Remote Working - Is there a 'tipping point'?

19 Oct 2010 - 11:56am
5 years ago
4 replies
1451 reads
Robert Skrobe

Hi all,

I've been doing remote work as a usability / IA professional consultant on and off for about four years now.  I have a home office here in Dallas, and have clients all over North America.  At the moment, business is pretty good.

I'm wondering out loud when the 'tipping point' will occur for remote working with UX/IA/Interactive jobs and contract work, rather than the current preference most companies have of recruiting a local candidate.  I'm assuming that I'm woefully uninformed on this subject, and, by default, people usually prefer having someone local for face-to-face time and collaboration throughout the engagement.  There's also a trust issue unless you're networked well, but I'm not going to delve into that yet (I'd rather hear some comments).

What do you all think?  And let me know if I should clarify anything above if it's unclear.





20 Oct 2010 - 3:29am
Andy Polaine

Hi Robert - I've worked remotely and face-to-face for years. Some of this is teaching – I still teach to Australia from Germany – and some of it is insights research work, interaction, experience and service design. While many people are pretty au fait with remote workers, using Skype/iChat and tools like Basecamp to manage the whole thing, I've rarely done a job entirely remotely. At some point, I've always gone for a face to face meeting. Skype has replaced a fair few of these, but I think there always is a preference for someone locally. I think this is mainly a security thing – people feel better when they can grab someone into a meeting at the last minute or know that they could, if they wanted, always go and see the consultant.

The only exception to this I have found is people I have already worked with face to face before. In those cases the trust is there and the distance doesn't seem to be a problem. Perhaps the other one is when you're in the lucky position of being part of a dream-team, in which case your abilities are known and desired and overcome the fear of the distance. 

20 Oct 2010 - 6:10am
Alan James Salmoni

To echo Andy, the main factor determining whether I can work remotely is whether the client is familiar with me. The normal arguments in favour of remote working (lower cost for the company, less tired workers, less equipment etc) don't work well for me in this field. I have done a number of remote projects though (I'm currently doing finishing one up due to illness but previously 'worked' in Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and the US) but having me on-site if preferable for pretty much most clients. I've also heard that with some companies, permanent workers are more likely to work remotely whereas others are more likely to let freelancers work remotely.


In terms of a tipping point, I'm guessing that right now, IxD/UX/IA is still bit of a 'black box' process for a lot of companies. Once they realise that the deliverables can be achieved with a minimum of resources (unless research / testing is involved), I'm sure they will loosen their policies of working remotely. 


20 Oct 2010 - 3:56pm
Robert Skrobe

Hi Alan and Andy,

Thank you both for the comments.  Much appreciated, and helped to color my own opinion I had about remote working.

- R

20 Oct 2010 - 6:51pm

I worked remotely as an employee for over 3 years. The remote aspect of it was a bit of a mute point because HQ is in the Bay Area, yet most of my work was with teams in Ireland, East Coast, India, etc. The company did recently centralize my position to the Bay Area (where I assume a lot of remote working continues to be the case). Note though that the centralization mandate was division-wide, not just for UX.

I now do freelance work and so far all my work has been remote. I'm personally very comfortable working remotely in today's world, and my current clients seem to feel the same way.

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