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Remote Work Interview Results

kayis profile image K ・7 min read

I've been a bit silent the last month, so I wanted to give you an update on my SaaS Product project.

Slow Builders

I've found a nice community of "slow builders" trying to be an alternative to the VC-backed startups that want to go big fast and the indie hacker hustlers that are out for the quick buck.

It's a group of technical and non-technical people who want to build things that eventually become products, but they don't do it as their main job so that they can go slow, sort of like gardening. Joining this community has given me some insights about my project that aren't directly related to it.

The community is also "slow-growing," so, at the moment, we're at 100 people, and until we get more structure, there won't be any new members taken in. But I will let you know if this changes.

Interviews

I wanted to build a product for remote workers because I'm a remote worker since 2014. I truly believe that it's the future of work and will bring all sorts of quality of life improvements for people directly or indirectly related to it.

Since I work remotely for so long, I obviously worked with many companies who embrace remote work, and so my first idea was to interview some people I'm working with.

That's what I did for the last weeks. Thinking about questions, scheduling interviews, and, well, conducting them.

Demographics

I interviewed 9 people, 5 women and 4 men who were 26 - 42 years old.

2 of them lived alone, so most of them had at least one flatmate that could bother them during their home office times.

Their remote experience ranged from 1 to 4 years, so some were Covit-remotes, and some started remote work because they wanted to do it.

The companies they worked in were startups, middle-sized companies, and bigger (and older) enterprises.

Their jobs were: recruiter, sales manager, project manager, marketing manager, software developer, researcher.

All in all, I would say for such a small group, that's an okay-ish broad spectrum of people.

Questions & Answers

I asked 6 questions, going from general remote issues to more specific questions about my SaaS product idea.

What would you say is the hardest part about remote work?

The most general question. I thought it would maybe tickle some remote work problems I haven't thought about.

The hardest part of remote work by far is motivation.

Most people would say it's hard not to get distracted by whatever you have at home. Be it partners, friends, family, pets, games, chores, or whatnot.

This was especially hard when they didn't have a separate room for work. Those who had dedicated workspace said they didn't have problems with slacking off.

Even if they did get work done in shared spaces, "deep work" was harder to accomplish.

The second hardest part of remote work seems to be related to the dedicated office room. The line between work and life becomes blurred. People tend to work longer in the evening and at weekends, which is especially problematic if this isn't in their contract.

Some tasks work better at weekends, and some are better done in the evening. Be it because customers aren't around regularly or co-workers are in different timezones.

The third hardest problem, which almost all people also mentioned, was the fear of missing out. This includes gossip and important job-related information, which happens naturally in an office environment.

Job-related information includes big announcements but also small but important bits of data. Either their co-workers think it's not important, so they don't tell anyone, or think it's so important that everyone already knows. This leaves many employees with missing info at the top and the bottom of the chain.

Also, things would get lost in emails or slack channels, and many companies would suffer either from not talking enough about what's happening or spamming their employees with irrelevant information.

These aren't all points people spoke about, but almost all were bothered by.

It's good to see that the problem I wanted to solve with my SaaS product came up that often in this general question. The next questions move closer to what I want to do and could seem more forced, but they're still interesting, and the answers gave me good insights.

What is the hardest part about communication when working remotely?

The hardest part was missing body language and nuances when talking. Text conversation makes this really hard, and even when doing Zoom meetings, many people won't turn on their camera. Especially criticism or humor can sound too harsh in such an environment.

The second hardest part about remote communication was time to reply. But this seemed to be split between the technical and non-technical staff. The technical people wanted to be left alone to do their work, and the non-technical people wanted to have answers as quickly as possible.

I think these two contradicting wishes stem from an underlying problem, which got more explicitly formulated by the third hardest part about remote communication staying up to date.

People either can't or don't want to attend multiple meetings a week, but they still want to know what was discussed. Asynchronous communication is seen as very important in distributed teams.

People can also search through chat logs and email threads to get their important information that was somehow deemed unimportant by others.

If this goes on for some time, people have to talk to each other every time something is missing explicitly. This disturbs the people from their deep-work and slows down the people waiting for their answers.

What do you think about "staying up to date on what happens at your company" when remote working?

Here most people said the hardest part is missing information.

Sure, for big announcements, most (but not all) companies have dedicated channels known by everyone and kept clean of distractions, but the hundreds of tiny bits needed to get work done go missing.

The problem has many facets. Too many channels, too much uninteresting information, under-shared important information, and all of this locked into tools that aren't well suited to filter that data.

When was the last time you encountered that problem?

Most people would encounter these communication problems daily, or at least weekly.

A few would excessively browse Slack or emails to stay up to date.

Some even stopped doing remote work altogether because of this.

What, if anything, have you tried to solve this problem?

If left to their own devices, most people did try to communicate more.

Half would do more video meetings, and the other half would be bothered by more video meetings. People who couldn't attend would feel left out and would miss information because no one thought about asynchronous ways to inform them afterward.

The rest would ask the management for help, which usually didn't lead to anything.

As with the last question, some people gave up.

Do you think such a tool would have any merit, or would it just end up as another tool in the company that no one uses?

I explained my "Slack for Microblogging" or "Twitter for Companies" idea to people before asking that question. The responses were generally positive, but people had some reservations.

People hate to use too many tools. A new tool is something people generally frown upon when they first get told to use it.

The census here seems to be, every minute working in a new tool has to remove time from looking into another tool. A new tool doesn't have to eliminate Slack or email, but it has to save time searching channels and email threads drastically before it's worth anything. So a good value proposition is a must.

Obviously, the new tool has to differentiate itself from existing solutions in a meaningful way.

Saying "Twitter for Companies would help you stay up to date" doesn't cut it.

But saying "Twitter for Companies will give you a customizable stream of company information that helps you to find important data in one place" might cut it.

And then integration with existing tools. While people understand that a tool that helps reading/browsing information will come with its own kind of application that facilitates things like filters and queries, they want a seamless way to get that information into the new tool from their existing tools.

And last but not least, the new tool should be ingrained into the company culture. If people don't use it, it isn't constructive, but if it's normal to write about your work-day into such a tool, everyone might do so.

Conclusion

I think my idea could work, but it's not easy. People don't like the status-quo of remote communication tooling, which is good for me, haha.

Integration with existing tools and filtering of information is the top priority.

Besides the tool, it seems that educating people and companies about remote communication culture is very important.

Next Steps

I think my next steps are finding out about the most used tools and how to integrate with them and learning more about online search tools. Probably digging deeper into Algolia or finding good serverless alternatives.

I should also read more about communication so I can in turn write more about it. Because writing and coding is all I know, and a blog about such a topic would probably be my first step in marketing my SaaS product. The good thing is, I can write before I have any product!

Then, when I finally can start implementing, I probably need some companies for Alpha/Beta tests, but that's not a problem for the next months.

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