Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

Remote work is a completely different beast

Three things I've (re)learned as a designer working in an office after being remote in 2017:

  1. Problem solving is 10x better when everyone sketches in the same room
  2. Serendipity is hard to recreate digitally
  3. Non-verbal cues are seriously underrated as design feedback
Tweet by Brendan Kearns, 3 January 2018

I’ve worked remotely for the majority of my adult career but even I have to admit that traditional ways of collaborating in the workplace aren’t translating that well to remote work. Most of the tactics you’d apply when everybody is in the same room just don’t work when the team is distributed.

I can’t help but think that trying to leverage more and more technology to make remote work function better with locally-oriented methodologies is a mistake.

One thought that has been sticking to my mind over the past few months is that remote work has a much stronger resemblance to academic and professional discourse than to traditional teamwork. If that’s the case then more literate methods of communications and collaboration would work better than recreating in-office staples using software:

  • ‘Let’s recreate a meeting room using video’ (Hangouts)
  • ‘Let’s recreate the printout handed around in the office’ (Google Docs)
  • ‘Let’s recreate the ephemeral water-cooler vibe’ (Slack)

I really do think that Amazon is onto something with their heavy reliance on the six-page memo as a recurring form of communication, debate, and argument. Structuring an argument using non-conversational text is a tactic that works equally well remotely as it does locally.

The downside is that a lot of people really can’t handle text well, neither as readers or writers, and many people don’t seem to be able to reliably read a one-pager before a meeting.

Current methods just don’t work that well for the workplace reality we’re facing: most of our workplaces in software development are mixed local and remote now and our current methods regularly exclude one group or another of our colleagues.

Collaboration as discourse, as the exchange of written arguments, is the most promising approach to this problem I can think of at the moment.

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