Some thoughts on remote work

Recently, I spent two weeks working remotely (i.e. far, far away from my office). The opportunity was there, and I happen to work on a product that makes working (and interacting) remotely straightforward. Since I know some of you who read this blog work remotely (and others would like to), I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the experience.

First off, I can say that I was highly productive – I got a huge amount of work done. But – I have to admit, it wasn’t the same work I would have done if I was in the office. I worked on a lot of semi-deep technology problems (e.g. tools, implementations, strategies, processes, etc.) that I would have done in spurts over the next several months. It’s nice to have the research and groundwork done now, and in the long run, it will be beneficial that I got a jump start on this work. I just would have done less of it and more interacting if I was in the office.

I realized this after just a few days of work, and have spent most of the time since then pondering why this is the case. A big part of this is my role on the team. I don’t own a testing area (or even a testing technique). In some ways, I’m a consultant for our test team – answering questions, giving advice, and providing guidance where it’s requested or needed. But the questions and advice and guidance rarely come out of a well formed email. Most develop out of informal conversations – many of which I stumble upon in the hallway, by the coffee machine, or in the lunch room. When you’re working remotely, you usually don’t have good opportunities to take part in these conversations (note, that I have ideas now, and we’re working on them internally).

I attended meetings remotely (video and desktop sharing worked great), and for the first time in my career, I actually wished for more meetings, as I was able to participate just as if I was in the room (including my typical smart-ass comments). But by the time I finished the two weeks of remote work, I was starting to feel pretty isolated. I had proposed a few discussion topics to team members, but surprisingly, most preferred to wait for the discussion until I returned (I think that’s a redmond culture issue that we need to think about). I did spend almost the entire first two days I was back meeting with people and talking about all of the sorts of things that don’t end up in email, so it was nice to feel immediately connected.

My hunch is that working remotely would be a no-brainer for people with more “task-oriented” work (e.g. a job solely focused on testing, development, or writing) – as long, of course, as they had the discipline to focus on work. I’ll have to track down a few industry colleagues who work remotely some time and ask about their experiences and thoughts.

I also think that remote work can be an option for me – but it will take some culture change (and technology tweaks) to be completely successful. As it turns out, after those two days in Redmond, my parents needed me to visit and help out for a while, so I’m working remotely again. Even two days in, it’s been a better experience, and think I’ll continue to learn a lot (it also helps that I’m just two hours away, and can, and will, commute to Redmond frequently when needed).

If you have your own thoughts or experiences, I’d love to hear about them.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve had four telecommute jobs in four years. Two were awesome, two were awful. In general it’s a great way to work, but it takes specialized tools, processes, and smart dedicated involved people who love to write.

    -Chris

    Reply
  2. I am in the other side. As we are based in China, every project is based on “remote work”. The PUM and senior people are usually in Redmond. Our PM’s meeting time is usually 7-8 a.m. or 10-100 p.m. We need to setup conf call for almost all the meetings.

    I don’t feel that bad. The trouble usually comes when the feature team needs to do intensive investigation on some critical tech problem. Or the time is tight for the release. If we say let’s get the final build on Monday, actually we will get the build on Tuesday of China time. If we got some P0 issue requires Redmond people to fix, we have to waste another day time…

    Reply
    • Good points – we (as an industry) need to solve the “how to work around the world” problem. You can work on other things while waiting for the bug to be fixed, but I’m a bigger fan of putting all of the “work” in one place for a feature, rather than separating disciplines. It’s a big issue that I hasn’t, I fear, had enough strategic thought put into it.

      Reply
  3. I started working 1-2 days a week remotely (from home) last year. It was only a few weeks I was able to stay home for two days. sometimes, even one day is hard. I use live meetings, office communicator etc. which enable remote working. Here is what I found: If I have planned work for the day, e.g. read this spec, write this code it went pretty well. However, if I am trying to figure out what I should be doing, it did not work as well. Brainstorming, walking around, chatting with people do more then I reaize I guess. I get that inspiring ideas from this completely random, unplanned meeting with this co-worker in kitchen or hallways.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Nazan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.