Before starting I think it's worth mentioning I am not a self-proclaimed remote working "expert". I'm just a developer who works remotely documenting my personal experiences of the transition from office to remote work.
Working remotely comes with its pros and cons, like everything. With so many different companies adopting remote work in so many different ways means that one companies problem does not necessarily mean it will be the next companies problem. That does not mean these obstacles don't exist, they do. But that is not what this article is about, this is about busting those myths you hear, often from people (possibly your managers) who say it just will not work for them or it "is not possible" for the following reasons.
One of the huge benefits of working remotely means you get to decide on any particular day where you feel the most productive working from based on your schedule. This might mean "deep focus" and a distraction-less environment isn't necessary. So you can take yourself off to a co-working space or coffee shop for the day to catch up with other likeminded freelancers, creatives or remote workers.
Although, you don't necessarily have to see people in person to avoid the feeling of loneliness or isolation. Scheduling in catch-ups with colleagues for those "water cooler chats" you would otherwise be having at the brew station in an office is just as important to maintaining and creating lasting relationships.
I often hear people being afraid of working remotely as a junior developer because they're afraid they just aren't good enough to work independently on a project. Personally I think that if this is an issue then it's not the employees issue but rather a failing of the company who hired you (it's also worth mentioning that this issue exists in an office too).
If you're looking for a job as a junior developer, or a company looking to hire a junior it's important to set these expectations early on. A new job fills you with anxiety at the best of times, everything is new and you're finding your feet while trying to play catch up with those around you. Unable to get that immediate feedback from tone of voice, body language or facial expressions in person as an indicator on your progress leads to you asking questions like "Am I good enough?" or "Did they expect me to pick all of this up quicker?".
There are solutions to this problem. A thorough and thoughtful on boarding process, documented workflows and processes as well as pair programming sessions with frequent check ins to remind them that they're on the right path. With positive encouragement from your team leader and/or mentor will replace feelings of failure and anxiety with self confidence.
Over at EmployRemotely.com we are thinking of ways of encouraging remote companies that hiring a junior is worth it. If you have any ideas around this then please get in touch.
When I moved from an office to a fully remote position I was concerned about this point myself. My office culture was brilliant and I did wonder if it was possible for it to be emulated online.
I wouldn't say that culture online is no better, or no worse than it is in an office. Culture starts from the top and as long as you have great leadership and management encouraging a positive culture everyone will follow.
Some things to encourage positive culture and engagement amongst your online team are:
- Have public channels to discuss non-work related topics. This will help you figure out the interests of your colleagues (Yeah but who's watching Tiger King?)
- Encourage humour in the form of gifs (who doesn't love a gif?), articles, videos etc.
- Have optional company challenges. Things like step challenges, virtual run/walk/hiking clubs etc (Strava is great for this)
- Knowledge sharing & show & tell sessions whether it be project work or anything else of interest.
Following these few suggestions might make it easier for you to engage with everybody and not just the people in your team.
How can you really be friends, or build a relationship with someone having never met them in person? Easily.
Whilst I was working in an office I found it harder to get to know the people who I wasn't sat immediately next to. Whilst working remotely one thing that stood out was I never had that issue because was equidistance away from everybody in the company. Conversations within public Slack channels allows me to get an insight into their interests and humour which helps spark conversations you would never have known about working in an office. We nurture this by getting paired randomly with colleagues in the company weekly for a 30 minute chat. This has had a great response.
You may also find that you can have more thoughtful conversations online when they're needed. Being able to take a moment to type out a considered response goes a long way and your colleagues will appreciate that.
I don't think team work has been effected whilst working remotely. If there are issues, they would have existed in an office. But I am going to touch on some points which I think are important for all companies but one thing I cannot stress enough is that documentation is key.
Here is a list of documentation that I often look for
- Company strategies and visions
- Workflow processes
- Project documentation (Getting started guides, acceptance criteria, known issues)
- Feature documentation
- Publicly asked questions and answers on outstanding work
- Project analysis
- Meeting notes
Documentation is an important part of enabling your employees to work independently, removing dependencies on other people for their knowledge is something all companies will benefit from. Should individuals have any issues then daily stand ups are a great way to raise these and provide an opportunity to reach out for help or reassess goals.
Couple this with meetings to establish weekly or bi-weekly objectives, goals and responsibilities draws a clear line in the sand of what is expected from you.
Although this might have some element of truth to it when it comes your typical "nomadic remote worker". Largely, the majority of remote workers often have a professional workspace setup in their home.
One of the huge benefits of remote working is being able to decide, based on your schedule where you feel most productive working from whether that be in your home office so you can focus, or a co-working space. It's entirely up to you to change your environment to benefit your work. For myself, I'd say 80% of my time is spent in my home office.
Another misconception is that employees that aren't working under the nose of their managers can get away with slacking off. It becomes obvious when someone working anywhere isn't pulling their weight. I'm guessing you don't measure employee output by keeping your eye on your team members screens for 8 hours a day in an office? No? Same goes for remote workers.
A benefit of being able to have a little bit more control over your own schedule is being able to take smaller breaks when you feel like your productivity is taking a hit. Although frowned upon in some offices, the time you spend focusing on work will likely result in a higher output. There are many techniques out there for this, the Pomodoro technique being one of the more popular ones.
Have you ever heard the phrase "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room"? Well, often working from home means you're the only person in the room and this can be a worry if you're concerned about not being surrounded by more talented people to learn from.
In my personal experience I have learnt more being on my own, by not having that immediate crutch in the form of a colleague to lean on for advice or help means I've had to put more thought and effort into solutions myself. Also with the addition of code reviews, pair programming sessions (VS Live Share is great for this) and course material it means my personal development has increased rather than decreased.
Mindset also plays a part in self development, and with all that time I have saved in cutting out my commute it means I can spend it more productively. Often spending it studying, doing exercise or walking my golden retriever Indie means I start each day in a clear mindset. After-all, you can't teach someone who doesn't want to be taught.
I often have these conversations with people who can't wrap their head around distributed teams. Questions I get asked are "How do you know they are working?" or "How can you lead by example if they cant see you working?"
With good planning, retrospectives and project reviews you are easily able to identify areas where improvements can be made. And also areas to continue nurturing. Checking in with team members provides opportunities to discuss how they're coping as well as their aspirations as a developer so you can offer support and guidance where needed. It's important to regularly review teams progress and happiness and I believe a lot of the points we've touched on will help this. But ultimately, working remotely means giving people more ownership and autonomy, micro management will not work here.
It would be a shame to hear companies say "It didn't work, we tried it during the pandemic" as an excuse for not adopting a remote working culture. A lot of companies were not prepared for this situation we now find ourselves in. They have been scrambling to get systems in place to accommodate their employees working from home, meaning their IT teams have probably been working under intense pressure and round the clock to get these processes in place.
Speaking to employees within companies who haven't been prepared have said they felt a sense of it being rushed which can have a mental impact on the team. If the leadership is anxious and worrying that will naturally filter down to the employee hierarchy.
Additionally leadership are now having to take extra steps to check in on their team to make sure they have enough support, are feeling OK working in isolation when they would otherwise be spending that team on other tasks. This I can imagine is extremely hard when you've got to manage a remote team with zero remote experience yourself.
Finally lets not also forget that we are in a constant state of isolation due to the national lockdowns worldwide, this can have a serious mental impact as they are not able to get out the house to integrate socially within their communities which is a huge benefit of working remotely.
Over at EmployRemotely.com we are focusing on helping developers specifically find their next 100% remote opportunity. For candidates, we also run RateThisCV.com to help job seekers get free feedback on their CVs/resumes before applying for positions.
During this time of economic uncertainty, we have made all our services completely free. We have seen too many passionate developers lose out on opportunities recently and want to do everything we can to help those during this difficult time.
If you're interested in how and why we built EmployRemotely.com then head over to my previous article "Why and how I built a platform to help developers find remote jobs"