Working Remotely – Essay 1

Everyone is talking about this topic.

I will too now.  My focus is somewhat different.  I have two aims, mostly.

1. Help you (me) become better doing to get work done well.

2. Help the Team work remotely, together.

***

What is our goal?

I think our goal or ambition is to be able to work so well remotely, that we achieve almost the same benefits as working in a collocated way, working side-by-side.

One of the key aspects of this is to collaborate, to draw and write and think and talk together.

There are many things that make a small team able to do that.

Why is it so hard to do?

There are many reasons. Let us list a few.

1. Disorientation
2. De-personalization
3. Time zone differences
4. Unable to relate to the other people
5. Lack of knowledge of the “remote tools” (these tools are quite various, so this is a big topic, in a way)
6. Cultural differences
7 Inability to see or trust that the other people are gunning for the same goal as you, that we are all in this together

That will be enough for now. Let’s deal with them one at a time.

But first, what can we do well already working remotely?

Or at least, ok.

Well, we have been doing it some for ages.

We used emails.
We used phone calls.
About everyone now in their family has tried FaceTime or Skype or something like that.
About everyone has done a Webex or Zoom call or GoToMetting or something like that. And been frustrated at being slowed down by “minor” things.
We have sent files.
We have shared files.
We have shared our screen or watched another’s screen.
We have been sent picture or drawings or movies.

Have we done these really well?

In my opinion, NO.

As one example, our ability to use email effectively is notoriously bad.  My saying: “If I want to have some one misunderstand, I send one email. If I want to be sure that person mis-understood, I send two email.”

But we have done them, and sometimes we have done them well enough. The project succeeded, at least in someone’s estimation.

What other things do we not do very well?

Some people, at least some of the time, can do the following. But mostly we do not do them well or they are not working well.

We do not have a good team with a clear goal and a desire to succeed at the mission.
Or, maybe there is some desire, but it is not clear.

We have not established a personal, trusting relationship with each remote person (in the toughest case, every person is remote from all the others).

We do not identify and address cultural “bridges” well. (This is based on the idea that there is a cultural bridge between people in NYC and people in New Jersey. And that it is awkward to talk about cultural differences, but that with effort and compassion, cultural differences can be “bridged” and even appreciated.)

We do not let them know us, and we do not do everything we can to know them. And establish a good relationship with them.

The theory is that good communication requires a good relationship and some common goals.

We do not have fairly equal communication from each of the team members.

We do not know our tools (speaking of many of them) well. Nor do we use them as well as we should.

We do not accept that working remotely together is tiring (for many reasons), and we do not take good accommodation for that.

When working remotely, we do not tend to emulate the hallway conversations, the coffee breaks, and the meals together that we get with collocated teams. This informal conversation is enormously rich, in two ways. It allows us to get to know each other in a low stress situation. And it allows for feedback from the “main” sessions.

People have said that all the important work is done in the hallway conversations.

We are poor, as I usually see, at using the virtual whiteboard or the virtual stickies or any kind of tool that allows many people to work together at the same time. We do not know these tools well (Mural.co is one example), we do not study and train our people on them, and then we do not use them well.

We do not make accommodation that many things done remotely take a bit more time. So, many of us find this frustrating and spoil the remote experience by unrealistic expectations.

Let me end for now by saying this.

Remote work is hard, and takes a lot of skill. It can never be as good as collocated work. BUT, the tools and techniques one is forced to learn to do remote work well can make it very good, and will make your collocated work better.

One learns better balance by being blind.

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