Recently, due to some unexpected and undesired circumstances, I have been forced to work remotely for a long period of time, enough to build some opinions and put to test some initiatives around remote work that I read in the past. Here there are some conclusions. Some of them can be probably extrapolated to any kind of role but, in this case, they are from a software developer point of view.
In advance, I will say that I am someone that likes to be at the office, the whiteboard discussions with multiple participants, even, just to grab a notebook draw or write something and discuss it with the people, this kind of things. Till now, I have not had the chance or the willing to be working remotely for a long period of time but, life sometimes needs adaptation.
A few things I have learned or they have worked during this period:
One of the main concerns usually it is that the people working remotely are not going to perform at the same level that if they were at the office. I must say that this is completely false. We are adults, we have our tasks, responsibilities and deadlines, we must learn to trust each other. Without trust, this is not going to work. Remote workers should not be asked to prove constantly they are working. We should measure their performance based on the same metrics they would have if they were at the office. Managers and colleagues need to be open to trusting remote workers and remote workers need to work in this trust.
Instant messaging tools like Slack are great, they allow us to communicate in an easy way, ask and solve questions, send tasks, send deadlines, share files, etc. But, they are not a control tool, do not expect your remote worker answering always a few seconds after you have sent a message to them, in the same way, that you should not expect an answer from someone it is at the office.
And, in addition to the instant messaging tools, try using some videoconference tools like Zoom, talk with your remote workers, share your screen, catch up with them when it is necessary, even if it is just for a few minutes. Have a quick chat when resolving questions or planning. You will see how useful it is and it will create a closer relationship than the one just built using instant messages.
Make sure your company offers the appropriate tools to remote workers, they do not need extra tools just to have available the same tools the people at the office has. If you provide laptops to them make sure they can perform properly under the expected workload for their role. Have your IT teams configure the necessary tools like VPNs, 2FA, access key, etc.
Managers, face it, the fact that remote workers are working from home and they have available their work environment does not mean they should be available all times of the day. Respect their schedule. If they deliver, if they are flexible to be available for worth it meetings, do not push them to work off-hours and do not expect them to be answering emails or messages. Let them rest and be productive the next day.
One of the most heard things it is that remote workers are not around and they do not fit in the company culture but, what are they actually missing not been there? Some trivial conversation around the coffee machines, a few pizza or beer events. That it is nice to have but, it is not what defines the company culture. Include them in the big meetings like kickoffs, to transmit this kind of meetings using a videoconferencing app is not difficult. Invite them, when it is possible to the big parties, Christmas dinner for example. Just try to think a little about them when it is possibble and do not discourage people from using videoconference with them.
I will say that “If you have just one remote worker that needs to attend a meeting, the meeting should be online”. If this is not possible book a room with a speaker and a microphone, share your screen during the meeting, ask for the participants’ opinion even, some times, ask for the collaboration of the people on the line. Try, it is easy, it is useful and, it works.
Use tools available for remote working. There are excellent whiteboards, project management tools and, even, just a document excel or word where you can interact with people it will make everything so much easier.
Probably you will not realise initially but, there is a big chance that your remote worker is going to be an excellent communicator or, if they are just starting to work remotely, you will see how, over time, they will improve their communication skills.
They are going to learn a few things:
- Picking up different tones. When you are face-to-face you are able to obtain non-verbal communication signal from the people around you but, in general, when you are working remotely, you have just the voices to identify different things and use them to improve the way you are communicating things.
- Confidence. When you are face-to-face, part of your communication is done by your presence, the fact that you are there. When you are working remotely, you need to create this presence with your voice and your confidence.
- Take to the next level the tools you have. A remote worker will use the available tools in ways that you have never thought. They will learn to use them more effectively and, probably, even find usages for them that were not initially designed for. Everything just to improve the way they communicate.
- Make people understand them. They will learn to be assertive and clear, not rambling around. They will learn how to get to the point. And, they will learn to overcommunicate in order to establish better communication, explain themselves and ask for feedback.
In general, I think that it has been a great experience. I must say that the first week I was feeling a bit weird, I imagine that it was the sudden and unplanned change of situation but, this feeling went away soon and easy, leaving a great experience.