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Why Remote Working Is Hard

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6th August 2017

The Internet Effect

Thanks to having access to the internet almost anywhere you happen to be in the country, remote working is quickly becoming a realistic working option for developers, marketers and many others. Remote working has its obvious benefits; a relaxed working environment, less office distractions and working times to suit your lifestyle. From my experience, working remotely on a project alone is fantastic, working with a team based in remote locations is much trickier.

How BrainyBeard Does It

We work remotely here at BrainyBeard and although we only live just under an hour from one another, getting certain tasks done can be challenging. A large part of this comes from the nature of running a new small company. We each play so many roles within the business that quite often some tasks can’t be completed without the approval or expertise of the other. This can mean some quick tasks take longer than usual. Thankfully for our clients this very rarely affects our development times, however it can cause issues in decision making, general catch ups and brainstorming sessions.

Voice > Words

There is just something incredibly infuriating about talking to somebody via instant messaging on platforms such as Slack/Skype. If you’re having a conversation with someone and they stop replying randomly, it makes you wonder what happened!? When are they coming back? “I can’t get this thing done without your assistance and now I’m wasting my time”. Then there is the issue of trying to track what the other person accomplished today. This is why project work is usually seamless as we have systems in place using applications such as Jira to track tasks. But for simple things such as send off an email to Bob about the office space, to do list apps just don’t seem to cut it. Not at least how we have been using them anyway.

It’s Not What It Seems…

I urge you not to get this post confused with “Look at these guys needing to know what each other is doing all of the time” but think rather “What are the challenges of getting smaller tasks done that require the input of both members of the team?”. That could be something simple such as once Scott has written the blog post, get Adam to review it. But that doesn’t translate well to items such as design work whereby perhaps Adam needs to provide feedback on multiple minor iterations of one product. In the office, this is as convenient as asking Steve to come over and check things through. With remote working, Steve might be in a meeting, commuting or trying to work on something else and Geoffrey knows nothing about it.

Fix It!

Obviously over the space of two years we’ve gotten much better at resolving this problem. In fact, so many of our processes are so well streamlined that it’s truly impressive. Yet cracking the nut of working optimally remotely remains.

Our most basic tips would be, where possible voice call rather than instant message or email and make sure that call has an agenda. Next up, try to only talk over instant messaging at a specified time, notifications are the worst. In my opinion, I wouldn’t try using slack status updates to let your team know what you’re doing either, it’s unclear and only really useful for making silly status updates with peculiar emoji’s.

Working remotely is hard, and we’re just a team of two people, what will this look like if we expand to a team of 10? Or if one of us moves to Australia and can only communicate every 12 hours. Yet for all its flaws I’d definitely recommend working remotely at least a couple of days a week. Leaving the office is refreshing and can let you get some serious work done.