Distributed not disengaged

Imagine your average large office full of people working in their little cubicles, all working on their own projects, on their own computer, with their own agenda. They clock in at 9am, clock out at 5.30pm (there is an hour lunch in there somewhere) and look forward to it being Friday. They are all working in the same location, so they must be engaged employees; engaged, because the boss can see them and can see that they are at their desk, where he/she thinks they should be, working on company business.

Alternatively, imagine a distributed workforce of responsible, motivated people working in the surrounding that best suits their needs. Some work in silence, with their ergonomic chairs and state-of-the-art monitors; some have music on in the background and are collaborating with their peers from a standing-desk in the home office they designed just for themselves. They switch on in the morning and start engaging with their colleagues using the social tools they have had a hand in developing. They are there because a) they have a job to do, b) they are motivated to do that job and work with their team and c) because they are engaged with the company and its Vision.

Surevine is a distributed team. Some people choose to work from their home office. Some work from communal shared office spaces with like minded individuals. And then there are those that work from the Surevine hubs, the spaces we have set up to provide a co-working location, should they want a change of scenery and some ‘face time’ with their team members.

Notice I used the word distributed, not disengaged.

The biggest misconception of the “distributed means disengaged” way of thinking, is the perception of working from home.

“Working from home” is a phrase that we find ourselves explaining and justifying over and over again. No, it does not mean working in our PJ’s from the sofa with the TV on and the family around us. It also does not mean working in a cold, dark basement with no contact to the outside world.

It does not mean disengaged.

My exasperation about the misunderstanding of what working from home means for us at Surevine was reignited when my colleague Martin tweeted about a Radio 4 program on the other week.

The basic tenet was that your boss and co-workers need to know you’re working and engaged if you are working from home, so email everyone all the time.


Without sounding like a proud parent, at Surevine we don’t need our team to be emailing us to know they are working. In fact, if they are emailing, it means they aren’t working on what they should be working on; writing code. Or securing the infrastructure of our systems and our client systems. Or engaging and communicating with our employees and external contacts. Or running the company. In fact, a flood of emails is bad in every sense.*

Like I said, distributed…not disengaged.

* Another colleague Max blogged about Surevine’s feelings about email not too long ago, so I won’t say it again (read Max’s blog post though, it’s insightful).