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Benjamin Trent
Benjamin Trent

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Distributed work

Remote work is now

I (at the time of this writing) work for Elastic. A medium sized, fully distributed company. My team is all over the world. My manager is in London. My closest team member is ~1500 miles away. But, we are a cohesive team that all love working where we are. This is my first fully distributed job. It is my first remote job of any kind. There were times in the past where my previous employers would allow a "work from home" day. It is nothing compared to being fully distributed. Here are some lessons learned so far.

Have intentional interactions

When distributed, you do not randomly run into people in the hallways. There is no watercooler. No coffee-breaks. Teams succeed when there is a high level of trust between the members. This trust only occurs when the team know each other. Don't skimp out on meetings. At Elastic, we things called Always On (AoN) video rooms. These are public video chat rooms, usually divided up by team or product-focus-area, where anybody can join and chat. Don't shirk randomly meeting with people from your team.

Have ceremony

You don't have a commute. There is nothing incidentally separating your time between work and everything else. This can easily cause work to drift earlier and later into your days. Also, your brain has no signal to switch from "work mode". Walk your dog, meditate, exercise, read, do anything that signals your brain that you have started and then ended your work day. A fake commute will make your life better.

Have open comms and calendars

When you are distributed, almost all communication is asynchronous. Don't hide communications and rely on personal messages. Have open comms as much as possible. This simulates this group discussions you had around your desk when you used to work in an office. Maybe somebody else has important feedback. Possibly somebody else can answer your question. Don't be afraid of Reply-All. Just respect its power.

As for calendars and scheduling meetings, don't be afraid to make your meetings public on the company calendar. This can build trust with others. It is not happenstance that openness and trust go hand-in-hand.

Don't forget to set your "Do not disturb" hours in SLACK!

Have multiple irons in the fire

It took awhile for me to get used to more than half of my team ending work at before Noon. What if what I am working on is blocked by a colleague in Germany? Well, put it off until the next day. Pick up something else and get working. When working, especially when at the start or the end of larger projects, there will be times when you are blocked due to time zone differences. This is just a consequence of the universe. Deal with it. Do more than one thing.

Have a love for where you are

Never take your local community for granted. Get plugged in, share experiences and grow. Even with SLACK, Zoom, IRC, E-Mail; humans need individual interactions. Get plugged into your local tech (or non-tech) community. It will help get you out of the house.

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