Naguel

I'm Nahuel, and these are my work experiences, ideas and thoughts as a web developer working on the eCommerce industry.

Building a positive company culture with a remote team

Building a positive company culture with a remote team

You should already know that having a remote team and moving away, at some capacity, from having an office and mandating everybody to attend it in favour of working from home, have plenty of advantages... but it also requires companies to re-think their culture and adapt it for including remote members.

This is something to be face for either companies having all of their employees remote (no office whatsoever) or for those companies with a mix.

Since we are in the middle of a pandemic (#covid19), this work from home thing stopped from being optional for some companies and everybody was forced into it.

Nevertheless, I personally think that work from home, or at least a flexible scheme that combines office time and home time, is the new way to go, so preparing for that reality can't be pushed forward.

Working for home has a lot of benefits for both the employees and the employers, but it's not about only having Wi-Fi at home.

No more bs against working from home thanks to a pandemic
Companies were forced to reorganize quickly to continue working with their employees from home: the bs around this was cut immediately, the scepticism towards having people working from their homes disappeared. It had too, there was no other option.

People not used to work from home will struggle with their new situation, specially because separating work from life is not easy when both happens in the same physical environment. Anyway, that's a different problem.

But what companies can do is to work on a culture to makes every remote team member welcome.

You want to have a great team culture because you want people to stay with you, and you want those who stay to like showing up to do the work, which will result in better stuff being done, in progress being made.

Do not think for a second that a classic culture, rules, or way to go for when you were on an office will accommodate everybody now working in pajamas. That process of yours needs to be dust off and made again.

Bake a culture that brings down the feeling of being away

This should be the main objective of your new culture: the idea of making everybody as welcome as possible, part of something, a team, removing the sensation of just having people logging time and solving tickets with an interaction boiled down to only asking questions after a technical brief.

That's not a team member, that's a contractor or freelance you got there. Which is fine, if that's what you are after, but the approach in this post is to adapt your previous "going to the office" to "walking from bed to desk".

The culture needs to integrate people by bringing down the barriers imposed by everything being digital and virtual now.

There are a lot of thing we are no even aware we are missing by not being in the same place, like, for example, there's no more "I'm making coffee, anybody wants some?". There's an element of... human touch?... we need to re-incorporate.

Videos are now part of your meetings

There's an incredible change on people's behaviour when having a call with and without the camera turned ON.

When you are talking to somebody and you can see them, and you also know you can be seen, you are both in presence of a more honest conversation taking place. Your call becomes more real because the camera forces everybody to have accountability on what's being said.

For example, it's not the same to provide an estimation or deadline for a task by saying it "face to face" than by only using the microphone. The camera is a constant reminder that you are talking to an human being, and that what you say and how you say it matter.

This is particularly important when the meeting is about something else than actual classic work tasks, like on performance reviews.

Fun is allowed and encouraged

Cameras turned ON during a call also relaxes the conversation, and helps to emulate what happens on a meeting taking place in real physical conference rooms.

Nobody walks into a meeting, on a physical room, and sits down straight to business. There's some water cooler moments before and after work actually happens, and that's okay, that should be somehow, at some level, encouraged.

The same should be allowed to happen on any other conversation tool you have, specially on the one you are using to chat, a.k.a. Slack.

Don't expect people to be robots, to talk either verbally or in writing as if their were always wearing a suit and saying something to the President of the United States.

On a real office there's music sometimes, chit-chat happening on a corner, or jokes appearing during shop talk, but on Slacks that's down to memes, gifs, and emojis, which bring something else for the entire team, easing the working day and removing pressure. A small venting crack perhaps, on complicated days.

Having fun is a way of team building, and there's plenty of activities that a company can promote to achieve this (besides just using emojis on Slack).

I know it was typical for assembled office teams to get pizza on a Friday, going for some after office time at a pub, and came up with team activities. Now, you just need to think of stuff that can be done remotely.

Team building becomes now more important than ever, as "having a team" doesn't happen as easy as maybe before.

Again, in these particular times were people are in a lockdown due to the Coronavirus, a meeting to just laugh is more than welcome, specially on companies suddenly forced to be remote with no employee ready for it.

For example, the company I work for promoted a few Fridays for games over Zoom where we separated into two teams and played charades... while wearing costumes, fancy dresses, and props.

Meet to improve the remote work

Of course, having a remote team doesn't mean nobody meets each other in person ever again. On the contrary, if you have the possibility to assemble the entire team on a physical space every now and then, great, take it.

For remote employees, meeting each other in person, or meeting the "team from the office", has a real impact on how they perceive the company and what they think of it.

You will witness a change on how people communicate online after a meet up takes place, because people will have had a chance to know other people voices, tone, and expressions.

Sending people stuff will also do the work, and I'm talking delivery packages with beer or whatever gift you can think of. Employees must be rewarded, specially those hard workers that were key on a specific date or task.

Ask what people need

Finally, at the end, and as usual, everything is down to just asking what people need or want. But as obvious as this seems to be, it happens to be the thing we do the lesser.

Take time to ask and listen. Sit down and have a conversation with your remote employees to understand what they need and what their feelings are towards working remote.

Again, specially for those companies that hadn't other option but to make everybody work from home.

If budget is not a problem, help employees to set up their working environment at home, where the priority is the chair.

Buy them a comfy chair... that's what I was trying to say all this time.

No more bs against working from home thanks to a pandemic

No more bs against working from home thanks to a pandemic

It's still amaze me, you know, and hit me by time to time when going to sleep or taking a shower, a "...wow" moment, like a slap from reality: the world pressed pause a few months ago.

Not a bunch of countries, not a far far away continent. The whole world stopped because, well, you know what happened: Coronavirus.

Companies reorganized quickly to continue working with their employees from home... Well, they were forced to act quickly to be honest, not like they went through a deep analysis about the pros and cons of a remote scheme for their staff, no meeting between HR and the business management branch happened at all.

The bs was cut immediately, the scepticism towards having people working from their homes disappeared. It had too, because Plan B was to close until further notice, so the discussion about it became pointless, and frankly nobody has nothing to lose. Wasn't that beautiful?

Month ago this was considered only a benefit a company would offer, or a sometimes exception for particular circumstances. Internal company processes would decide how and when somebody could work from home like, for example, one day a week after three months in the company, and two days a week after a year.

It sounds crazy now but we all, at every level, agreed to that scheme.

Work from home forced itself and nothing bad happened, nothing catastrophic at all. Objectives are still being reached, and, most important, employees don't sleep the whole morning pretending to be online on Slack, which I believe was the biggest fear of them all.

I found it interesting that even on very objective-based companies, when thinking about offering the possibility to work from home, the mindset changes to a time-based one. In an office we thought about what to accomplish when (objectives), but then when talking about remote working we thought about how the time was going be consumed without direct supervision.

We trust developer with Live server side credentials, but oh no home will make them Facebook too much.

And even today, with a lockdown in place and a forced work from home scheme, even if an objective is not reached you know that's not because the employee is working to close to the bed. It's always something else.

You are quarantining yourself now, and everybody in your company is doing it too. Work from home is happening whatever you planned it or not, so it might be time to fully embrace it. Take the (forced) opportunity and make it a permanent thing.

It is a chance for us all to recognize that working from home is as possible as working from an office. And, sorry, my experience is always based on my role as a web developer so my focus is pointed in tech-related companies, but you can decide if this whole concept applies to you as well.

I worked, until now, as the only one remote developer of the company I'm part of, and the rest of the team was based in UK, working from a beautiful office in London. Now everybody is remote, everybody now works from their homes, and the office is entirely for a fridge they already planned to set on fire because God only knows what have been left inside months ago.

Again, nothing changed from the day to day operation of the company, there's no trough at all in the productivity graph. If anything, I think people is working more because nobody is used to work from home, yet, but that's a problem for a different post.

It was discussed internally, basically, the feelings towards this new forced normality, and while everybody misses the office and the social side of it, all of us are considering working from home a positive thing. Even one admitted that during lunch time takes a nap, which is fine because who cares if you are delivering at the end.

It was also raised that we might not seen us working from home, without going to an office, for ever, so I'm sure flexibility is what's coming after everything that's happening comes to an end.

Let me be clear that flexibility doesn't mean an extra work from home day to your now old internal company process. Flexibility means having an office, and go there if you want. Nothing less than that, which is perfect, which is good, fine, there's nothing wrong with that. We should have learn that already.

Imagine a hot seat scheme, with a few desks for those wanting to leave the house some day, or a more co-working spaces-based normality.

I don't know, I'm brainstorming, this is my first pandemic, but I'm sure that those, somehow still appearing, job offers from LinkedIn offering something like "2 work from home days a week" as a benefit are hilarious now and they should have gone already.

Hiring a remote developer but as an actual team member

Hiring a remote developer but as an actual team member

At some point on a developer career it's possible that we'll get an offer to work for a foreign company as a remote developer, with a contract, from our home, in maybe a different language. And as a company it's also possible that you'll be thinking on hiring some remote Senior developers.

We all know in what we are thinking when talking about a remote position: sell/buy some hours, receive/assign some tasks, deliver/expect some code, repeat, whether you are the developer or the company.

As a front-end developer who worked as a Technical Leader in a local company, I was afraid to make the jump into a remote position because my main fear was to get stuck on coding only, without the possibility to bring something else to the table, just putting color on some buttons and nothing else for the next 5 years.

Well, it doesn't have to be that way, and thinking that a remote position it's only useful as the way I described before it's just lame thinking.

It's not simple, and it's up to the company

As a remote developer we can try to get out of the pre-formatted remote role model, but basically is up to the company we work for to give us the space to do so, to acknowledge the advantages of having us as one more team member and not as "the remote developer".

Companies usually set aside the remote developer from the development decisions (ironic, I know), despite the fact that sometimes that remote developer possesses a higher seniority than the local people, or more experience on the particular subject being discussed.

When a company turns to the idea of hiring a remote developer it's because they're searching for a Senior in terms of coding, because they have a tight deadline or the current projects they're having are becoming more complex day by day.

Your local team will need 3 weeks to finish a task so you hire a remote guy who'll get it done in 1 and allows you to remove pressure from the local team so then they can focus on something else... and repeat. Sounds familiar? It also sounds like a software factory, and that's fine if that's what you're aiming for, but don't expect team work on a software factory, don't grumble when you got stuck in quality, and don't blame the dev team when they not improve the delivery times.

For the same price you're missing somebody who can bring more, who can grow the team in terms of quality, delivery times, complexity of the tasks that can be carried out by the whole company, etcetera, just because... you're afraid?

Afraid of what?

You're afraid of giving full permissions to a guy you "don't know"? Are you afraid of giving decision power and all the company's credentials to somebody you've never seen before just because he can disappear from one day to the other?

I've seen local team members actually disappearing a day or two without notice, also people walking out of a meeting because of drama, developers working on a freelance project while being on working hours at the physical office.

Don't you have that kind of people at your office? If so don't give me that I've-never-met-the-guy excuse.

If the developer is going to be an asshole, it's going to be that either sitting on your office wearing a suit or in pajamas at home. If he's going to procrastinate, if he's going to spend 7 out of 8 hours in Facebook, he's going to do so either under your watch at the office or from the bed at home.

Come on, you're already know that, I'm just stating the facts.

I've seen developers on-site expending 90% of the day at YouTube, right in front of my nose, and I've seen spectacular remote Project Managers, Business Analyst, and developers, of whom I don't care if they are at YouTube or not because they deliver. Because I've trusted them.

I bet you can relate, I bet you already have some remote people who perform better than some local team member, so I also bet that you're starting to realize that this idea of not making the remote developers a real member of the team it's all just about unjustified fears.

But chat it's not the same?

Along with those fears stated above comes the "communication issues" also known as: just more excuses. Of course, it's not the same to have a face-to-face meeting than having to call somebody over Skype, but is it really that big of a deal?

I really don't stand this excuse, and I don't think we should spend too much time debunking it when we're living on a society where my +60 years old mom knows how to call me over WhatsApp, where my 20 years old sister knows how to share a video over Facebook while adding her own thoughts about it.

So, if 20 billions human beings can found a match on Tinder and potentially start a relationship or just have sex... I think we can overcome the "communication issues" when working on a Magento 1 to Magento 2 migration.

Turn on the camera and you'll see how all that remote things disappear. I'm being real, that helps a lot when you are trying to add the human factor to the communication process because it's not the same to say thing to a mic than to a face even when inside a monitor.

A developer sitting away at a 15 hours flight from your office can still give the same as the one sitting on your local branch. In this globalized world these excuses don't have a chance.