How to avoid alienation while working remotely

In my previous post, I mention that we started working remotely in order to improve our productivity. I chose “remote work” because I believe it solves some issues. Most of the times, however, when you try to solve a bunch of problems, you may create a bunch of new ones. In the end you may not gain anything despite the effort.

One of the problems working remotely can bring is the feeling of separation from the rest of the company. Although this is not obvious at the beginning, I am sure it can happen and it can lead to unwanted results. When you start working remotely, you appreciate the fact that you can be isolated. This is true because you are already frustrated by the working conditions in the office and being isolated is a gift. As time passes, people in the office may start bothering you less and less. Face to face communication is almost non-existent. Quiet working environment is nice, but some noisy breaks are essential to appreciate the quiet. After a while, you start feeling unneeded, isolated, separated and not included in the office day to day happenings. This can lead to sadness and even melancholy or depression if the separation continues to a great extend.

I decided to deal with this from day one. Our work week goes like this: 4 days remote, 1 day in the office. This helps eliminate most of the problems I mentioned above. We chose Friday as the day we come into the office. Friday is usually a slower day because most of us have already burned a lot of gray cells during the week. This means that most of the people prefer face to face communication for a change. I also hope that this will make everyone wait to use Friday as the “communication” day. We also want to start using Friday as the day to present the results of our weekly iterations, and other technical findings we would like to share with the rest of the team.

We also have two rules: 1) We come into the office whenever we realize that being remote may slow us down when dealing with urgent situations. 2) We come into the office whenever there is a major release that is going to be deployed to the customer. These rules increase our “office time” and help us keep in touch with the rest of the company.

I have to say, however, that all the programmers — including me — have already been working closely in the office a long time before we started working remotely. This means that we already know each other pretty well and we have a very good relationship. The fact that we are all 30-40 minutes away from the office helps maintain this relationship. It is not a problem for us to visit the office whenever we need to.

Our visits to the office at least once a week, help to keep us connected to the rest of the company, but what happens during the rest of the week? How does my team communicate?

We use Skype as the main tool for communicating, either by using IM or voice/video calls. I will come back to this with more details in a future post. What I want to tell you though is that we work “closely” during the week, using technology. So far, we don’t feel disconnected at all. Time will tell if we keep on feeling this way.

I also have some ideas that we haven’t tried out yet:

  • Team going out for coffee once a week or once every two weeks
  • Same as above, but instead of going out for coffee change that to tavern
  • Extend the weekly presentation or bi-weekly ones to the whole company or other departments we cooperate closely
  • Engage to sports with the participation of the whole company (although we tried that in the past and it doesn’t seem to be able to get established permanently)

What do you think? What else could help us stay connected? Do you have similar experience you can share?

2 thoughts on “How to avoid alienation while working remotely

  1. You’re describing the ideal collaboration style… You should be very happy for that. I’m planning to apply this working style in the near future to my company and definitely I’ll share my experience with yours.

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