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Working Distributed - Cliff Notes

Working Distributed - Cliff Notes

Why Support Remote Workers?

It's very easy for remote working to fail if the company doesn't invest in it. It requires buy-in from the entire company, but the benefits are significant:

Since giving this talk on Tuesday I've seen @fox sharing links about remote teams as well as part of some upcoming posts - I haven't read these yet but I suspect she'll have some interesting things to read Real Soon™:


  • consider what tools you currently need:

    • are you able to use them outside the office?
    • are there risks when doing this? (security/access/data)
    • are there processes in place to mitigate this? (VPN/remote wipe/etc)
  • have a good chat system in place

    • e.g. Slack
    • a place for the conversations you'd normally have in the office
    • empower your employees to tailor rooms so them get the most out of it
    • integrate your other systems into chat -> "chat ops"
  • use video as an alternative, for when synchronous stuff is helpful

    • e.g. BlueJeans
    • let people do things face-to-face
    • it should be easy to setup and use
    • record events and make them available for those who couldn't attend
    • invest in decent recording equipment for large events
  • collaboration

    • e.g. GitHub
    • define teams within your organization around responsibilities
    • make it easy for people to add themselves to teams
    • try and mention teams instead of people -> information sharing
    • provide context about what you need from the team

Remote Working Tips

  • treat it like you were working in an office

    • have a routine
    • put on pants
    • remember to take lunch
    • do get out of the house and interact with people
    • try and focus on work so your day doesn't drag out - e.g. Pomodoro Technique
  • watch for the creeping workday routine

    • set boundaries on when you are available for colleagues
    • avoid notifications that can drag you back to work
      • do you really need email on your phone?
      • set Slack's DND so you don't get notifications
  • have a decent workspace at home

    • good chair
    • external monitors
    • as few distractions as possible
    • if others are at home, indicate when you should not be disturbed

Distributed Teams Tips

  • be aware of the timezones of your colleagues

    • they too will probably be away or trying to avoid notifications
    • treat communications as asynchronous by default
    • fight the urge to be in chat all day and night
    • schedule things long enough in advance that others may make themselves available
      • do not mandate this
  • capture important things for posterity

    • link back to relevant chat discussions in issues or PRs
    • summarize where decisions have been made so others not present are in the loop
    • recording video conferences
  • plan to have some of your day overlap with colleagues

    • this helps address blockers and raise suggestions or issues
    • for things that can be resolved quickly, do it
    • socializing is also pretty important, even if it's only chat
  • co-ordinate work so that everyone is on the same page

    • have plans for the immediate term (e.g. the current sprint's release)
    • know roughly what everyone else is up to - "is everything covered?"
    • have multiple tasks on the go; switch when you become blocked
    • show initiative - are there places you can help out when you find yourself with some spare time?
  • create an environment where you can trust your colleagues

    • there will be hard times as well as good times
    • knowing you can raise problems or issues within your team is important
    • remote people can often feel isolated - being able to be candid and honest helps avoid this
  • be mindful of your written words

    • text lacks much of the nuance and context that we take for granted with speech
    • emotive or rushed replies can inflame an already tense situation
    • cultural differences between colleagues can confuse things
    • don't consider everyone as a strong English speaker
    • as much writing can be done asynchronously, take your time with it
    • try and be succinct - you want people to read the whole thing, not stop midway through due to exhaustion
    • if a long reply is unavoidable, have a TL;DR: at the start to summarize it
  • as a team, catch up in meatspace from time to time

    • when you know the person on the other end of the keyboard, the remote stuff is much easier
    • use this time to do non-work things - strategy, team building, etc
    • the sooner new team members can meet with everyone, the more likely they'll feel like they fit in
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