What are some of the biggest challenges remote teams face in 2017 and what solutions are available?

     

NOTE: This post was originally made as an answer to a question on Quora.

Working Remote from the MoonIn a decade of working remotely I've seen a huge increase in awareness and enthusiasm for the concept. While technology has changed, the fundamentals are the same.

Ten years ago it seemed a dangerous leap into the unknown - I didn't know anybody else who was working remotely, and I had to explain to incredulous friends and colleagues how I ended up in such a strange position. These days I know many people who work remotely, for companies small and large throughout the world, and many more are looking to try it.

So many people want to know what tools and applications they need to use to make remote teams successful, but this is coming at the problem from the wrong angle. The technology aspects are a solved problem, and the only real threat there is using too many tools rather than picking a few and getting down to business. Communication is the most critical aspect, and ultimately you need to remember that you are dealing with real people who are more than just a face on a screen.

So, rather than a list of the hottest new apps which your team should be using, here are a few non-tech challenges and considerations which you should keep in mind.

Make sure nobody is invisible. This goes both ways: if you're managing people you want them to always know you're there, and to keep them up-to-date with what's going on in the rest of the company. If you're the worker you need to participate in ways beyond just handing in work on time. There are apps that can help in keeping track of work logs, but there's nothing wrong with a weekly email summary either - sometimes the old ways work best.

Go home at the end of the day. Remote work appeals to all kinds of people for different reasons, but people who succeed at it are generally self-motivated. When you are committed to getting the job done no matter where you are or what time it is, it's easy to slip into bad habits where work becomes your life. That path leads to burnout, so don't forget to have a life outside work (family, friends, hobbies, etc) - encourage employees to set limits on time spent "at work", and give them the space to actually pay attention to those aspects of their lives.

Make time for networking. I know this may come as a shock to some, but a lot of people don't actually enjoy networking. The shocking truth is that when you go into an office every day, you're doing a certain amount of it by default, even subconciously. When you separate your work life from the environment in which you live, you run the risk of being entirely disconnected from a community that you might one day need to rely on again - for work, for mentors or potential employees, or just for the friendship of peers. Go to your local meetups, go to conferences, and if there's no group nearby then consider starting one.

When you share a physical space with someone you learn about them in ways that come far less easily online. You see how people decorate their desks, their family photos, funny mugs or other markers of their interests outside work. You see them laugh, and sometimes you see them cry. You can't help but come to know them - at least to some extent - as real people with lives outside the office. Everyone on your remote team is a real person with family, friends, interests and obligations outside of work, and building a rapport with your team means getting to know them as people.

At Engine Yard we have yearly face-to-face meetups. This is a great way to make rapid progress on a bunch of smaller projects, take the time out from our regular schedule to look at the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve, and – crucially – get to know each other in non-work contexts, which builds stronger working relationships which payoff throughout the rest of the year when we are spread all over the globe.

Whatever apps and tools you choose — and please let it be a small number of great tools that are reliable and not actively user hostile — if you take the time to remember that everyone on the other end of that email, slack convo, support ticket or skype call is a real person, then you'll be well on track to deal with the challenges and reap the benefits of remote work.

What are some important things that you think make for a successful remote work experience? Let us know in the comments.

John Dalton

 
John Dalton is a Database Administrator for Engine Yard, where he's been working remotely from his home office in Tasmania to support developers around the world for the past six years. Most of his career has been spent as a *nix sysadmin since shortly after he first fell in love with Unix in the mid 90s. When not fixing Linux boxes and databases in the cloud John enjoys being a dad to his four boys, video and tabletop gaming, cooking and decorating cakes. As far as he knows he is the only person to have ever interrupted a birthday party to comply with the terms of a CC-BY-SA license before cutting the cake.
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