On being a remote worker
Jan. 26, 2015
It's been 7 months since I've moved away from the Cape Town office and into the position of being a full-time remote worker. In the weeks leading up to the move, I wasn't sure how things would pan out, but I was optimistic that working remotely was feasible, especially in this line of work. Well, it's been 7 months and here are my thoughts about it so far.
Some teams are fully co-located, and some teams are fully distributed. I find myself in the more challenging position of being the sole soul that is physically isolated from the 16 person Cape Town team. When everyone is in the same building then remote tools are a non-issue. When everyone is distributed then everyone is forced to level up on their communication skills and their communication tools. When you're working alone in the abyss, you have to train yourself to master the arts of making your presence felt.
In all honesty it hasn't been too bad, anecdotally speaking. I'm fortunate enough to be able to fly down on a monthly-or-so basis to stay in touch with the team. It also so happens that enough people take enough work-from-home days that the pains of being remote are felt well enough to make it a pertinent team issue. Not that it has been an issue per se. We occasionally discuss the remote-working ticket on our team Trello board, which helps jog memories when people forget that their socks have slipped back down.
We use Slack to communicate. We use it a lot. It's brilliant because with the mobile app, I can stay in touch even when I have an errand to run. It's also a tool that lets people post stupid images - which helps the culture live digitally. We also do daily stand-ups using Skype. Sometimes via video feed and sometimes without it - depending on the stability of our internet connections. Email is not a priority. The thing is that if you're planning on working remotely in a non-distributed team, you have to have the will power to pull it off.
If your personality tends toward a more meek disposition then you may find yourself unhappy. If you can unashamedly communicate to the team despite the feeling that you're putting yourself on a soapbox when you announce your presence, you should be alright. If you have no problem reminding your team mates that they should be updating their presences when having meetings, for instance, then you'll feel a lot less isolated when nobody responds to your messages. The onus is on you to keep yourself included, and that comes with the burden of being responsible for helping your team mates remember that you exist. They are human after all.
My personal recommendation is that if you're planning on moving from a co-located position to a remote position, give it a trial run first. 2 or 3 weeks should be ample time to collect some rudimentary results to see how comfortable both you and your team feel about it. I haven't felt very lonely, but then again I am a bit of a hermit.
Are you a remote worker, do you plan on being one? What are your own thoughts and experiences?