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.