I’ve been working remotely for the past 5 months. I have left Vancouver, Canada, sold my car, put all my furniture on storage, packed my clothes and laptop and currently living in Sydney, Australia at the time of this writing.
It has been an amazing adventure so far. I have met a lot of interesting people on the way. Working remotely has not been easy. There had been a few things that I needed to learn quickly and be efficient at. It is one of those things that you have to learn on the job since no one would teach how to work efficiently while working remotely. No one teaches how work with remote people, or at least none that I know of. So here are the things that I thought was hard:
Being part of the culture while being away.
While being away from my work, I do get jealous that they do company outings, beers on Friday afternoon, or even team lunch when welcoming a new team member. But it’s one of those things that there isn’t actually a solution for. The company cannot just give me a bonus to eat out by myself because even if they did, nothing would changed, that is still not a company culture. On special occasions, it is nice that my employer gives out a few incentives such as gift cards or additional allowance for celebrations that I have missed such as the company Christmas party but the fact is, I will still be celebrating without my team.
Slack is a great tool for remote culture. I have found that I keep up with slack more that I’ve been working remotely since that is the only way I can feel like I’m still part of the team. Slack jokes, memes and gifs has become my way to interact and be present with the company.
Working together: standups, planning sprints, submitting or receiving code reviews, delivery
I’ve worked on a team where a synchronous standup worked best and a team where asynchronous standup has more value. I find that when a team writes blog posts from time to time, the asynchronous standup has more value to the team because each day, the asynchrnous standup (or more of a roundup of what you have done during the day) is detailed to a point where the pull request just made sense. I can follow the thinking behind pull-requests from standups or their github descriptions. Some people might not like it because each pull request or github issue becomes more like a thesis which definitely is not for a team who does not like reading or writing.
When a team does is not composed of writers, synchronous stand up is more valuable. I would admit that team cohesion is far better when doing synchronous standups. But as far as team productivity, I lean towards asynchronous communication.
Programming is in my point of view, very asynchronous. When we create pull-requests, we don’t need everyone to work at the same time unless we are pair programming. Code review does not need to be synchronous as well because even if it is synchronous, you don’t get a review in an instant anyway.
Architecting software is very synchronous, but when there is too many cooks in the kitchen, it spoils the food. I most often think that when architectural meetings take place, I don’t have to be present on the meeting because most people who go to that meeting have already set their minds on how to do things. I tend to just follow what the presented idea is and then iterate over it.
Since I am not interrupted in most of my work day, I tend to finish tickets a bit faster and it would stay in review for longer time than usual because of asnychronosity. My solution for this problem is to have a perfectionist mentality where my tickets should just go through the board without hindrance after I have put it in review. It seldom happens since there are still points that I have not considered, but it certainly made my tickets go through faster than when I was working synchronously with my co-workers. When I review tickets, I would usually just leave a comment and not block them in any way so that others can review the same ticket.
I make it a point that my peers should not worry about the app on my timezone. If there’s anything that is happening, I will look after it when I can so their evening should not be interrupted. My only ask from them is to respond to alert when I’m sleeping which is the time they are in the office anyway. I try to empower them to deploy past 4pm Monday to Thursday as well. This means, I’ll take over the deployment and watch over the app after they leave the office.
Cabin fever. Not talking to anyone for days.
It is very likely that in a span of few days, I don’t see people. When this happens, it does get very lonely. I’m lucky that I have my wife with me. But I have found that working out, going to the gym as much as I can has helped. Exploring the city is also good but it is definitely easy to run out of free fun.
Being as active as I can in meetups has been really helpful as well. I have attended a variety of meetups in the city– ruby and go meetups are my faveourites so far.
I also have a tendency to over-work. I forget to take my lunch or even have a 5 minute breather in between tickets. I have found that I get burnt out when I forget, so I have alarms to remind myself to take a break or eat lunch. For some people, pomodoro is a good technique for this, however, it takes me more than 20 minutes to gain focus and be on my zone. So, I have a 2 hour increment in between my breaks.
If you, person who is reading this until now, has considered or considering working remotely and have an opportunity to do so, do it! You’d see that you will have more time to be productive and learn new languages and read books that has been in your reading list for years. You’ll meet amazing people that will inspire you to write different apps in the new hipster language that you might learn while being away from the routine of getting up semi-early to work in your desk with fancy tea or coffee made by a tattooed barista with a man bun and beard.
A lot of people have told me, “Paulo, you are really lucky working remote and just waking up, rolling out of bed, getting your laptop and start working.”. And while this is true, it is not without complications. I have more autonomy over my time since there is no one looking over my shoulder, but this also entails a lot of discipline.
I would work for synchronously again in a few months and I’m interested on how that would play out. Maybe I will like working in an office again, or maybe I would just want to work in some ratchet hostel surrounded my mosquitoes so I can talk to different people of different cultures after work. Maybe it’s the millenial in me that I think no one should ever work in a confined space, or maybe it will be important for me to have a high performance team that won’t have a work-life balance.
Whatever the future holds, I am thankful that I have done this experiment of woring remotely because I have learned more about my career and myself way more than when I was working in an office.