Distributed Teams: Not Just Working From Home

Technology companies taking curve-flattening exercises of late has resulted in me digging up my old 2017 talk about working as and working with remote employees. Though all of the advice in it holds up even these three years later, surprisingly little of it seemed all that relevant to the newly-working-from-home (WFH) multitudes.

Thinking about it, I reasoned that it’s because the talk (slides are here if you want ’em) is actually more about working on a distributed team than working from home. Though it contained the usual WFH gems of “have a commute”, “connect with people”, “overcommunicate”, etc etc (things that others have explained much better than I ever will); it also spent a significant amount of its time talking about things that are only relevant if your team isn’t working in the same place.

Aspects of distributed work that are unique not to my not being in the office but my being on a distributed team are things like timezones, cultural differences, personal schedules, presentation, watercooler chats, identity… things that you don’t have to think about or spend effort on if you work in the same place (and, not coincidentally, things I’ve written about in the past). If we’re all in Toronto you know not only that 12cm of snow fell since last night but also what that does to the city in the morning. If we’re all in Italy you know not to schedule any work in August. If we see each other all the time then I can use a picture I took of a glacier in Iceland for my avatar instead of using it as a rare opportunity to be able to show you my face.

So as much as I was hoping that all this sudden interest in WFH was going to result in a sea change in how working on a distributed team is viewed and operates, I’m coming to the conclusion that things probably will not change. Maybe we’ll get some better tools… but none that know anything about being on a distributed team (like how “working hours” aren’t always contiguous (looking at you, Google Calendar)).

At least maybe people will stop making the same seven jokes about how WFH means you’re not actually working.

:chutten