Much has been said about remote work lately. Yahoo! brought it to the fore when CEO Marissa Mayer completely cancelled their remote work policy a few weeks ago. It made mainstream press and quickly raised the ire of David Heinemeier Hansson, whose beliefs about remote work have shaped his life: half of his 37signals co-workers are remote and he too spends half his year working abroad.
At Icelab we don't have so much a formal policy about remote work (or about anything, really), but instead some simple guiding principles: work with good people to make good things, and as long as we can keep the business running, do whatever we can to help those people lead the lives they want.
I try to embody these principles: I spent the bulk of last year working from the Philippines and Hong Kong — and just this afternoon, I’ll fly off to Tokyo, the first leg in a trip that will see me working from five countries across three continents over the course of this year. It's allowing me to see the world in a way never before possible. Hugh's done some of this too, also checking in from Tokyo for a month at the start of last year. And in a couple of weeks, David's heading to Europe for a holiday and can extend it a little while by doing some work over there too.
Having people work from overseas has been no problem at all. In fact, 2012 was our biggest, most productive year yet.
Remote work isn't all about extending a holiday or seeing the world. It can also be about finding the right space for productivity in everyday life. Even Yahoo! recognised that you can't be chained to the office, that "occasionally [you] have to stay home for the cable guy," but this is more a sign of their failure to recognise the intrinsic value in a change of environment. As The Economist argued:
Plenty of evidence suggests that letting employees work from home is good for productivity. It allows them to use their time more efficiently and to spend more time with their families and less fuming in traffic jams or squashed on trains… You can shackle a Yahoo to his desk, but you can't make him feel the buzz.
We make our offices as comfortable and conducive to productivity as possible, but good work doesn't always happen from the same place. Good people, on the other hand, are good people everyday, regardless of their location.