There are various important things to bear in mind with permanent remote working. There are also many little things that weren't obvious to me initially, that I thought I'd share just for interest.
These aren't necessarily pros or cons, just little oddities that seem to be different between office working and remote working, especially for longer term remote work. They're not in any order, just as I've thought of them and I'll probably add to this over time, just like I shouldn't do with blog posts.
Sometimes you'll end up with a set of meetings one after another, with no gap. In an office that pretty much guarantees delays and overrun because you've got to find floors/rooms/chairs. When you're remote, switching meetings can be as quick as pushing 2 or 3 buttons on the phone.
The effect is even more obvious when everyone in the meetings is remote - when you've got a set of conference calls between people who know each other fairly well the "dead air" at the beginning of meetings can be almost eliminated.
It's true that if these are long meetings there are still caffeine/comfort considerations, but even then you can usually be back to the meeting quicker when you're in your own house. You might also argue the meetings themselves end up longer because con-calls can be more confusing and chaotic than physical meetings, but the reduced delays to starting each meeting is definitely worth noting.
This is about those days when you may be starting to come down with a cold, but don't feel too bad. If you work in an office, you have to decide if you go in feeling a bit grim and probably infect a load of colleagues, or stay home. You may also be thinking about how to get home if you turn worse.
If you're remote, things get simpler; you can start the day more easily, without infecting anyone else, and if you turn worse it's much easier to "go home".
It's also about those (hopefully rare!) days when you physically can't go into the office because your leg is in plaster (or whatever). When you'd be perfectly fine at your job, if only you could get to your desk. When you're remote, there's no problem there - as I found out when spending 2 months with my leg in plaster, and only missed a few days of work for the initial operation.
This is not to say that remoties don't or shouldn't take sick days. If you're too sick to work, don't try; follow the same procedure as everyone else: tell whoever needs to know, then concentrate on getting well again.
If you get hassle for that, the fact that you're remote isn't the problem, it's the culture you're working in.
You work from home, that means you're at home during the day. You are the delivery guy's best friend, you can sign for package for all your neighbours - yay! Similarly all those lovely types that try to sell rubbish door to door will be ringing your bell.
I don't know if it's advice or not, but I usually do still answer the door. Although I might be rather curt and brief with whoever is on the other side. Also, if I'm really deep in something, or on a con-call, that doorbell can be ignored. After all, I'm technically "at work" not "at home", so the bell ringing at home isn't in context at the time.
You know those company-wide emails - "Tony's birthday today, cake in the kitchen"? You'll be getting those too, but the cake might be hundreds of miles away - sad times!
Depending on the office culture you could either ignore this, complain about it, or let the rest of your team know when you have cake too. We tend to go for the last option, and over time us remoties tend to get fewer of those emails, either through new mailing lists being set up or the Tonys remember we'll be sat there with our sad faces on and remove us from the CC list.
Another warning note here - I'm not suggesting these emails are bad, or that they're toxic in some way for remoties. I think they can be a sign of a happy, well-functioning workplace. They just something that happens and may catch people a little by surprise.
Offices usually have some kind of regular fire drill. Depending on the industry you may even have more exciting anti-terror drills or other important reasons for everyone in the office to suddenly get up and run away.
If you have a remote team, this may cause some confusion. Suddenly the chat rooms go quiet, no one is answering the phones, there's no human activity on any systems; but everything is up and working, the network is ok, they're all just not there any more. After a minute or so of remoties worriedly talking to each other, calling IT and getting no answer, calling their office-based mates/bosses and again getting silence, the mind can start to wander a bit - maybe they really did all just dissappear?!
Thankfully one of our office mates noticed our conversations in the chatrooms after these events and made sure to tell us each time with a quick "fire drill, back soon" message in the chat.
Speaking of which, the last working day before Christmas is almost always a rather low-ceremony event - and in our office once the teams had finished their serious daily duties a director would usually declare the office closed and maybe shuffle everyone to a pub. The saddest chat I've ever seen was from the one remotie working that day, after everyone else had left without telling him. So we came back after Christmas to a chat sequence which read something like:
... M: > hello? M: > oh, has everyone gone M: > all by myself M: > don't wanna be M: > all by myself M: > I'll get my coat M: > merry christmas everyone
Occasionally HR (and other) departments will send round emails containing documents to be printed, signed and returned. Being charitable, it appears that their processes just aren't designed around the idea of employees who rarely see the office. I imagine people working in smaller satellite branches and permamently travelling staff must see the same problem.
We ended up agreeing three (well, silently, four) different options, depending on the document and who was asking for it:
- If they were planning on scanning and storing an image of the paper, we'd alter the document file to add an image of our signatures and email that back.
- For most things we just replied to the email as our confirmation and the mail server archived that as our "signature".
- If they really, absolutely, HAD to have a bit of ink on some paper, we'd sort it out on one of our occasional office trips. This was luckily a very rarely used option.
- Ignore it, it'll go away. This worked surprisingly well on occasion and became a clear sign that whatever the driving process was, that could be ignored too.
When you're in a meeting via phone, using a headset, you're still at your desk with both hands free. So you can often be both "in a meeting" and "at your desk" - meaning that you've got many options for multi-tasking. I guess this is pretty much the same thing as when people bring their laptops/tablets to meetings, but less obvious because we're hidden on the end of the phone.
Out of respect for everyone in the meeting, that should always be your primary focus, but some of the common secondary task habits I notice appearing are:
- Instant reference check. If there's uncertainty or disagreement about something in the meeting, you can check it immeditely - that old "I'll check when I get back to my desk" excuse goes away, you can pull up those old emails, the formal spec in the document store, the ISO standard, etc right there in the meeting.
- Call in someone else. If another remotie, or office person would be useful in the meeting, you can often grab them via chat/slack and ask them to call in quickly.
- Rapid code/document flinging. If someone needs a document or example code or whatever, you can get it to them as they mention it, rather than needing to add "action items" to appear on future agenda (or take some similar "slow road" approach).
- Coding-on-the-fly. Not to be recommended in most cases, but when a meeting is based around looking at an app in development and the discussions turn to minor styling matters, or other quick-fix code changes, it can be exceedingly useful to crack open the editor and knock out the discussed change right there, so a quick refresh can get immediate feedback on it.
Clearly this can be misused, just like the blight of "laptop battleships" in physical meetings, but in the remote case, you inherently have your desktop right there, so learning handy techniques to use it in your meetings seems a sensible thing to do; you're not losing any physical face-time but you do want to keep the current meeting as your primary focus.