Marissa Mayer may have decided that working from home doesn’t work anymore for Yahoo, but that doesn’t mean that working from home isn’t the best option out there for some tech companies. And for startups it seems like a no-brainer. Here’s why:
No rent, no utilities. This is big, obvious reason that everyone should already know: if your team works from home, you don’t have to rent office space or pay for anything like heat, internet connections, electricity, phone lines, or anything else like that. There’s a big expense that just vanished from your budget. Poof!
Good home workers are self-starters, and that’s exactly who you want on your team if you’re a startup anyway. If you’re worried about how many hours somebody on your team is working at a startup, that probably means you didn’t hire the right person in the first place. If your team is properly motivated, they’re going to be working just as hard to make the company succeed as you are whether they’re at home, in an office, or anywhere else.
Plus, counting hours is a waste of your time. You shouldn’t care how many hours anyone on your team is working — tracking that is both time-consuming and pointless. What you should be focused on is results. If your team members are completing the tasks you need them to in the time you need them to, it doesn’t matter at all whether they’re in an office or at home. Conversely, if they’re not completing the tasks they need to on time, then it should be time for them to hit the road no matter where they work from.
Home workers allow you to spread your team out. This can be a big advantage, especially in Southeast Asia where you may be working on a product that’s targeted at more than one country. If your team works from an office, everybody either has to be in one place or you need to pay for more offices in different locations. But if your team works from home, you can hire people all over the globe, which gives you access to more talent and more markets without destroying your budget.
Working from home keeps employees happier. This one is a bit subjective, but at many startups your team members are going to be putting in long hours each day to stay on top of everything. If they’re spending 12 hours a day in an office, that can pretty quickly become soul-crushing, which means you either need to spend more money to buy them food and free massages (or whatever) or allow your workers to become soulless drones (that’s never a good thing). But working long hours from home is easier, as you can still see your loved ones easily every time you take a break or stop for a meal. As I write this article, I’m sitting next to my wife on the couch, and our dog is lying on the floor in front of us. I’m not talking to my wife or playing with the dog, obviously, but I still feel a lot happier and more comfortable here than I would if I was in an office all day. That’s all subjective, of course, but studies have shown that work from home employees really are happier and we all know that happy workers are more productive than unhappy ones.
The tools for working collaboratively from home are here. Even a few years ago, it would have been much harder to have your teams work from home and still be working together, but these days there are a plethora of mature solutions for collaborative working from home. Here at Tech in Asia we tend to use Skype for conferencing and chatting and Google Docs for collaborative editing, but if those tools don’t fit your workflow, something else out there probably does.
Working from home doesn’t mean never working together in the real world. Sometimes, you really do have to be there, and it’s important to remember that working from home doesn’t preclude that. Different companies will have different needs, but I think most work-from-home companies do have meetings or events in real life from time to time. Here at Tech in Asia, most of us meet up for our Startup Asia conferences. Does it cost a decent chunk of change to fly team members around for meetings like that? Sure, but it’s still cheaper than renting an office in the long run.
At the end of the day, you can avoid most of the problems associated with working from home by just hiring a trustworthy team that’s actually motivated to help you build the company. And guess what: if you’re planning to do a startup that’s the kind of team you should be building anyway. Working from home saves you money, makes workers happier, and allows you to broaden your searches for talent and to spread more easily and cheaply into new markets. As I see it, that’s a win-win-win-win. Unless there’s some reason you absolutely need to be in an office (and yes, there are some companies that really do need that for one reason or another), why would you be?
As a tangential side note, some of you may have read that employees are better off at work because they’re less likely to be promoted from home. The study that indicates that, however, was conducted at a very large Chinese company. Chinese business culture places a lot of importance on personal relationships, so it’s little surprise that “being there” means a lot at a Chinese company, but this shouldn’t mean very much to startups one way or the other. You should be striving to build your own workplace culture, and if everybody’s working from home, then nobody gets left out of promotions because of it anyway.
(CORRECTION: Fixed “Marissa” after initially writing “Melissa”).