Working remotely has its advantages, but to ensure a good work ambient, it’s good to share office space with the rest of the team from time to time.

Working remotely can be lonely

Working from home in southern Spain for a foreign based company could possible be the dream job for many of IT workers in Spain (or even in Europe!), and it clearly has a lot of advantages for both the employee and the company, but it can have its downsides too! Perhaps the greatest is spending 40+ hours a week completely alone at home speaking and thinking in a foreign language with people that is half a continent away.

Obviously after work you can get some fresh air and meet friends to have some human contact, but you still need to feel and see your workmates as “real people”. When you work from home, it’s easy to become a bit isolated from the rest of the team and what happens in the office, and it’s nice to know the persons that are in the same boat as you.

In short, it is very positive to get to know who you are working with, in the flesh. It will help you communicate better, tear down cultural barriers and in the end, of course, improve work quality.

Let me say it again: it’s all about communication

In Nat’s last post, Nathalie explained most of the tools we use to keep track of what’s happening in the projects and “at the office”.

Additionally, we use the daily standups to discuss upcoming tasks in advance, and I like to write a breakdown of the impact of the card (codewise) and/or all the subtasks that come to mind, just to be able to share them with the team (I’m better at writing in English than speaking it) and prevent any kind of confusion or clarify which path to follow technically. It’s a bit of extra work for me and an extra bit of patience for the team, but we have all got used to it and it really pays off.

Anyway, if something comes up during office hours, we have HipChat to ask things, although we apply common sense and try to be as less disruptive as possible. If things get tricky, we have Hangouts or Appear.in and our pairing machine to share our screens, code and try to figure things out if needed.

All in all, work gets done and features are shipped, but you still need to feel the bond that comes from breaking your back together on a project in the same office space. With that in mind, my much-anticipated visit to Bristol finally became true.

Breaking the ice

In the beginning, I must confess I felt a bit nervous about finally being in the same office with the team I’ve already been working with a couple of months. I had the feeling that for some things it was a bit like starting all over again, but I think it was because of my personality, and me not being able to seamlessly switch from working remotely and communicate digitally to being working in an office and communicate in person.

Luckily, spending some hours working, having lunch together and doing in reality everything we did via chat or hangout helped to wear that feeling off and things started to flow. Oh, that, and having beers after work: non work-related conversations help a lot to know the ‘person behind the workmate’, and I really appreciate knowing more about them.

Apart from working and the casual beers and lunches, we dedicated some time to get better at what we do: we dedicated a full morning to have Nic getting Rob and I familiarized to working with Vim (more of this coming soon in a post by Nic) in order to be able to pair more efficiently, ditch GUI editors, and become the ultimate geeks. Also, we studied how we could use POROs in our projects and reviewed some of the work already done.

Finally, we did a full review of our project management process, trying to identify, fix and improve communication, to ensure that I am always in the loop of what’s happening in the company and the project. Most of the ground was already covered, so we only had to reaffirm the good parts to ourselves and do some minor fixes in the not-so-good parts.

Was it beneficial?

Quoting Nathalie:

Yes. Definitely. There’s nothing like meeting people in person to build stronger relationships.

To elaborate a bit more, now I feel better integrated in the team, and conversation flows much better now in hangouts and chats, being more relaxed also. I think the work ambience has improved a lot since we all met in person. I am really looking forward to share some more time all together, they’ve even made me miss working in an office!

Photo credit: Wolfgang Manousek (CC-BY 2.0)