Lessons from working remotely for 7 years, Pt. 2

You can find part 1 here.

Remote but not distant

Communication is everything. A tool like Slack not only mimics IRL conversations, it also provides a record of those discussion to follow up on decisions and thus creates accountability that doesn’t really exist in the same way for discussion around a meeting room table. Written communication or recorded video calls give people the chance to catch up on discussions that they could not participate in, be it because they had to go to the doctor or because they live in a different time zone.

Mailing lists give people that live in different times zones the chance to partake in decision asynchronously. Of course, I’m not talking about read-only lists, but shared lists. A good tool for these type of lists is Mailman, a Free Software mailing list manager.

Obviously, there is a need for clear rules for decision making and discussions. Again, this is true for both IRL meetings and online dialogue.

As Mandy Brown, VP of Product for Vox Media, wrote in her insightful article on remote work a few years back: “[…] an emphasis on written communication enforces clear thinking, while geography and disparate time zones foster space for that thinking to happen.”

Voices in your head

Since there are so many great tools for video calls available today, make use of them! It helps to know how someone speaks, what their sense of humour is like, what the melody of their sentences sounds like. You will hear the individual tones and voices again, when you’re reading a chat message this helps to actually “listen” to what they have to say and how they say it.

Meet in person if you can

If possible, get your colleagues, your community, your team together in one place for a monthly, bi-monthly, or annual meeting. At KDE, people that work on a certain application will organise a so-called sprint, a 2-5 day meeting, once or twice a year to get everyone in the same room, for instance to meet new contributors or prepare the next release. There is also an annual community-wide conference. In-person events foster belonging, help build friendships and create even more trust.

What did you just say?!?

Be aware of different cultural sensibilities. While in some cultures being direct and naming problems clearly is considered useful and normal, in other cultures this might be perceived as rude. This goes even more so for written communication where you can’t see someone smiling apologetically or raising their eyebrows. So, before you send that next message or email, think about how it might come across and adjust your tone or statement.

Remote work is great

For me, working remotely opened up a whole lot of possibilities. Not only do I enjoy the flexibility, but a distributed workplace also gave me the chance to work with people from all over the world. Remote work taught me to be more precise in my communication, to be more organised, to plan better, and to work autonomously while still being a good team member and colleague.

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