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Companies that support remote workers win against those that don’t (davidtate.org)
107 points by tate on Jan 10, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments



The use of the word "support" in the title is critical.

I've witnessed second hand the anti-pattern where a company has lots of remote workers, and fails to support them. You quickly get a 2-tier system where only the workers who are in the office actually know what is going on. This can seem to work for a while, but there is no shortage of problems.

One of my current contracts is different. One of the founders has been remote since the beginning, so they pay close attention to this type of issue. They have a number of remote workers (including me, very much part time) and it seems to be working out quite well for them - because they have the necessary support infrastructure in place.


What kind of support infrastructure are you talking about? I work remotely a couple days a week and we have several full-time remote workers on my team. We setup a Webex meetings for every meeting and we all have webcams. Besides that, we will informally use Google Hangouts to chat with each other.

I'm just curious what we could do beyond that to support the remote people.


Have a ticketing system. Use it religiously. Have online chat options (gmail is good). Use it religiously. Include remotes in conference calls. Do it religiously. Have key discussions in email, or at least summarized there, instead of just in person. Do it religiously.

In short, make sure that everything is accessible for people who weren't there. And keep the habit going always.


Wrote this up but it didn't seem to post before...

Treat the remote workers as if they are local deaf workers. How would you accommodate a deaf co-worker? You'd write down a hell of a lot more stuff in emails, documents, wikis, blogs, etc. There's huge value in written documentation - and keeping it up to date - that goes well beyond the immediate "get stuff done ASAP!" needs. Every time a new person comes in to the team, they have a record of documentation, mailing list archives to sort through, revisions of docs to learn from, etc.

Somehow all the same tools and techniques that make collaborative development possible and popular in the open source world tend to get shunned in corporate cubes.


Gmail is good but it is not sufficient

Learn with the open source people, they've been doing this for "centuries" (ok, for decades)

Use irc

The biggest advantage that no other (common) system has mimicked is simple: chat rooms.

But it's not chat rooms, it's because they are:

Easy to identify

Free to create

Easy to participate in several rooms

Irc can be used by bots easily (this is very useful)


Jabber can serve the same purpose as irc. But my experience is that irc tends to not like people sitting behind certain kinds of firewalls, and I personally avoid it.

Anyways the point is moot - I don't use either. Gmail is good enough for my purposes.


I've been working remotely on asset tracking software+hardware for a little over a year with an exclusively remote team. This is exactly what we do. A few of us are in Maine, we've all met in person, and configurations of us get together every so often, but we all work from home.

We try to refer to code exclusively by commit hash, and issues exclusively by ticket number. Commit messages often refer to tickets, and our ticketing system provides notes on dev progress and further commentary on (sets of) commits. We use email for archive-worthy discussion and Skype for instant messaging and calls. We have a weekly ~1 hour dev meeting. (And we're fully insulated from direct customer interaction, with wonderful management and (on-site/in-the-field) ops people, who enable us to concentrate on design, implementation, and process.)


I'm in a similar situation: One thing that works really well is that there are some very clear ways to get yourself lots of attention on a problem when you need it. It is pretty fantastic for this sort of issue


I would have thought "Have access to the entire world of smart talented people" would have cropped up but it didn't. I see why, that's not quite the direction the article was going in, but it's another benefit. In my company we had a pretty talented front ender who had to go back to germany but since we support remote workers we've been able to keep him which is cool.


I've noticed an interesting paradox at companies where I've worked. They are very flexible about remote workers when they are far away (e.g. office is in Los Angeles, and one programmer is in Oregon and one customer service rep is in Colorado), but they are more resistant when someone local wants to work remotely (e.g. to avoid a 1.5 hour commute each way in Los Angeles traffic).


I've had a similar experience. Most of remote my work has been between 4-10 hours drive away (I'm in the UK, so thats pretty far) and anyone within an hour wants me to commute.

I generally don't take them up on the offer as driving for 2 hours (and much longer on bad traffic days) on a regular basis feels like a waste of time when I don't need to do it.

It's funny because I'd much rather work for the companies in drivable distances if given the straight choice. I love to be able to get on site for meetings of if I need something physical done with hardware but alas its not to be. :)


It almost sounds like sexual selection in the way that the natural logic is turned on its head. A male bird with such a cumbersome and visible plumage could only survive if its genes were awesome in all other respects, so it gets more favor from the female birds.

A company that had many remote workers would crash and burn if it didn't have many other qualities (good management, processes and developers) to support the remote workers.


Today I am reminded of reason number #37 to telecommute: influenza.


That reminds me of my favorite book, "How to lose friends and influenza people"


I rarely upvote jokes on HN, but sometimes laughter is just infectious.


The reinforcing lesson I take away from the post is that you should know your company's weaknesses. Don't support remote workers if you don't have the culture or structure to support remote workers. Otherwise, you'll end up as a company that allows remote workers but doesn't truly support them, which is worse than not having remote workers at all.


Where are you all finding remoting contracts? I'd really love to but I have no idea where to look. The two places people told me about had about 5 jobs between them.


I've been working remotely for 10 years. Good ticketing system (Atlassian - JIRA and Wiki). Centralised source code repository and daily stand-up over Skype, otherwise known as a "Skype-up". Constant chatter on skype group chat. Shared screen sessions using Join.me.

The biggest issue for most employers is trust. "Is my employee just watching the TV?", is the first thought that pops into the employer's mind. As a programmer, the work is largely quantifiable, so the issue of trust is muted. My employer can see exactly what I produce. It is plain to see in every check-in to source control.

I have actually started renting my own office just round the corner from my home, so that I don't have to work from home anymore. I prefer the distinct separation of work and home life. My employer is in a different country if you were starting to wonder why I didn't just go to their office.


> All our knowledge transfer was done in person using heavy sarcasm and obscure hand waving

Choice quote and very true in my exp.


Replace remote worker with new starts and you could have written a very similar article.

I've been remote working for about 5-6 years and I use that same argument to get jobs. Hiring, supporting and listening to your remote workers is a great way to validate you have sufficient processes in place that all new staff who come in can get up and running with minimal fuss.

I've never looked at figures, but I'm willing to bet this'll reflect on churn rates too.


My peers often work from home. Personally, I rarely do it because I like the different environment for productivity. At home there is always distraction.

While it certainly is a good thing to allow and support working remote, I cannot deny heavy disadvantages. We discuss many important thing over lunch and especially long-term goals for our project are discussed over a coffee.

Additionally I find it seriously annoying to communicate over Skype / Phone / Messenger / whatever if a peer needs help with something. I love moving my chair to the next table and think about something together. I do not get that feeling at all when I'm communicating over distance. I am NEVER annoyed by someone asking for help on a tricky problem. Instead, I LOVE thinking about it. However, being ask for help via Skype messaging always annoys me. I dislike typing but most of all I can't stand waiting for a response because the other side is doing something besides our conversation.

I'm fine with my peers working from home, but I am incredibly glad it's usually about 1-2days a week and not all the time.


I wonder if 20 years from now, programmers will see working in an office as a luxury, rather than working from home.


Depends on what kind of office. Is it the luxury office of separate private offices or the budget office of being crammed together in an open space with a lot of noise.


"Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home." - Philip Greenspun


Well wouldn't having them work from their home accomplish this?


I'm curious how workers in different time zones get on with the rest of the team.

I work remotely most of the time but it has always been within the UK, I'd like to broaden my horizons internationally but keeping different hours to the rest of the team has always put me off.


Have been working remotely for over 6 years and all of our team are remote. I think there is a massive change coming as businesses start to adapt to the idea of working remotely. It's just the beginning of the trend.


I've been working remotely about 2 years and I guess that if company and peoples really want to work remotely they will do it (in my case many team members located in different countries). At now it's very easy, if you have clear mind - we have skype and other tools for day to day meetings, many project tracking/documentations systems like redmine or basecamp that could be started from scratch in few hours, github, bitbucket, dropbox, aws etc. But not all peoples ready to deal with this, mostly because they can live without it and don't have enough motivation to change something in their current corporative systems.


Actually, I think the "chromosomal difference" that will pull some companies ahead and leave some in the dust is open allocation. See: http://www.quora.com/Software-Development-Methodologies/What... . This is related to telework because project allocation is one of the first things to fail in a badly-designed distributed company (the main hub takes all the interesting work for itself).

Remote work I have mixed views of, because it's obviously a good thing in the abstract, but I also think there are major benefits to having people eat lunch together and discuss ideas through informal channels. Also, having a culture where some people cannot participate in those benefits, but others do, is, I think, problematic. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that completely distributed companies do better than semi-distributed ones. I'm glad to see it becoming more common, though.




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