By Janis Bergs, President of SAF North America
SAF Tehnika is an international radio communication equipment manufacturer having sales in over 130 countries. We are a medium size, fast and thrifty company that can't afford layers of fat cats.
Our North American operation is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. We have employees working from their home offices across the nation. Originally I am from Latvia, and moved to Denver only two years ago to assume the responsibility of managing SAF’s North American business. I must admit that my Latvian background made me very skeptical about remote work and how efficient it could be.
Our field of business is narrow. RF people are an endangered species; nowadays young people are crazy about developing the next great iPhone app (frequently a game or similar crap), or busy trying to go viral on YouTube.
The layer of ozone in our field is very thin so to speak and it is not easy to find people working in our industry. Therefore I have become OK with the concept of remote employees.
It works well if people have well-defined tasks and roles. For example a sales person can find and chase leads regardless if the work is done from a home office or some cubicle where too many people consume oxygen. Most sales guys in the USA travel a lot anyway because customers are spread all over the country. From such perspective it does not matter where he starts his journey from; only thing that matters is how much $ in sales he brings to his company.
Remote working becomes more difficult if the business model is evolving, roles are shifting and management wants to engage their team into collaborative activity. E-mail with time delays and branching threads is a terrible waste of energy. Telephone or Skype is OK if there are well-defined topics to be discussed.
But if I want to work on personal development of an employee, grow the business, constantly improve how we operate and be creative then face-to-face time is a must. I am partly solving this problem by organizing once-a-quarter co-working weeks.
During these weeks all our North American employees come to Denver, rent an AirBnB apartment and work in the same office. Of course our meeting room becomes overpopulated and this approach probably works for teams of 20 people or less. Sure, it is expensive to travel and to accommodate all visitors, but at the same time I believe that for any small yet growing organization it's a money well spent. It allows to develop much better personal relationships and learn to work together. Also this provides an opportunity for employees to participate, to assume different roles and responsibilities, to demonstrate their creativity and ability to get things done.
We had an awesome co-working time last week in Denver. Yes, there were a lot of tiresome meetings but also some artistic and culinary fun, and we learned to know each other better. The time we spent together will help our organization grow much stronger. Therefore I want to thank all participants. You guys rock!