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Mirek Woźniak

Yes, remote workers do actually work.

22 January 2014 | Mirek Woźniak

This is a response to fastcolabs’ Do Remote Workers Actually Work? post, who, in turn, commented on MongoHQ’s post on their take at remote work.

Remote work is a chore.

No happy coffee banter with colleagues, no shared meals… you have to get yourself distracted all by yourself! That, plus the atrophy of social skills, as nicely put in the Oatmeal’s comic, makes you question the very sense of remote work.

We’re all human. We’ve got flaws, some of which are dormant when working in an office. And yes, that might mean not working 100% percent of the time. This isn’t solely the remote workers’ problem, though. However, the remote workers do actually work.

Despite the challenge working remotely poses. Because it is quite a challenge.

Firstly, there is no notion of a boss. Secondly, if there even was a boss, he/she wouldn’t be physically present. There’s nobody to control your work. You may browse reddit, tweet, play the guitar with your toddler… I’d venture to say that it all boils down to your proportion of inner vs outer-directedness - a highly inner-directed person would work hard in order to develop him/herself, whileas a highly outer-directed person would work hard because other expect him/her to do so. So, some people just naturally don’t need a boss.

Secondly, problems are rife - and no amount of lauding the remote work will change that. We’ve seen a row between two developers over the workload of a designer that was meant to work in their projects and a general grumble over the new raise system. We witnessed heated arguments concerning the general strategy of the company, virtual mexican standoffs when hiring new people and many, many more. And all of this on the forum of the company - not to mention digital feuds erupting here and there between individuals.

But… that doesn’t mean we’re a virtual tinderbox. The opposite.

Our TeamSpeak is full of laughter during the “chrum”, i.e. a company wide scrum that omits the first three usual questions substituting it with a fourth, randomly invented one (chrum in Polish is the grunting sound a pig makes). We do irregular Friday (knowledge) Markets which serve both as a hack lore exchange and a proving ground for those willing to present at meetups and conferences. We maintain an extensive wiki, with humorous bits here and there. We meet every month to have a glass of good lager and weird jokes. Finally, every year we see people who were buzzing behind our coworkers’ backs - a family meeting, with kids and pets commences at a picturesque location without any set agenda.

That wouldn’t be possible without us working like devils. Why should programmers argue over the technology used if they weren’t inventing a solution for a problem? For the very sake of having a row? There are people who ask us about “monitoring tools” - yes, exactly, to look at our teammates’ work. We could get somebody to become an overseer, but… I can already imagine programmers leaving the company in swarms, like described by Orson Scott Card.

So, all in all… going remote is risky. But, as with every risk, there is a certain gain present: we claim that remote work means improved effectiveness, flexibility and the possibility to gather the most talented people on Earth. Aren’t GitHub and Steam thriving?

And what sparked off the creation of this post? Again, back to Fastcolab's post:

Unfortunately, the business world has yet to establish an effective standard for how to best manage and structure a good remote work environment but the immense flexibility that it affords in conjunction with the wealth of collaborative tools available allows for endless tinkering, and that’s a good thing.

We’re the business world. So are GitHub, Valve and MongoHQ. The pattern is already there, past its fledgling state. Superpowering your company is ripe for the taking.

Just go remote.