Monday, July 8, 2013

Trust and Discipline are the Core Ingredients of Remote Work

I've just wrapped up seven weeks of remote work from Europe where I worked from several cities from Hungary, Austria and Germany.
Just think about for a second how fortunate we - software engineers - are compared to dentists, assembly line workers or plumbers: all we need is a computer with decent Internet connection.

Unfortunately, airfare is expensive to Europe for an entire family. Whenever we go we try to stay as long as we can to justify the cost with a longer stay. I've had trips with three-four weeks, but this seven week stretch was the longest.

I am pretty sure my team was a bit nervous about my trip before I left, but they trusted me. They knew that I'll get the job done even when I am not on the same continent and they also knew that I'll try to make this as seamless as possible. I did. I started working late in the afternoon and wrapped up work at 11 pm or midnight which overlapped with the work hours of my team in Chicago.

Here is what worked:

  • Phone calls through Gmail - free calls launched from my browser
  • Skype - we used these rarely but worked fairly well
  • was a good tool to quickly share our screens, however the delay was annoying sometimes
  • Tmux was excellent for sharing the console when I worked with our system admin on server issues
  • Chat

What did not work so well:

  • Conference calls - sometimes the quality of sound was bad. Really bad. There was one time when I had to listen only with muted mic and "talk" through chat
  • Calling cell phones from Gmail had audio quality problems

I am not saying it was easy to log in and focus on work after a great morning and lunch with my family on the Old Continent. But just like running, self discipline helped. And when I noticed my attention had waned, I used pomodoro sessions to keep me focused for 25 minutes at a time.