16 January 2020 / remote
Working Remotely: Insights from the Bearer Team
Bearer's co-founders Guillaume and Cédric are big advocates for remote work. Both have written about the advantages and challenges in the past on the Bearer Blog, but today I want to share some thoughts from our team on what it's like working for a distributed, fully remote company.
A few main trends came up. Some expected, and a few surprising.
What appeals most: Geographic freedom, family, and trust
It's no surprise that geography and the ability to work from a variety of locations was overwhelmingly the biggest advantage in my poll of the team. While some of the early members started in France, most of the team is rarely in the same office or country.
Software engineer, Elizabeth, sums it up nicely:
Whether I work from my couch or from my desk at home, or from a café across the street or on the other side of the world, it is up to me.
This has allowed some on our team to move to a new house far from the city center, across the country, into new hemispheres, and even across the world. For many companies that statement is hypothetical, but in the last six months some members of our team have:
- 🚚 Moved to a different country.
- 🌏 Moved to a different continent.
- ✈️ Flown over 16,000 miles.
- 🛳 Traveled around the world to visit family and friends.
In December 2019, transit and teacher strikes affected Paris. In a traditional office, this would have forced some of our team to take time off to take care of children that were out of school, or find alternate means of transportation to get into the office. Not the case for a remote-centric team. While some in the Bay Area are super-commuting, our team overwhelmingly appreciates the lack of any commute.
Geographic freedom also means access to family and loved ones. One of our software engineers, Rien, used this flexibility to move to Bangkok to be closer to his girlfriend:
"I met my girlfriend in Spain, but she's from Thailand and due to visa restrictions she isn't able to stay in Europe. It's nice that I don't have to worry about changing jobs when changing location."
Our team is also made up of quite a few parents; most with small children or newborns. The ability to work from home provides their family with more freedom.
Trust is an inherit part of remote culture. Tanguy, our customer solutions engineer, phrases it perfectly:
Trust & responsibility culture: remote working means that your team and your boss trust you to be autonomous and responsible, and that you have performance obligations rather than means obligations (like being present).
He isn't alone here. Many of our team members made a point of noting the importance of trust and feeling trusted as a large benefit of working remotely.
Difficulties and missing aspects of office life
Remote teams are not without some difficulties. For our team, these center around communication–which surprises nobody–and isolation.
Communication and sharing ideas
While we do our best to keep everyone informed about our work status and the state of each project, we're still working on it. Antoine, one of our software engineers, shares Cédric's advice of write down everything:
Not everything is shared when it should be. If something is written you have the choice to read it or not.
While documenting everything solves some of the problems, it doesn't help with the difficulties that arise around brainstorming. This isn't always easy in an office, but being remote certainly makes it harder. With differing timezones, quick chats take scheduling and cross-talk in larger "whiteboard" meetings makes it hard to freely experiment. We make use of tools like Miro and Zoom to remove as much of the friction from this process as we can.
Isolation and mimicking that "office vibe"
For those working in close proximity to each other, finding time to share a space can help with isolation. Corentin likes to split his time between home and co-working:
I try to go to the office whenever I can. I'd say (at least in Paris) we have the best of both worlds: I can go to an office as well as being remote.
The aspect of an office that our team members miss the most was uniformly the "time with the team" moments. Be it lunch, quick chats over coffee, or after-work outings. Some on the team, like our product owner Guillaume, make heavy use of the #random channel in Slack to keep a sense of banter and personality. There are also a handful of us that get to know each other better through our pets in the #ot-pets channel.
Surprisingly, for some, the isolation that can come from remote work is a pro. Past freelancers and those that just prefer more alone time see the current setup as a major benefit.
Turning off notifications
Knowing when to "turn off" work can be challenging when there's the potential for questions and notifications at any hour. We do a pretty good job of limiting our available hours, but it can be tempting to stretch your workday for more overlap time with project teams. Some general advice:
- 🔔 Make heavy use of Do Not Disturb on the platforms that offer it.
- 📆 Be strict or consistent with your working hours.
- 💡 Make a point to reflect on interruptions. Were they valuable? is there a better way to handle them?
Keeping productive outside of an office
The autonomy and freedom of working remotely brings with it the need for discipline to keep productive.
Here's Phil, one of our software engineers, speaking about making intentional choices instead of following automatic defaults:
When you work in an office you do so much on automatic. Really, you learn how to work in an office by doing what everyone else does. When you are remote suddenly you can't do this anymore and I think it initially comes as a bit of a shock on the subconscious level.
Here are a few key tips from the team on keeping productive and finding a space that works best for you.
Keep track of your tasks. Some teams handle shared tasks in Jira or Notion, but make sure to keep your own organized list. This can be blocks in a calendar, a personal board in Trello, a morning bullet journal, or a running list in your app of choice.
For myself, Mark, I've introduced time-tracking into my workflow:
I've always disliked time tracking, but when starting at Bearer I decided to give it another try. I have Toggl set up with core areas that I track. Nobody from the team sees my logged time, but it helps me know if I'm getting everything done in a reasonable amount of time or not.
Guillaume, our product owner, emphasizes the value in face-to-face interaction when written communication isn't cutting it.
Video call is key. A quick video-on chat will probably diffuse any tension provoked by quick slack hand-writing. In my opinion, remote work is all about caring a lot for other people point of view and feelings, that helps avoiding quid-pro-quo.
Work where you're most productive
Our team works in a variety of places. For some, all they need is a big screen and fast connection. Others like to mix it up by swapping between their home office, sofa, and a café.
Our UX/UI designer Arthur's ideal workspace proves that the place doesn't matter, as long as it works for you:
I like working from my bed. It's super comfortable. Like really, why did humans create chairs when we have beds?
A few key aspects that came up across the team:
- Good connection
- Large, second screen
- Natural light
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Mix it up: co-working 🏢, home 🏡, cafe ☕️
The fine details of your workspace aren't important. It's all whether or not you can comfortably and effectively get work done there. So whether it's a coffee shop, dedicated office space, or even a bed, make sure it works for you.
Working remotely is still work. It requires discipline, autonomy, and intent. A great company culture that embraces remote work is the foundation, but a team that works while working remotely is essential to keep the lights running. Embrace the benefits, adapt to the challenges, and keep improving on your processes.
How does your team make remote work, work? Let us know and connect with us @BearerSH.
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