Working at a remote-hostile company
Published on 2016-10-18 15:26
I want to start by saying that I’m quite happy with my current employer, this post isn’t written to speak ill of my employer, it’s just my view on working as a remote employee at a company where the culture isn’t exactly remote friendly.
This post is going to be about the problems you can encounter as a remote employee working for a company where most or all other employees are working at the same office. I’ll try to suggest solutions to these problems, but not all are tested, so implement with causion.
While chatting and emailing are great tools, sometimes it’s better to be able to talk to eachother and see eachother. That’s when you need to hold a meeting. The best way to do this is to meet face to face, but this is quite impractical if people are scattered across the globe.
Here’s my list of things to do before, during and after having a meeting:
- Write an agenda. Decide how much time to allocate for the meeting. Meetings without an agenda and an end time are wasted meetings.
- Book a time when everyone needed for the meeting are able to attend. Put it into a shared with an alert the day before and an hour before.
- Decide the conference tool to use and preferably test it before starting the meeting. This can be tested between different attendees or a few minutes before the meeting with all attendees. I recommend Zoom for remote conferences.
- Notify at least 10-15 minutes before the meeting if you’re unable to attend or will be late. Don’t postpone the meeting for a single person, because that ruins the schedule for all the other attendees.
- Appoint someone to record the meeting and transcribe it and store it somewhere where everyone can read it at a later time. This is good to remember what was decided and also for others to catch up on what was said and decided on the meeting.
- If you’re gonna treat attendees with some fruit / cookies / cake / etc, make sure that the remote attendees also gets treated something. (Call the nearest bakery or tell them to go buy something at the expense of the company.)
- Follow up on what was decided on the meeting after a previously decided time to implement.
Planning, planning and more planning! Everyone loves (or hates) planning. It’s even harder to do properly if you don’t use tools that suite your model of working. But it needs to be done.
So, tips on making planning easier for everyone, even your remote workers!
- Maintain a shared 1 year plan, 6 month plan, 3 month plan and a sprint plan. The plans should contain features, not tasks.
- Keep a shared backlog with all tasks, even tasks that are not connected to a feature. (Maintenance tasks, bug fixes, etc)
- Find the tools that allows you to follow the above structure.
- As an employee, maintain your own weekly Kanban board. My Kanban board consists of three columns: TODO, DOING, DONE. This works well for me. Whenever a task ends up in DONE, update it in the shared tool as well.
- Find a method, try it out at least 6 months, then adjust if needed. Switching methods of planning often is not fun.
Don’t apply my tips as law. Try them, adjust them and scrap them if needed. It’s what works for me.
Written communication is better than oral communication.
With that said, there are different kinds of written and oral documentation.
Chat is great! Chat sucks!
Chatting is a great tool if the message isn’t super important, it’s a nice place to vent of some steam. But, if important discussions are happening in the chatting tool, please summarize what was decided and put it in a blog post or wiki article.
I love emails. I love email even more when the sender can write a proper email.
So what do I define as a proper email? Well, it needs a subject, preferably a well written one so I know at glance if I want to read this email now or if it can be read at a later time. Then it needs content. If you think the whole thing fits into the subject, don’t send an email, send a message in the chat application.
So, what is email good for? I find it useful for meeting summaries, announcements and different kinds of reports.
Requests and tasks should not be sent via email, it should be put into the planning tool and assigned to me.
SMS is great! It’s fast, works most of the time and usually gets the attention of the recipient. But! Use SMS with extreme caution. It should only be used in life or death situations (Servers are on fire, major parts of the product is down, etc). SMS should be reserved for alert systems like PagerDuty or similar.
Conference call (Skype, Zoom, etc)
Use this for meetings when there are remote attendees.
As with SMS, use with extreme caution. Is quite nice to use for person to person communication if the call has been scheduled.
I love blog posts. They’re straightforward, usually structured and I can read them whenever it suits me. I wish more people used blogs when communicating on how to do stuff, announcements, reports and such things.
A wiki is great for persistent documentation, stuff that you want to search and find easily when there’s a problem. It shouldn’t be filled with articles on how to setup Docker or how to brew coffee. That sort of stuff is better suited for a blog. What I do expect to find in a wiki are panic lists, documentation on how stuff is set up, where to find what info and more. That’s what I expect to find in a wiki. I want to visit the wiki when something is burning and be able to simply click my way around to find solutions.
There’s so much to be said about work hours, but it pretty much boils down to this: Set a schedule, put it in a shared calendar and communicate whenever the reality differs from the schedule.
Activities with your collegues can be great fun, but it requires planning, especially when there are remote workers. But in general, try to plan things to be done whenever the remote employees are present. It’s not fun to be the only one who always misses out on friday beers, go-karting and what not.
I think that’s all I want to write at the moment. Feel free to contact me on Twitter if you have any comments.