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Random Bits Startups

Some content about remote work

If you already have read some of my earlier posts, you will know that I currently work remotely and am part of a team that is spread across a few countries.

For this reason I try to read a lot about the subject, in order to try to continuously the way we work.  On this post I just want to share 2 links (one video and an article) that I think can be very helpful for remote teams, even though they address subjects that are common to everyone.

So here they are:

Documenting Decisions in a Remote Team

This is very important specifically the parts of making sure everyone is in the loop, explicitly communicating the ownership of the decision and keeping a record that can be consulted in the future.

Read on Medium

Building Operating Cadence With Remote Teams

This is a more general presentation where it is explained how things work at Zapier (100% remote team). One good idea from the video that caught my attention is the small “survey” before the meetings, to define the plan and allowing people to get more context before the meeting starts.

Watch the video on Business of Software

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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.

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Startups

How to work asynchronously

Just watched a talk by Jason Fried (available at the bottom of the post), about how you should take as much care about how your company works, as you take care of your products. More than the actual name or topic of the presentation, what I really liked to see were some of the processes and mindset Basecamp has, that are really well thought in order to fit the reality of a company that works mostly asynchronously. You can read about it in some books but seeing it action brings a whole new level of clarity.

It may sound easy to apply these concepts in our day to day, but it isn’t. I know this because after 2 years of working remotely, for a company that is remote friendly and does the best it can to make the work more asynchronous, we still fall for some of the bad habits described in the talk, such as relying too much in the chat app.

Either way, I recommend it, I learned a lot and hope you enjoy it.

Your Company Should be Your Best Product | Jason Fried, Basecamp | BoS USA 2016

Categories
Random Bits Startups

Managing a 100% remote company

This video about Gitlab was posted recently and is a very interesting case-study on how a company can normally function while having all of its employees working remotely.

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Personal

3 Months of Remote Work

Three months have passed since I left the office and started working remotely (+1000 km), in this post I share the “pros and cons” of my short experience, even though across the Internet many people already covered this topic extensively.

Whitesmith has been “remote friendly” since first day I joined, more recently the company is trying to become a “remote first” business, as described in a recent blog post. What this means is that remote workers should be treated as first class citizens and the company’s processes should assume that all employees are working remotely. This mindset gave me the possibility to move farther away for a while.

The first thing that I’ve done was to rent a table in the nearest co-working space, because staying all 24/7 in the same house is not my thing. It was a good decision, this way is possible to meet and interact with new people from different backgrounds regularly and I have a spot where I can focus without too many distractions.

Regarding the job related issues, the asynchronous nature of remote work is both its biggest strength and at the same time its biggest drawback. I say this because all the liberty and flexibility comes with a cost, which is the lack of a fast feedback loop and that instant discussion on the spot that settles everything down, without the need for more message round trips or checking my peer’s availability for a quick video call.

On the social side, one aspect that I noticed (and already expected before embracing this new experience) was a small detachment of whats going on in the office. Slack is more active than ever but is not the same as the “water cooler”, plus new people are constantly joining in. Without a physical presence it is hard to get to know the newcomers.

Even though there are these rough edges, I’m really enjoying working remotely. In 2016 I will try a few new strategies to overcome the above obstacles, such as:

  • Improve my written communication skills
  • Avoid slack for long running discussions and prefer more structured platforms
  • Organize some on-line activities/events
  • Work on small projects with the new teammates

Lets see how it goes in the next few months.