Remote ≠ Home
The era of working onsite 9-5 had ended a long time ago, but it seems that businesses are taking their time to accept this reality...
The bigger question is not Remote or not; it is: “Are you ready to implement a decoupled working model that does not require people to work synchronously all the time?”. There has been an increase in autonomy, loose interdependencies and so-called two-pizza teams together with the Microservices movement. Is it really impossible to give asynchronous, online daily scrum feedback?
Let’s consider Onsite vs. Remote which has a similar pattern with Sync vs Async. Does switching from face-to-face to Zoom help with the ultimate target of being Remote? Before giving the Remote decision strategically, one needs to consider several dimensions within the entity including communication, decision-making, organisation… Let’s focus on to the communication first:
Sync vs. Async
There are two main types of communication:
- Sync: Face-to-face or phone conversations, video conferencing
- Async: Messaging, emails, shared calendars
More Async, less Sync is one of the major key success criteria of the Remote.
`GNU is not UNIX`, likewise `Remote is not Zoom`
Remote is a trade-off. On one side, you risk losing some efficiency because of less control. On the other side, you increase efficiency by:
- Spending the commute time for working or relaxing
- Increasing the self-autonomy (Self-Autonomy is one of the 3 pillars of the motivation )
- Getting more structured as Remote enforces to be structured in all dimensions, because async communication favors the written definitions and expectations (i.e. Acceptance Criterias, Contracts between Services, …)
- Calendar-driven plans: Everyone should have the freedom to plan their daily routines including the timeslots they wish to receive meetings or focus timeslots by keeping the online calendar reserved for those activities.
No doubt that sync communication has advantages when there are ambiguities and uncertainties. Furthermore, the initial face-to-face sync session is sometimes a traditional culture to overcome mistrust. So after the trust issue is solved, is there any major reason left for face-to-face conversations?
Linus Torvalds has an incredibly strict view on Remote Working. He has pointed out the success of Linux, the “Biggest Remote Async OpenSource Project”, comes from its efficiency because the contributors do not lose time to follow the face-to-face requirements, such as greetings, welcomes and similar cultural rules. Instead, the contributors provide direct, written feedback asynchronously. . This successful system created the most used operating system on servers and mobiles worldwide!
How come the success of Linux is still ignored by the companies who are still enforcing a working culture from the 80s?
Working side-by-side can be seen as more effective, but it also has a risk to create laziness in certain cultures. In certain conditions, onsite work can relatively favour being more reactive rather than proactive. By working remotely with well-defined targets, there is:
- No need to work 9-5. You can follow your own plan! A considerable number of techies claim to be more effective during the night.
- No unplanned/spontaneous meetings/discussions/rumours in the office and hallways.
- No office politics!
Kloia Remote Approach
As Kloia, we have been working remotely for 5 years now but remote work for us does not necessarily mean being at home. We strongly encourage Kloians to use our own offices, co-working spaces (i.e. Wework, Workinton) and any remote location that they feel they will be productive and creative, instead of staying at home 5 days a week. This is our reasoning:
- Home may not be always the best place when you need creativity! Instead, going somewhere calm with a good view/good mood can help you find out the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, which is 42.
- There may be several distractions, especially if you have kids at home.
- 5 days/week at home, may affect the social life.
- The home environment may not always be work/focus friendly if there isn’t anybody who can protect you from various distractions like deliveries, people visiting or phone calls.
Some Kloians even decided to stay long-term in another country and that’s totally fine for us! This was an opportunity to practice their English and work remotely meanwhile.
I was told many times: “This process/task is not remotely possible” and I have asked the same question each time: “Define what is not possible”. The answer usually did not require to be onsite.
We are constantly debating and exploring the best ways to hold remote sessions. For instance, “Event Storming” is an activity where side-by-side interaction with Post-its is strongly recommended. But wait! A remote event storming session may still be possible if you can adapt it! Switching to remote does not necessarily mean to replace the side-to-side sessions with an online website where you can interactively play with Post-its! Just find another way of achieving the target!
Being remote, now you may need to rely on your daily calendar more than ever! Your daily routine can be defined in your calendar, which means fewer or no spontaneous meetings! Mark your preferred focus time slots on your calendar. Enjoy the remote disruption-free environment, which you can never find in an office environment!
There are also challenges with working remotely, especially in traditional cultures where, consciously or not, the people are overseen during the day by various stakeholders like CxO, PM, customer... Those stakeholders usually do not participate in daily standups or to the internal regular meetings but still want to keep an eye on you. They believe that success comes with pushing, rather than facilitating self-motivation. To overcome those, my suggestions are:
- Provide frequent feedback
- In short-term play the game with its rules!
- Do not try to change the culture in short-term
- Gain trust and credibility
Whichever async messaging tool you are using, try to keep your status up-to-date, like away, in a meeting, lunch, so that whoever is messaging you will be aware that an instant response will not be possible.
Video Session Tips
While I insist that many of your current sync communication can be replaced with Async communication, this does not mean that sync communications will disappear. You still need to be ready for video sessions.
- Choose an environment that is calm and quiet.
- Use noise cancellation microphone and software. Check out Krisp.
- Use a microphone that has a physical mute/unmute button.
- If the other participant(s) turns their cam on, you are also expected to kindly do the same
- Pay attention to your physical looks.You may be required to join a call on very short notice, so beware of pyjamas! :)
- During video sessions, preferably keep a wall behind you. This will help you avoid untidy backgrounds. As an alternative, consider using Zoom Virtual Backgrounds!
Having hassle-free video calls with clear video makes remote work a lot more engaging. The following are some of my technical suggestions for video calls remote work:
- Less than 20 ms. latency when you ping 126.96.36.199 (Mine is currently ~8-16 ms.)
- Stable internet with at least >10 Mbit./sec. upload (Mine is currently ~18 Mbit./sec.)
- Cable Headset with Microphone (My preference is Sennheiser PC 8 USB)
- HD Webcam (My preference is Logitech C920 HD)
Stress on the Organisational Structures
Working remotely is a major change and you cannot keep the same 80s model hierarchical organisation same with that major change.
As an alternative model, you can consider Holacracy. There are pros/cons in that model, but maybe that will reflect your approach better than a traditional hierarchical model.
- Keep all your processes the same and just switch to Zoom, you will fail!
- Keep your Sync/Async ratio high, you will fail!
- Do not specify Acceptance Criterias alongside User Stories, you will fail!
- Dictate a 9-5 regime, you will risk to find the best talent!
Challenges Ahead, But They Are Worth It
Shifting to a successful remote culture requires you also to assess and tune your processes to be remote-friendly. This adjustment mainly revolves around replacing sync communication with async where it makes sense. This movement may require your team/organisation structure and accountability to be reassessed too. One major challenge is changing the daily cultural habits, where 9-5 converts into a flexible regime. And don’t forget: Remote ≠ Home!
As Kloia, we embrace the remote working model successfully since 2016. It had challenges, but considering where we are standing now, it was worth overcoming those challenges for a better, more satisfying work environment.
Derya (Dorian) Sezen
Derya, a.k.a. Dorian, ex-CTO of an amazon.com subsidiary, is currently working as Cloud and DevOps Consultant at kloia.