Three lenses to remote working

I’m writing this post to reflect my thoughts on the remote work at Deveo and my latest venture, yet to be started, on doing academic research regarding remote work. Deveo is a team of eight spanning across the Europe. We have covered remote work at Deveo in the past on our blog and there was even a nomination for our team because of our remote work culture. This post is going to be a list type of post while still trying to go a bit deeper into the topic. The main purpose is, however, to reflect on the matter personally.

Efficiency

Comparing the daily work between working remotely to working with a co-located team, I noticed that while I was working with a co-located team in the past, the work contained a lot of routines that were scheduled around the day. Going to lunch at 11, having a coffee around 3 and so on. What surprised me after switching to remote work was that the routines stayed, but they were tied to getting things done rather than to the clock.

It’s argued that working remotely raises productivity. Naturally, one could argue it all depends on the work and so on, but at least in our context as a SaaS company working on building software development tools for other software developers, I have felt that it’s easier to get to the flow, and more importantly, get things done.

The efficiency plays another role as well. Where I have commonly perceived that in a co-located team or a company, you can get away by showing up 9–5 at the office, it’s much harder to do so in remote working context. Some might consider it to be cold or harsh, but how I perceive it when working remotely results matter, and only results. If there’s someone not contributing as much, it will be noticed, as everything and everyone are judged by the results, not by their facial expressions, or being present.

Recruitment

Finding talent seems to be a common problem, regardless of the domain, company size or country. I come from Finland which is a country of roughly 5 million people. Even though the IT industry is strong here and there’s a lot of talent, finding just the talent that we are looking for, has proven to be difficult from time to time.

When working in a co-located team or a company, the recruitment typically needs to happen from a close proximity to the office. You can make a hire from the neighboring cities in some cases, but typically the commute is too much of a burden in the long term. This limits the potential number of candidates even further.

As a remote team, we are able to attract talent from anywhere around the world with only limiting factors being the timezone overlapping and language skills. Both of the aforementioned limitations are important and need to be taken into account. Spoken and especially written communication skills need to be at a level where communication gaps can be avoided. I have learned to emphasize written communication over spoken communication when doing the hiring. This is due to the fact that most of the day-to-day communication in Deveo happens in written form over team chat tool, Flowdock.

The written communication skills aren’t obviously only about whether you know grammar and vocabulary. Maintaining a neutral tone is essential, in addition to presenting opinions in unbiased and simplified manner. There have been occurrences where someone makes a joke and others consider it harmful. Another thing is when to take the discussion away from the text-based tools to spoken forms. Sometimes, even after years of working remotely, we tend to forget that starting a Google Hangouts session and talking a problem through takes less time than trying to explain something in a group chat tool.

Organization structure

I have never been part of a big organization. The biggest organization I used to work for had around hundred employees. I have always liked the fact that I know people I work with by name, or at least by face. The ability to affect and change things have also been on the list of pros for smaller companies.

During the time I have spent at Deveo, I have been thinking whether remote companies and teams perceive to be more self-organized, and thus have less hierarchy and fewer turf wars. I have read about complex responsibility frameworks, such as the Holacracy, which first sounded very good, but later on turned out to be overcomplicated and burdening structure on top of simple principles. The experience I have is only from a team of eight, and scaling forward might require more structure, but we have found to live by very simplified goals and a roadmap.

Conclusion

I hope I’m able to shed some new light on the topic of remote work, or at least cover the topic from my point of view. I will use this reflection as a basis for my hopefully upcoming Ph.D research topics. I would like to know more about remote working, especially from day-to-day practitioners. If you have a good example or work in a remote team or company yourself, let’s be in touch and exchange ideas.

I’m going to continue discussing the topics above and other experiences from remote working in this blog. Stay tuned for more of the same. If you agree or disagree on anything above, leave a comment.