Debate

Co-Located or Distributed: Which Is Better for Product Development?

You’ve been reading them just like us: a barrage of articles about the end of offices as we know them. The future is remote work! But then you get on that video call with your colleagues in a timezone seven hours ahead, the audio cuts out, and they’re ready to go home before your day even started. Suddenly those articles don’t seem so realistic, do they?

So we asked you this week, is co-location actually better for product development? When we asked this we were worried that this would be a landslide, and in our poll 82% did think that co-location is better. But, our debaters tell a different story – in fact, we’ve never had so many of our debaters respond (more than we could feature).

Turns out that maybe all those articles are true? Is it better to have a remote product team? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Distributed

At Zendesk, we would not have been able to scale from 10-1,000 people in product development in a single location. Distributed teams are a huge challenge and hard to get right, but it's really paid off for us.

Sam Boonin
VP Product Strategy, Zendesk
Co-located

Definitely co-located. I view distributed teams as a tax you have to pay if you can’t hire the people you need locally. There are so many intangible exchanges of ideas, in meetings or just around the office, that you get by being co-located. And despite all the money that has been poured by VCs into the remote productivity space, I’ve yet to see a setup that has changed that equation for me. The only exceptions to this might be 1) if you are hiring remotely to save on labor costs or 2) the company has grown so large that it's outgrown the labor market at HQ. I’m skeptical of (1) and (2) should really only apply to the largest companies, certainly not to early-stage startups.

Justin DeBrabant
Head of Product, ActionIQ
Distributed

Which is better depends on many things: Better for collaboration? Better for creativity? Better for velocity? Better for scaling? Our product development team is distributed across seven countries and I can't imagine it any other way! What's great (rather than better) is that the team spans almost a full 24 hour cycle, that we can hire 2-3x the number of engineers for the same budget, that we have a culturally diverse team that accurately reflects our customer base, that we allow the team to embrace freedom and flexibility and they love what they do and where they do it. Sure, running a distributed team is hard work (particularly when timezones are factored in), but with proper planning and advocacy at a leadership level, this can work.

Holly Kennedy
Head of Product, 15Five
Co-located, but...

Co-located is by far preferred, but that said I have been increasingly impressed with the quality of team and product that we have achieved with distributed teams over the past several years. I am not a total convert, and definitely prefer co-located, but more and more of our teams are distributed and they work better than I would have originally thought.

Patrick Tickle
CPO, Planview
User Comments