Working From Home
Couple of days ago I began working at a new job. Much like my last job, this is one is work-from-home-based (please note I’m deliberately trying to avoid using the word ‘remote’ for reasons I will explain below). However, I never thought the experience would be so dissimilar. While my former team worked very hard and constantly toward better communication, interaction and teamwork, it always felt as if there was a big disadvantage in not being physically present in the office: interacting with people outside the team could be difficult, spur-of-the-moment discussions with other groups, ad-hoc meetings, hallway convos, etc. There was always a sense of not-being-there.
In contrast, with my new employer, all processes, policies and workflows (including HR, mind you) are built not just with work-from-home in mind, but rather they’re deliberately built for people who aren’t physically present. In fact, HR itself is a geographically-distributed team. More directly, though, the experience with my team so far, in terms of distributed work, has been very good. I think there are a few important reasons why this is the case:
No such thing as ‘remote’
When no one’s ‘there’, everybody is. The team I’m currently part of was designed from the ground-up to be a geographically-distributed team, which means that no one (including managers) works at one of the company’s offices. Or said another way: everyone one in the team works from home. This has tremendous effect in the way people interact with each other and that sense of “what am I missing by not being there?” is completely gone – not just emotionally, but rationally as well. There’s just no here vs. there no local vs. remote – period.
Synchronous Direct Communications
Something that has made a huge difference is the emphasis on direct, synchronous communication among team members. Text chat is only part of it, it’s the means to an end, not a solution in and off itself. We levarage a number of tools to make this happen but we’re don’t hesitate to use our phones, if all other things fail. Email is only used for team-wide information that needs more eyes, comments or persistence. For interactions with more than two participants, quick conference calls, video calls or screen sharing (done with the same agility you would in person). If you need to be heads down on something or are in a meeting, you can set your do-not-disturb sign up and no one will bug you. There’s just a tremendous respect and empathy for everyone’s time while at the same time cognizant of the need to communicate properly.
While no one really enjoys meetings, they are some times necessary. Everyone who receives an invite to a meeting is expected to be there and punctually so. In fact, meetings will not start until all invited parties are present. If you can’t make it, you make arrangements ahead of time (the team is actually very flexible in this respect), but otherwise unless is due to force majeure, you will have people waiting on you.
While what I explain above might seem like a lot, it really isn’t. Because, unsurprisingly, it all hinges on interaction and communication and with geo-distributed teams, it’s actually beneficial and I’d even say required to enforce good communication via expectations and processes.