The concept of remote working is far from a new one. I first remember the early rumblings of it just after the turn of the millennium when internet access had started to become fairly ubiquitous and, while still slow, technologies were starting to evolve to speed up the internet access that the average person could benefit from.
Fast forward 15 or so years and things have changed, but not to anywhere near the extent that was expected. A swift review of the numerous remote working job websites quickly reveals a very US centric trend which, certainly the UK, lags far behind in.
Necessity is The Mother of Invention
This is a well known English proverb and, in this case, I think it holds true. I've been running The Ministry of Technology for over 6 years now. The majority of that time has been spent working with our clients on-site. 6 months ago I started to notice the first expressions of back problems which have escalated progressively. This has led me to a point where, for a while, I am unable to travel. This has led to a necessity for me to change the approach of my business to focus purely on remote work for now.
In the same period of time the IPCC published their latest, stark warning on climate change impact and what we need to do about it. You can read it here. Suffice it to say that, in order to avoid catastrophic damage to the planet that sustains us, we need to make fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives.
What does this mean for The Ministry of Technology?
With this in mind, I have updated the Ministry company objectives as follows...
- All work, where possible to do so, will be carried out remotely.
- Where collective meetings are necessary between The Ministry of Technology and network team members they shall take place in a temporary hired space.
- Collective communications will take place using internet communications technology.
- All infrastructure shall be cloud managed and not location or device dependent.
This is, obviously, a guideline. A couple of client meetings each sprint at the client office is, with current technology, still preferable to remote gathering. We can't provide great Agile training if we don't turn up on site, so we'll be there to get you engaged about change! However, there's no reason why we can't do our development work from our own home offices. For our clients it means they don't need to provide space for us. It means we can be more competitive as we can quote without having to take travel costs into account. We are still right at the other end of a video chat for any ad-hoc requests.
We have had several of our most successful client relationships with a remote base so, while this is a challenge for us, it's not completely new. This is something I feel passionately about too. When I first went into business I did so because I wanted to make things better for my clients, be that delivering better products or creating a better environment for their team. When I took 6 months to put together The Pragmatic Agile Community I did this because I believed that agile could be better with people working together. If, in doing this, we can help make our planet better (or at least not make it worse) than we're doing something right.
Over the next year I'll be looking into more and more remote working tools to maximise the closeness of the relationship with our clients when we work remotely and I'll write about them here for anyone who's interested.
Back to the Future
Before I dug into our new, greener, agenda I was talking about necessity. I was initially forced to look at making this change. I have found that, for us, this change is not just something that I need to do personally for a short period of time, it's something that we can sustain as a business. Don't get me wrong - I fully expect that the profitability of the business will drop slightly as a result of these changes. There will be high paying clients that we won't be able to work with if we stick to these policies but I don't feel that this will be a long term issue, I feel that we will be ahead of the curve.
Remote working is the future; it's just taking us longer to get there. Why is it the future? Not because it's new or cool, but because it's necessary. This is why...
- The climate change report requires us to significantly reduce the amount of travel that we are doing across the board - daily drives into and out of cities will have to stop.
- The UK's transport infrastructure is on it's knees - road and rail transport are over capacity in some areas in excess of 500%.
- Pubic transport is not available where and when needed for many commuters.
- The cost of Brexit will make the UK a significantly poorer country, lack of money to invest will exacerbate the decline of infrastructure.
- The cost of inner city living is way out of reach of most now. As the infrastructure worsens house prices in cities will rise and outside will fall (in relative terms).
- As the above issues grow and commuting becomes a longer process the available skill pool reduces, making recruitment of permanent staff or on-site partners much harder.
This is what our future looks like. We can see the effects now and they have been escalating rapidly, Within 5 years I would expect that many more businesses will be looking seriously at their physical office footprint and looking at how and where they can move their working remote.