Open organizations must embrace remote work

Letting people work where they want shows how much you value them

Allowing people to work from any location demonstrates that you care about their preferences—a gesture toward greater inclusivity.

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Open organizations are inclusive. They aren't inclusive solely because it's the right way to be but because it produces better outcomes. Inclusivitiy enables a more diverse set of viewpoints.

But in order for those views to be heard, they have to be given.That's why an open organization must embrace remote workers.

Some positions require a worker's physical presence, particularly those in the traditional service industry. Serving a meal or giving a vaccination remotely is difficult (given the state of current technologies, anyway). But the fact that some jobs require physical presence doesn't not mean that many jobs—especially those for so-called "knowledge workers"—are similarly bound.

To be clear, embracing remote work means more than allowing employees to occasionally work from home. It means having an organizational culture that treats remote members as first-class citizens. It means being open to remote contributors and treating them as equal participants in the organization, no matter where they live. Not everyone wants to be a remote worker, and that's okay. But why should an open organization dismiss those who do?

Certainly, remote work can be challenging, particularly for an organization whose culture presents problems with communication or accountability. But the fact that remote work highlights existing organizational weaknesses is a feature, not a bug.

The fact that remote work highlights existing organizational weaknesses is a feature, not a bug.

The simple fact of the matter is that an organization that does not actively embrace remote work cannot claim to hire the best people. At best, they hire the best people willing and able to work in a particular location. The (truly) best candidates might cite several reasons for being unwilling to move to your office location. They may have kids in school or parents who require care. They might live in an area with a much lower cost of living. They might just like where they are and don't see a benefit to uprooting their life. By embracing remote work, you're telling the members of your organization "I trust you to do your job." And trust is a powerful motivator. Similarly, distrust crushes morale. Both are self-reinforcing.

There is no Platonic ideal of an open organization. Each open organization is a unique combination of the five principal open characteristics. You might still legitimately call your organization "open" if you don't embrace remote work.

But think of all you're missing. How much more productive will your contributors be knowing they're in an environment where they're trusted? How many potential contributors are you excluding because of an unnecessary requirement? Embracing remote work sends a signal that you're actively inclusive by enabling contributions from people with different work styles, people in varying socio-economic situations and life circumstances, etc.

Trust must be intentionally built into relationships. Allowing people to work wherever and however best suits them is a great way to build that trust.

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About the author

Ben Cotton - Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as a the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He co-founded a local open source meetup group, and is a member of the Open Source Initiative and a supporter of Software Freedom Conservancy. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at FunnelFiasco.com.