Thoughts on remote working

A few thoughts on the Remote working.

1) Culture, attitudes etc.

The hardest part of remote working is the cultural attitudes to people not being in the office. The only way to alleviate this is to build a culture of visibility. People have to be trusted to get their tasks done, and have to show evidence of that. If someone is working remotely you lose the ability to observe what someone is doing on a day to day basis, and instead they have to be measured on their output. The only way to show output is through a culture of visibility.

Team spirit and values – This was my biggest area of concern for the team, will remote working fracture a good team culture? We combat this issue by having an open ‘water cooler’ channel for the whole team to chat, as if they are in the office together. We also arrange regular (bimonthly) get togethers so the team can meet, discuss big problems, process problems and task based problems etc. and to blow off steam.

2) Tools, connectivity etc.

Remote teams need reliable access to the tools and resources to show their outputs and to be able to connect from wherever they are. This means that as an organisation a decision needs to be made on what is hosted behind the VPN, and what is hosted externally. Things hosted behind the VPN will be inherently more unreliable because you have to connect through something in order to access the services. If this goes down the remote workers ability to get their work done is compromised (as it is when internal resources go down for office based colleagues)

Internet connectivity is a big problem when you’re out and about. Mobile broadband is essential, and home broadband must be fast and reliable.

3) Roles and tasks

I firmly believe that any employee who spends most of their time communicating through their computer is a candidate for remote working, but the tools they’ll need to support their tasks will be different. Developers will need something different from Designers or BAs etc.

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A bit of background

Before Oct 2013 I didn’t believe it possible to maintain a well gelled team and facilitate remote working, but given that at the time my team of 6 were going to be made homeless i had to come up with a strategy to keep the team functioning and productive.

I spent two weeks analysing the team to see how they worked and discovered that 90% of the time they were working primarily through their computers. When they did work together on a problem, the team would gather round someones screen to discuss things. I was certain that there were screen sharing tools and collaboration tools which could replicated the same thing. so we tried a few out and found some that worked for us and our stakeholders.

We spent a month using the tools in a traditional office based environments, so that the correct behaviours could be embedded. After that was successful we experimented with a week of complete remote working to see what additional problems there were.

After that we moved to complete remote working and the team is as gelled as it was before. An addition bonus has been that when we do meet up there is greater camaraderie than there was before.

I use the following principles with the team, which i though should be considered in this initiative.

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.
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