The proximity paradox

For the right candidate only...

Remote work is growing but it is still the exception to the norm, often you can see job adverts that include the classic 'consider remote for the right candidate' as the caveat to their otherwise watertight hiring strategy.

At least it is catchier than 'Will take less suited candidate based on proximity' which is what they mean.

Companies are looking to excel in two areas, create a successful product and company vision and the ability to hire quality candidates that can execute this successfully.

Constructing the dream team

If you could put together an engineering team of anyone in the world would all that talent exist in the same vicinity? Your dream team most likely would be a remote team and this would not be an issue, because they'd be the best at their craft for your business.

Now how likely is it that this situation is going to occur for you and your business? Well next to zero. Why don't we apply this to all talent levels? If you can't compete for the top 1% how much of a difference would a global team of the top 10% make for your product?

I already have my star-player

Congratulations! You've built a team with a great flight factor risk, this individual wins the lottery and you're struggling.

Build great teams not individuals, this applies to all levels of the hierarchy.

So let's say you're super happy with your star-player, she's pushing the business along at a break-neck speed and you couldn't be happier with her output. If she decides to move to the nearest city and can only come to the office twice a week is she now just a good performer and not the star? Is she not invested in the team?

So she works twice in the office, her output is just as high or perhaps even higher due to the lack of a commute. Then the bombshell. She's moving across the country, no time in the office, full remote work. Have her skills diminished? The further away the less talent she has? For each mile she moves away she loses 1% of her talent!

It may seem quite an obtuse way of making a point but what I'm driving at here is that location doesn't correlate to talent.

Keep talent, nurture talent, be modern.

Your business is better off with this talent than without. Is the talent pool so large in your vicinity that you can take the gamble of hiring someone else? Companies underestimate the time it takes to not only hire someone new but how long until they are productive.

Co-location but at what price?

Being co-located has many benefits but often it can hide deficiencies in their working process.

Verbal decisions are the norm and this presents many problems of she said/he said and details getting lost. Communication is quicker due to the fast feedback cycle of being face to face but it can lead you to take less care in what you communicate. Thought decisions are rarely written down nor outcomes from meetings or a way to access that information after the event. With remote work it's much harder to fall into that trap. I think the best question to ask yourself (and there is no wrong or right answer) is:

At what point does an increase in talent/skills or experience get outweighed by the benefits of co-location?

50 shades of remote

Remote work doesn't have to mean that your team spreads out all over the globe occupying every possible timezone. You can find a gradient of remote work that works well for you:

  1. Part time remote work, team member can work X number of days at home and the rest at the office.
  2. Country based remote work
  3. Continent based remote work
  4. Timezone based
  5. Timezone crossover based
  6. Zero boundaries remote

You can choose which level suits your company but even part time remote work allows you to choose from a greater pool of talent. That doesn't mean just jumping into level six means everything will be easy nor do I want to imply that it is the best option. Each level brings a different set of challenges and problems that you need to tackle to get the most out of your team.

Closing thoughts

Remote work isn't a silver bullet and it doesn't guarantee success but it helps the following:

  • Access to greater talent pool
  • Flexibility for staff, can be more accommodating to people of disabilities (both mental and physical), allows young parents to get back into the workplace quicker.
  • Greater timezone coverage to deal with customer support, product development and any operational problems with your software.
  • Puts an onus on recorded and shareable decisions and actions.

As always I'd love to hear what you think about this article so feel free to either leave a comment below or reach out to me on twitter.