Remote Work

Many long-term remote workers share their experiences – here are some random thoughts of mine. For many years, an onsite appointment has been the exception for me. This does not apply to any kind of work – but I have always believed that in some industry sectors much more remote work would be possible than considered possible – technology- and culture-wise.

Low-tech, too. It is not only about modern collaboration tools. Remote work started for me (~15 years ago), when I got emergency phone calls from IT specialists who had inherited legacy Public Key Infrastructures and suddenly had to troubleshoot an urgent issue. I walked them through on the phone – providing support and a boot-camp-like workshop at the same time. A fellow small business (repair services) can keep up their main business processes by just forwarding their phone now.

Asynchronous and flexible. My best remote collaboration experiences have been nested, carefully crafted e-mail threads (“I add my comments inline in green! … See my replies in red…!). Instant messaging can provide a level of social bonding – like banter in the coffee break onsite – but having to watch a stream of messages constantly stresses me out and does not make work more productive. Better reply a bit later with thoughtful, structured solutions, than responding instantly with a  now-or-never (content-free) one-liner.
Onsite, synchronous meetings may be planned as carefully as possible; yet sometimes team members from different countries meet in person to notice that progress is stalled by a trivial logistic showstopper, like: “We forgot to apply for access to the high security area, so cannot yet go to the datacenter today.” Rather than demanding 100% error-free preparation, be prepared to re-schedule an online meeting.

Not only for “computer and office people”. Nearly 10 years ago our small company developed and prototyped a heat pump system with a DIY heat source – ribbed pipe solar/air collector plus underground water/ice storage. It had been planned as a service for local people (in contrast to international IT projects), but the first consulting clients were home owners living hundred of kilometers away. And still we did not use “augmented reality” – phone, e-mail, file sharing, and the occasional remote session were enough. We have then kept this working style also for clients who would been in geographic reach.

Help clients to help themselves. My consulting mantra since forever: We provide services to the point, don’t deliver to-be-supported-blackboxes with “expert-only” access, make ourselves redundant as consultants. People at the client’s site remain more in charge of the “system”, they can be supported also in a low-tech way, and so they will be more self-sufficient during a crisis.