Remote Working at a Large vs. Small Company

Not all remote workers are the same. Neither are all remote working conditions. As the remote working revolution has evolved, employers and employees have been creative on how to best adapt. One factor that has a significant impact is the size of the hiring organization. Remote working at a large vs. small company translates into a different experience.

I thought it would be interesting to compare working remotely at large vs. small companies to see what is similar, what is different, and perhaps what is best.

Your Remote Working Experience Will Vary by Employer

Every job you work at has a different experience – starting with who your co-workers are, what industry you serve and how profitable you are. Similarly, your remote working journey will also vary by employer.

Sometimes your remote working journey becomes highly publicized, as it did for Professor Robert Kelly. Remote working came of age during one of these highly publicized events, as documented on the BBC on March 10, 2017. Within 24 hours, Professor Kelly became an international celebrity from an incident that he initially thought might have hurt his career.

This incident has been watched nearly 28 million times so far – it is highly likely you might have already seen it. If not, it is worth 3 minutes of your time:

This video changed Professor Robert Kelly’s life. Most importantly, the world saw that it is ok to work remotely. Will interruptions occur? Yes. But, nothing that is a career-ending event. Rather, it could even put you on the top of YouTube searches for a few weeks.

Remote Working as an Individual

The smallest company size is a company of one. The freelancer or subject matter expert might have a unique skill to justify working independently. This skill drives demand for their service, which might be called upon at a moment’s notice. When that expertise is needed, response time is likely an important factor.

In a global economy where skills are available on the international marketplace, the ability to instantly jump on a video call for an interview is far more important than being physically present in the same room for the interview.

In this type of scenario, it is hard to imagine not working remotely. Getting one’s skills and knowledge out to the marketplace in the fastest way means a video conference call is an important capability to ensure long-term survival.

Remote Working at a Large, Multi-National Company

Going to the other extreme, employees working for large organizations doing business across 20, 30 or more countries must come to terms on how remote working will be accommodated. Speaking from experience, if your job has a global role, you will be in a situation where phone calls occur at any time of the day.

Here in California, the early hours of the morning are reserved for calls to Europe. Calls to Australia occur near the end of the day, followed by calls to India and Asia. It would be completely unreasonable to expect employees to drive into the office if they had a call at 10 o’clock at night, and then drive home after.

Once you accept that a work call could occur at any time, it then leads to a logical conclusion – why be constrained by being in the office at any time?

Of course, not all business can be conducted over a phone call. Face to face meetings won’t go away, which means travel is needed. Those working in more senior roles understand that travel is a part of their normal routine. This is especially the case when working at large, multi-national companies in a global role.

One might argue that while traveling, you are working remotely. You are not in the office, have little interactions with those on your team, and will certainly not have a regular routine or the proverbial chat by the water cooler. Yet, despite your travels, the work continues, which necessitates remote working.

It is highly likely that each of the above reasons has contributed to the explosion of remote working, resulting in it becoming a standard work practice at most of today’s larger organizations – by necessity.

Of course, there are always exceptions. As I stated before, there will be situations where remote working doesn’t make sense. Every company’s journey and requirements are different. But, speaking broadly at overall trends, those working at larger companies have almost come to expect that a certain portion of their work will be performed while working remotely.

Remote Working at a Small to Mid-sized Company

Companies with 15 to 150 employees tend to operate with a highly disciplined and laser focus. These companies don’t have sufficient economies of scale to lose an account or overpay an expense. This type of activity could potentially have a catastrophic repercussion. Everyone must be working with incredible dedication and effort to ensure survival.

For this type of an organization, there is a compelling case to all be together to “weather the storm” and to work closely together as a group to overcome the business challenge of the day. Given the incredible pressure to survive, it is hard arguing with such logic.

Yet, remote working exists at these types of firms. Those working at a startup know that work may extend to 12 or more hours per day. Remote working at home in the evenings is less draining and healthier for spousal relationships to endure. Another reason is to help lure high performing employees. Offering the ability to remote work (likely just some of the time) is a nice perk that doesn’t take money from the bottom line.

Companies with Multiple Offices

Organizations operating across the world from multiple offices have no choice but to accept that remote working is how business gets done. For example, if you have two workers from two different offices, doesn’t that imply that at least one of them is working remote from the “main” office?

Taking this example one step further, does it really matter where either of these workers is physically located, if the interaction was over the phone or via a video conference? What is more important is sound quality, work distractions (see above video) and if the team can communicate effectively among themselves. Physical location is almost meaningless.

The Need for Physical Engagement

I have presented several remote working use cases, and how they differ based on if you are remote working at large vs. small companies. However, these examples were not meant to suggest that it isn’t important to have balance when working remotely. It is important to have some face time with other colleagues.

There are several reasons why the best option might be a mixture of “in-office” and remote working. Here are three important factors to consider your remote working policy:

  1. Communication. When working entirely in a remote or virtual environment, it can be tough to effectively explain complex concepts. A lack of a face-to-face engagement might limit your ability to take on new concepts, business process improvement or product innovation.
  2. Culture. This concept is abstract yet critical for a team to operate with the greatest efficiency, agility and performance. If you work remotely all the time, you might never fully understand your company’s culture. This could put you at a disadvantage compared to those who work in the office every day.
  3. Trust. A high performing team must trust that other members will carry their weight, complete their tasks, and will not let their team down on critical, interdependent tasks. This is an intangible concept, so very difficult to achieve in a remote working environment, at least across teams, including those that are cross-departmental.

Remote Working at a Large vs. Small Company

Given the need to bring teams together in the same physical space, those organizations that are struggling financially might not have the resources to engage beyond the virtual world. Regardless if you are remote working at a large vs. small company, working in a “pure” remote working environment without physical engagement due to lack of funds, effort or understanding of the importance of this activity will lead to results that are less than optimal, hurting overall remote working effectiveness.

Small start-up companies might be best suited to select an initial team all located in the same city. This helps to overcome the need for physical engagement, without incurring big costs to bring together the team for regular, in-person engagement. Larger, multi-national companies already spend a lot of money on travel – this expense can be tied into bringing their employees into the physical office on a regular basis, to help ensure that right balance can be maintained.

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