Remote work

Three years ago I wasn’t sure I am ready for remote work. Is it really as cool as some people describe?

It turns out it is!

I am sharing the 5 most important things every remote software engineer needs: seniority, trust, proactivity, security and writing. These are based on my personal, 3 years long experience of working from home for big companies and doing it well. This article is not meant to scare you about transitioning from office-based to remote work however it describes downsides of this form of software engineering.

Enjoy reading!

#1: Not a junior

Molly, our first remote junior, joined our remote team a year ago. She is lovely: never late, calling people when looking for a work or confused. First months were lovely. But are not anymore.

Many people complained recently that they spend 20% of their time to teach Molly new things: how to use IDE, how to fix this or that function, etc. They are OK with that, however more than 5 people complained. Molly consumes 100% of one teammate time daily. We have decided to let her go, find another, more junior-friendly place to work with people on-site.

People work well from home when they are aware of expected results. Working with a junior that requires a lot of guidance is a time-consuming activity for rest of the team. Usually, companies are not doing it anyway but if you are a novice in the software engineering world, you probably need some on-site job to understand basic things. Managing workload and your own schedule are crucial skills in this industry even for mid-level professionals.

If you have other experience (e.g. were working well as junior developer from home) let me know in comments below.

#2: Trust. A lot of trust!

Jack is a nice guy. I love our pair programming sessions. Recently, he told me that Mike is looking for any argument to fire both of us. I didn’t know why that is happening, so asked our manager directly. He was pissed off and asked Jack to jump into the WebEx call. I was scared as hell: he will actually fire us!

Mike told us that there is no such thing: he is not going to kick-off any of us. ‘You will be the first if I will have any doubts to your work’ he said. We are now doing a meeting weekly where the manager is giving us a feedback about quality of our work. Clearing the air helped our entire team to get into the right direction.

Are you slacking now? It depends: are you reading this article to just learn something new or just trying to run away from your daily duties? The context is significant. Usually, employers used to monitor activities employee is doing during the day. Are you in front of your desk? How can I tell if you are working from home?

It works the opposite way too: how can I tell that other employers are not plotting behind my back? The answer is: you can’t. You will need to trust your teammates right away you started working there and it would be perfect to never loose this trust for anyone. Otherwise, task delegation will become a nightmare of sleepless nights. Don’t go that way.

#3: Proactivity

Hey, what are you doing now?

I have finished this BDSM-123 two days ago.


Waiting for a new one, of course!

This is quite simple but still difficult to understand for many people: your employer is not responsible for organising your work. You are the professional software engineer - it’s your job to define what kind of activities you need to take in order to achieve the defined goal. Scheduling is your basic task. It applies to remote work two times more.

I have seen people expecting employer will buy them some things like screens, mouse and keyboard. They were even using the right arguments: it is helping with our work, keeping us healthy, etc. However, it would be better (more proactive) to just buy things on your own and ask for a refund. It is nothing wrong there: if some stuff is needed you can even risk to not get a money back. It will still help you. Don’t tell me you can’t afford buying a top-quality mouse or a wide-screen.

Thousand things can be done better. Everyone has an opinion. Why wouldn’t you say yours publicly? As a remote worker you need to say every doubt loud. Otherwise, everyone would think that you are alright with current direction. Teammates will listen to you, unless you are taking 90% of their time everyday with elaborations how bad is everything around.

#4: Security

Disk encryption, WiFi security, that kind of things - are crucial in working from home or co-working site. Even if your entire house will get robbed or lost in some tornado the company won’t get huge impact of significant data leak. Even your employer is not the security master, you have to - for your own sake.

Also, remember to hide the screen in public places - it is very common cause of vital information leaks. Most of the people like saying secret rumours they have seen in well-suited man’s laptop screen. Better you’ll stay out of this.

#5: Writing

The worst and the last one. Lean sentences and good grammar make communication strong. It is hard to maintain, especially being in a rush, but can’t be ignored. Review your words every single day and try to be as much concentrated on pushing information out as it is possible.

I am having troubles with it but not giving up yet. Many support from native-speakers and actual English classes are valuable but nothing replaces old-fashioned trying.

Do you want more?

Here is a nice book about remote working: it should convince you (and your employer) to run away from 9AM-5PM (or whatever hours you are working on) job to get the freedom of working anytime you need.

Also, there is an idea of working in absolutely distributed team. This is the page, however I haven’t had a chance to practice it.

Do you have any experience with remote working? I am looking forward to read it in comments below!