become, the less time you'll have with your friends and family. I've known a lot of CEOs over the years and generally wouldn't trade the divorces, family problems and isolation after they retire for the prestige of that title. It is great being a climber, but sometimes you really need to think if you want all that goes with making it to the top.
Once again, I'm writing this from poolside, where the weather is in the 80s and I can break and take a swim anytime I want. I'm attending a seminar with hundreds of folks exploring the option of doing this full time, and over time more and more of us will realize that you can have a career and live where you want if you just make that a goal. The Internet, telepresence and increasingly flexible management at many companies are making it possible. Along with that comes a better retirement, happier family and what should be a more well-rounded life. That's what I'm pondering this week and I hope you don't mind my pondering it with you.
In case you are interested, the folks putting on the conference I'm attending can be found here. While much of what is being covered has to do with retiring out of the country, it also points to the benefits of living out here as well. In any case, I thought that more should consider the option.
Now excuse me, it's time for a swim.