Most of us work remotely because of decisions our employer makes. Maybe they decide to let people work from home rather than come into a central office. Maybe they want to expand their geographic reach to grow the business. Maybe they just want to pay less money to the airlines. But is money saved the only measure of how well you're working remotely?
There are a couple of reasons we focus on cost savings when we're talking about remote work, project management and collaboration. Top of the list is that it's critical to keeping businesses profitable. No organization wants to spend more money than absolutely necessary. The second reason is that it's deceptively easy to figure out the cost savings. A couple of grand for WebEx or Adobe Connect licenses versus the savings in travel, accommodation and other obvious line items seems like math even I can do.
The suppliers of technology are perfectly happy to be of service in this regard. ILinc, for example, offers a "Green Meter" that attempts to measure how much fuel you're saving by holding a particular meeting, as well as keeps a running total of the year's totals. This offers the dual benefit of saving money and your Karma because it's "green". Of course, there's no line item for Karma, and the metrics on that one are a bit shaky, so we settle on the bucks involved.
Sometimes, this comes back to haunt you. Yahoo, Best Buy and others have suddenly halted their telecommuting and remote working efforts and demanded a return to the mother ship. This is probably something of an overreaction (again, I don't work there so I'm guessing) but that response is based on a realization that the real costs of working that way weren't being measured until it was obvious something was wrong.
So if we don't just look at the obvious savings, how else do we measure whether something is working or not? When should you save every possible minute, and when do you take the expenses as a cost of doing business? Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
What tools are available to replace face to face communication? Has your organization actually got a plan for helping people work together? At an individual, team and organization level what are the tools, policies and best practices that will ensure productivity and help people get their work done?
Will people actually use them? Have your team members had input to how they want to work together? They should probably be willing to use whatever tools are at their disposal and be able to use them fully. Will they get training and support (hint: a bunch of recorded tutorials is helpful but it ain't training)?
Have you looked at other critical metrics? If we're not measuring cash spent, what should you be looking at? Among the costs you need to look at are things such as rework, missed deadlines and turnover due to poor working relationships.
This is not an indictment of the bean counters and budget hawks. Let's face it, if it were up to people like me, my company would be bean-less in very short order and someone needs to be the grownup. The point is, sometimes you cut costs, sometimes you invest. When you do which should be a conscious decision based on careful thought, input and monitoring results as you go.
Too often, it's a quick look at the balance sheet and back to counting beans.