Personal Random Bits

Observations on remote work

A few days ago I noticed that I’ve been working fully remote for more than 2 years. To be sincere this now feels natural to me and not awkward at all, as some might think at the beginning or when they are introduced to the concept.

Over this period, even though it was not my first experience (since I already did it for a couple of months before), it is expected that one might start noticing what works and what doesn’t, how to deal with the shortcomings of the situation and how make the most of its advantages.

In this post I want to explore what I found out in my personal experience. There are already lots of articles and blog posts, detailing strategies/tips on how to improve your (or your team’s) productivity while working remotely and describing  the daily life of many remote workers. Instead of enumerating everything that already has been written, I will focus on some aspects which proved to have a huge impact.

All or almost nothing

This is a crucial one, with the exception of some edge cases, the most common scenario is that you need to interact and work with other people. So remote work will only be effective and achieve its true potential if everyone accepts that not every element of the team is present in the same building.

The processes and all the communication channels should be available for every member of the team the same way. This means that it should resemble the scenario where all members work remotely. We know people talk in person, however work related discussions, memos, presentations and any other kind of activity should be available to all.

This way we don’t create a culture were the team is divided between first and second class citizens. The only way to maximize the output of the team, is to make sure everyone can contribute with 100% of their skills. For that to happen, adequate processes and an according mindset is required.

Tools matter

To build over the previous topic, one important issue is inadequate tooling. We need to remove friction and make sure working on a team that is spread through multiple locations requires no more effort and doesn’t cause more stress than it would normally do in any other situation.

Good tools are essential to make it happen. As an example, a common scenario is a bad video conference tool that is a true pain to work with, making people lose time at the beginning of the conference call because the connection can’t be established or nobody is able to hear the people on the other end. Merge that together with the image/sound constantly freezing and the frustration levels go through the roof.

So good tools should make communication, data sharing and collaboration fluid and effortless, helping and not getting in the way. They should adapt to this environment (remote) and privilege this new way of working, over the “standard”/local one (this sometimes requires some adjustments).

Make the progress visible

One of the issues people often complain about remote work, is the attitude of other colleagues/managers who aren’t familiarized with this way of doing things, struggling with the notion of not seeing you there at your desk. In many places what counts is the time spend on your chair and not the work you deliver.

On the other side, remote workers also struggle to be kept in the loop, there are many conversations that are never written or recorded, so they aren’t able to be part of.

It is very important to fix this disconnection, and based on the first point (“All or almost nothing”) the complete solution requires an effort of both parties. They should make sure that the progress being done is visible to everyone, keeping all team in the loop and able to participate. It can be a log, some status updates, sending some previews or even asking for feedback regularly, as long as it is visible and easily accessible. People will be able to discuss the most recent progress and everyone will know what is going on. It might look like some extra overhead, but it makes all the difference.

Final notes

As we can see working remotely requires a joint effort of everybody involved and is not immune to certain kinds of problems / challenges (you can read more on this blog post), but if handled correctly it can provide serious improvements and alternatives to a given organization (of course there are jobs that can’t be done remotely, but you get the point). At least at this point, I think the benefits generally outweigh the drawbacks.

By Gonçalo Valério

Software developer and owner of this blog. More in the "about" page.