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June 2, 2010

Working Out

Working remotely is something Rubber Republic does with mixed success. Sometimes we’re very good at it. Sometimes we’re not so good.

I’ve found working in a remote (or distributed) way massively productive, but I don’t think remote working looks like as much fun for other Rubber Republic staff as it should be, so I’ve been thinking about how we could and should do it better.

It was a handy co-incidence that I found this piece from Jason Z at 37 Signals about remote working and team parity.

In short, when most of a team work together in one location, it’s very hard to prevent remote team members becoming second class citizens. It’s very easy for the people in the same location to share information and solve problems with quick conversations, white boards, a quick sketch or a quick list of actions on a post-it note. They can also have lunch, tea and banter together.

Those working remotely miss out on this shared ‘stuff’, or worse, get the negative side-effects (“we were just talking about the project and we’ve decided xxxx”, “sorry we missed your call, we were having a meeting” etc.). I’ve seen this happen and it doesn’t look like much fun 😐

Meanwhile I collaborate almost every day on open source projects where all work is distributed. Using tools like internet relay chat (irc), forums, and web-based project management apps, I get stuff done with people in different countries and different time zones (I’m currently collaborating with people in Canada, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Russia). We use English, we use a lot of short written communication, a few pictures, and an awful lot of emoticons (to indicate when we’re really not cross…or when we really are). It’s fun and we get stuff done.

I’m not advocating that Rubber Republic works remotely by default. Having a base is really important to us, and by working together closely we’ve built strong personal ties, developed seriously impressive capabilities to get stuff done, and had fun. That’s massively valuable – but we should get better at working in a distributed way, because it’s also fun and valuable, and because we already have people in multiple locations.

Wednesday is a great day to work from home – or somewhere else out of the studio/office (get out in the world!). It won’t be compulsory – and some jobs are tied to a office phone – but I’m strongly encouraging distributed working on Wednesdays, and I’m going to be very interested in how we do do it better. Our tools are things like email, irc, trac, and (omg) “picking up the fricking phone”. We’re going to learn how to do it right, and it’s going to be fun πŸ™‚

cheers,

Andy

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