Musings / 03.15.2018

Sam Darbinyan

Pros and cons of working remotely

A remote worker is someone who works outside of an office. Remote working is becoming an industry standard, especially among digital workers.

Many big brands such as Amazon, IBM, American Express, Apple, Wells Fargo, Uber and other big brands have remote teams. Being a lead project manager for about 6 years, half of my career I have worked as a remote project manager. For about 3 years I have managed about 25+ projects working with team members from different time zones almost all over the world. Managing developers and clients from different time zones is really challenging, but working remotely definitely has its benefits. In this article, I would like to share my experience about the benefits and challenges of working remotely.

Benefits

  1. One of the greatest benefits of working remotely is saving energy, time and money spent on a commute. In some areas, statistics have shown that the average person spends 1-1.5 hours per day on commuting. Based on this statistic, the average person typically spends around 5 – 7.5 hours per week commuting. That’s 260-390 hours or 1.5 – 2.5 months per year. Especially in cities where the public transportation system is not efficient, there is a great amount of energy that a person is forced to spend while driving traffic. 260-290 hours per year is a huge number of hours that could be used for learning new skills, spending time on your personal goals or with your family.
  2. Another benefit is working anywhere you want and having total control over your work environment. This will give you the chance to have more flexibility to travel and have many options for work spaces (libraries, coffee shops, co-working space and etc.) You can travel as long as you have wifi, and with remote work, you’re not limited by geography. This is one of my favorite benefits. You just need access to wifi and you can enjoy the freedom of working remotely.
  3. More productive and focused. Yes, this is true, based on my experience I can say that I was staying more focused and productive when I was working remotely. However, this is not always true and you should find a place where you will not be distracted. If you have a kid(s) then I would not suggest working from home. Instead, you can try libraries or anywhere that is comfortable. Once you find some good spots that are not noisy and are comfortable to work in then you might find you have all you need to be more productive than working at the office.
  4. It’s really important to build trust between employer and employees. Allowing an employee to work remotely demonstrates trust on both sides. Apart from the issue of working remotely, this is an important factor that allows an employee to bring even more value to the company.
  5. Being able to live anywhere! Being able to relocate as needed.  Doesn’t that sound amazing? Having this freedom allows you to move to any country, state or city based on your or your family’s needs. This is a huge benefit, as you do not need to change your job whenever you decide to relocate.
  6. No dress code (aka working in pajamas). Lol, this is the least important of the benefits, but still, we should consider it as another benefit. And yes, I have been enjoying this benefit by working in bed.

Challenges

  1. Working from different time zones. Sometimes there can be a problem when some of the team members are from a different continent and it is hard to find overlapping hours to work together. This becomes an even bigger challenge when the team members from different time zones do not have experience working together. In this case, communication becomes an important factor for project success.
  2. Time spent on communication. From my experience, I can say that this is the biggest challenge for project success. Nowadays there are great tools that remote teams use for communication and collaboration. Some of those tools include Slack, Skype, HipChat and Zoom. However, the time spend on communication takes time from actual work, thus teams that are working at the same office might be able to finish features sooner than teams that have remote team members. For example, developers who are not in the same office and are working remotely may spend about 15-20% in Slack for communication and cooperation.
  3. Working remotely also slows processes down (e.g., getting feedback). A great example of this is when delivering a feature in a software project and the developer responsible for code review is in a different timezone. One of the worst scenarios is when the code is rejected and then it takes another code review after changes. This is one of the main reasons that projects can potentially take longer with remote team members than with the team that works in the same office. This is true, yet it depends on how effective that team working at the office is. But at least having more overlap with the team working together and not spending too much time on communication can speed up the development process. The challenge here, however, is to be able to sell those hours spent on communication to your client.
  4. Sometimes feeling siloed. When I have started working remotely I was feeling great due to all benefits listed above. However, after two years of working alone, I was feeling siloed and was thinking that even with all benefits I would like to work at the office and communicate with my teammates in person. The challenge here for full-time remote workers is to find ways to solve this potential challenge. One option is to from time to time work from a co-working space to communicate with other remote workers in person.
  5. It can be dangerous if you did not define main work hours while working remotely.  Often you might work too many hours as there will not be a co-worker or teammate that will remind you to “Have some rest,” or you will not see people leaving the office. As a result, you may start spending more hours working remotely than at the office. Defining work hours is essential to separate work life from personal life.
  6. To create a company culture. Having remote team members requires more concentration. It is a challenge to create a company culture and find ways to keep everyone engaged about the company vision, goals, wins and successes.
  7. Having remote team members increase the challenge of keeping a project transparent. Some examples of what is needed are project charts, sprint planning, velocity and other information radiators that should be communicated with remote teammates. With an onsite team you can just post those information radiators on a wall visible to everyone. If you have a remote team you need to start using more digital tools for communication, which in agile development is not the best solution. This is because agile suggests fewer digital tools and more physical tools, which are difficult for remote workers to benefit from.

Many studies have shown that people prefer to join companies that offer some form of remote work. This means that in the future the number of remote employees (part time or full-time) will likely increase.

Here are some great tools that I have been using to help manage remote teams:

  • • Day to day communication: Slack, Skype and HipChat
  • • Video and audio calls: Zoom, Skype, Slack, Google Hangout, HipChat, Ubiety and Uberconference.
  • • Project management: Jira, Trello, Pivotal Tracker, Asana, Basecamp and Google Spreadsheet.
  • • Cloud storage and file sharing: Google Drive, Dropbox and Jira Confluence.

For the reasons listed above, I propose in most cases that working full-time remotely or full-time at the office is not the best long-term option for either the employer or the employee. However, creating a company culture that allows employees to work remotely once a week can increase their productivity and is beneficial for both sides.

At Fishermen Labs we understand the benefits and challenges of working remotely and we think that employees should have a chance to work this way at least once a week (usually Fridays). I decided to join Fishermen Labs in Southern California over 2 years ago, and with the kind of traffic we deal with here, the option to work remote was one of the major reasons I did so.