Thinking about telecommuting? Here’s something completely different

Telecommuting: a “best practice” for America’s most flexible companies and the regurgitated benefit white-collar employers are told to offer to attract key talent in today’s digital age. But is it really the best solution for tech companies?

Imagine a workplace that has no cubicles, limited personal space, desks on wheels, and power cords hanging from the ceiling. You have just entered agile development, a fascinating organizational behavior concept that may be considered the exact opposite of telecommuting. Although it sounds foreign and perhaps a little revolting, it has helped one tech company in Orem, Utah, nearly triple its output with fewer employees.

Here’s how it works…

Customers contact Fishbowl for a specific software request. Each customer request, as well as anticipated requests and job improvements, is color-coded and placed on a job board. Employees come to work and check the job board, then decide for themselves which project they’re going to be working on for the next two days. After working vigorously for that 2-day sprint, the most significant component to this concept’s success occurs: all employees gather together to present what they’ve created. “If you have to demo something, you’re going to work really hard to make sure it’s ready to demo,” said Malcolm Felt, a project manager. The process then repeats itself.

Years ago, Fishbowl worked under the traditional waterfall development: projects were planned in advance, built for months at a time in a sequential process, tested, and rushed out the door to meet deadlines. With that model, projects were divvyed up and allowed only so many people and resources. Then there was the problem of having a single person responsible for writing code or some other intellectual property component that delayed project milestones anytime that person went on vacation. And with that type of information silo was the accompanying feelings of ownership and defensiveness if anyone other than the developer wanted to make changes.

In 2010, Fishbowl began to adopt the concept of agile methodology, which has gradually morphed over the years to fit their company’s needs. “The model we have is very different from many tech companies that I run into when recruiting,” said Kendrick Hair, VP of Development. “The trend now is telecommuting, so many employees work from home. Our model is very different.”

Even though developers aren’t usually interested in the social aspect of their job (let’s face it, there’s a distinct personality type typically associated with developers), there are overwhelmingly huge benefits to forcing employees to communicate, share space, and become a work family unit. “It’s an adjustment – but for the workplace, we get so much done that the pros outweigh the cons.”

Telecommuting certainly provides highly valued benefits, from additional office and parking space, to the spared expenses on fuel, car depreciation, commute time, and the upkeep of an office-approved wardrobe. Truly, many people would be unable to join the workforce without the ability to work remotely. But for tech companies, support teams, call centers, product development, and any industry that provides a tangible or digital good, agile mobility may be the solution you’ve been looking for to boost the cohesiveness and productivity of your team.

For more information about agile methodology, please contact our HR team.

Scrum team

Interested in learning more? Check out these additional tips for Agile Development!

Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Author Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Brad has been a certified Senior Human Resources Professional (SPHR) since 2010. He services both local and multi-state client companies and is our in-house FMLA expert. Outside of work, you might spot Brad mentoring, chaperoning, watching, or participating in sports.

More posts by Brad Fagergren, SPHR, SHRM-SCP