Lessons from working remotely for 7 years, Pt. 1

The distributed Open Source ecosystem

Big and small, Free and Open Source projects don’t work without remote contributions, even for non-development tasks like community management, design or documentation. Take for example the KDE Community, one that I know by heart.

During my time working with KDE, I was based in Germany while my bosses where located in places like Canada, The Netherlands, India, or Spain. The community volunteers I worked with were at home all over the world, from New Zealand to Brazil, from Norway to South Korea.

I was used to working in an open-plan office with my team nearby, so I could just walk over to someone’s desk if I had a question. At KDE, 99% of the day-to-day communication was happening asynchronously on mailing lists and via IRC channels. Working with people in all kinds of different time zones, I had to learn to deal with delay and all kinds of other issues.

It’s all about trust

What’s true for any team, is even more important for distributed teams: trust is key! You can achieve trust by being as transparent about your work and decisions as possible. Discussions need to happen on mailing lists or in dedicated chat channels so that everyone involved has access to the decision making process. It is also helpful if there is a moderator or facilitator for those discussions, in case they get out of hand.

Setting clear goals and having regular meetings with your team also creates trust and stability.

Establish practices like daily or weekly check-ins for your team: either in writing or as a call. For instance, every team member could post a short note about what they achieved during their work day and what the plan to do the next day into the team channel on Slack.

I will talk more about how to make remote work better in my next post.