Is It possible to run a 100% Remote Team?

October 6, 2016 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

At QCon 2015, in SanFrancisco, Jeremy Edberg gave a presentation on remote teams. In this post I will summarize what he said about the pitfalls they’ve run into at his company, the parts that are working well, and a summary of their research talking to other fully or partially remote teams.

jeremy-edbergJeremy Edberg is Cofounder at CloudNative. He used to work at Netflix as a Reliability Architect. Before that he ran Reddit, an online community for sharing and discussing interesting things on the internet that does more than four billion page views a month. Both run their entire operations on Amazon’s EC2.

Jeremey started off by saying the answer to the title question is “probably”.

  • The best reason to have remote teams is to broaden your horizens as far as having the right tech people on the team – you can also save money, but that isn’t the best reason.
  • Problems with the office:
    • It’s a single point of failure. If the office closes for some reason, then nothing gets done.
    • Lots of distraction from other people
    • Wasted time doing a commute
    • Inflexible work time
    • People can’t choose where they want to live, they have to live near work.
  • Issues with remote working
    • Security. Need to use encrypted drives, screen locks, loced phones, force 2 factor auth, use SSL.
    • If there isn’t a culture of remote work, then the remote workers can get left out. There needs to be a culture that includes remote workers in conversations, meetings, etc. Works best if the whole team is remote.
    • Remote teams work well with microservice architectures – since there are many semi-autonomous teams.
  • How to make remote work work:
    • Asynchronous communication. There needs to be some overlap in time zones so that there can be face-to-face remote interaction.
    • Everything needs to be “out in the open”- have all conversations on a Slack channel or somewhere that is accessible to the others on the team. Short one time meetings can be on Google Hangouts and the link can be posted ahead of time.
    • Tools: GitHub (push often!), Trello for tracking non-code related things, shared calendars.
    • Never lock an idea up in one computer or mind. They use Cogel(?), wikis, and Slack channels to get ideas out into shared space.
    • Have a video conference each week for the whole team. Could do wikipages or e-mails too.
    • Fly everyone together once or twice a year to meet in person. Could be for a conference, could be for somewhere fun (vacation). Since you aren’t paying for office space you can use the money to do something fun for the team.
    • Be careful about the tone of remote communication. It’s easy to misinterpret or project the wrong emotions.
    • Focus on what people produce, not hours in the seat.
    • Mentoring remotely is hard, but needs to be done.
    • Create a culture that includes breaks from work. Don’t work on weekends, don’t work all day and night.
    • Find self-motivated people who don’t need to be around other people to be motivated. Co-working spaces can help too.
    • Establish routines for work-time. Good habits help with effectiveness.
    • Take care of yourself with fitness, nutrition, social time
    • Have a quiet place with a door you can close for work.
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