Tragedies of the Remote Worker: "Looks like you're the only one on the call"
I'm writing this as I sit alone in a remote meeting room. As a remote worker, this is just one of the tiny, daily paper cuts. To be clear, I like being remote and I wouldn't change it, but some days Being a Remote Worker Sucks.
This is a rant, but if you were remote you'd understand.
You're the only one on the call.
It was nice of them put a link to join the meeting into the invitation, except they never joined the meeting. They've changed their IM status to Do Not Disturb and aren't answering their phones. You're all alone in a virtual room and are now late for a meeting you were originally early for.
When's the next time you're up?
Whenever you are on-site, folks always say "when are you up next?" Seriously. Like I'm just on vacation the other 6 weeks I'm not at the mother ship.
If only there were a global network with cameras and audio that would allow us to have a conversation while I'm away? But, alas, there isn't, so I'll see you again in 6 to 8 weeks.
I'm remote but that doesn't mean I'm not available EVERY WORK DAY.
Fifteen Minutes of "Can you hear me?"
Please. Unmute your damn phone. http://howtounmute.com. Learning how to use your basic VOIP camera and audio is a sign of respect for your remote workers.
You have a Webcam, use it.
You can see each other, but I can't see you. I don't care that you "don't like to use your webcam." We are having a business meeting, turn it on so the remote works can get one of their 5 senses back. Seeing your face is the whole point. It really helps. Bonus points if you adjust your webcam when it's time to see the whiteboard.
Have Empathy - Put yourself in the remote person's shoes
When I came to work here I sent five managers gift-wrapped web cams with a note on how to use them. During my next office visit I found 4 of them opened and shoved off to the side of their desks. If I had a gluten allergy I think you'd be more accommodating. But I don't, I'm a remote worker.
I'm remote, please add call link to the meeting invite
Thanks for scheduling that meeting. Awesome that you got a room and everything. But I'm going to email you right back and remind you to add a call bridge/goto meeting/lync invite/google hangout. I just need access.
Move closer to the mic
You're in your office talking to me remotely, but not only will you not turn on your camera but you're talking on a speaker phone with your back to me as you spin in your desk chair.
Did the meeting end? Guys? Any one there?
It's so sad when I'm left on the table and you've all left the room. I'm just trapped in the Klingon Phone and you've got feet.
Don't fade away. When someone is remote it's so important to check in as you're closing the meeting.
Your Inability to Deal with Me Remotely
Everyone has some special need. Mine is I'm remote. Your inability to be even slightly flexible to that fact causes me problems literally daily. Remote workers go out of their way to be available.
I'm on Lync, Skype, Slack, Twitter, and my cell phone is published in the company directory.
And you just literally said with a straight face, "I couldn't get ahold of you." O_O
Hearing an Important Conversation...as they hang up
This happens more often than you'd think. The meeting is over and they are hanging up. You can see their hand dropping to hit "End Call" and then someone starts mentioning something TOTALLY IMPORTANT and....dial tone.
Why don't you move up here?
Wow! I never thought of that. After 7 years of working remotely for a dozen reasons, you finally asked the right question! Why don't I just move up there?
What tiny indignities do you deal with as a remote worker? Sound off in the comments.
- Being a Remote Worker Sucks.
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- Review: Living, working and using the Cisco Umi personal telepresence system. All that and bag of chips?
- Hanselminutes Podcast 242 - The Plight of the Remote Worker with Pete Brown
- 30 Tips for Successful Communication as a Remote Worker
- Building an Embodied Social Proxy or Crazy Webcam Remote Cart Thing
- Virtual Camaraderie - A Persistent Video "Portal" for the Remote Worker
- Working Remotely from Home, Telepresence and Video Conferencing: One Year Later
- Microsoft - Surviving First Three Weeks as a Remote Employee
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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Keep up the GOOD fight... and GREAT post!
If there's one thing I'd add to the list, it's this:
If you had a 5 minute conversation to align on something in the hallway,
and you have remote employees involved in that something, you're still not aligned,
because they're not in your hallway
I think we should always be mindful in the way we interact with others.
I enjoy working from home as much as anyone, and I've done long stretches remotely. But I can't really expect others to radically change their way of working to adapt to my choice of working remotely. I really have to be the one to bend and fit into their model as best as possible.
Unless you happen to be Scott Hanselman and can bend others to your will ;)
As a former remote worker, I always make sure to join the call and leave it on until people leave the room. We can't always capture the exodus communications, though. In my group, we have some people in the UK and their big complaint is that they don't always know who's talking in a big meeting because there are no webcams. I helped out once by typing in the speakers' names, so at least the remote folks had a shot at recognizing the voices next time.
"It is about being FOCUSED, CONCENTRATED, and IN THE ZONE. Something that is SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE in a clown town cubicle farm." - Amen, Hallelujah! Preach it, brother!
When I'm at home I get 1.5 times as much work done in the same amount of time. Consistently. You'd think they'd figure it out and move me out of the stupid open plan desks (I WISH we had cubicles still!), but nope! Apparently they like wasting all their money.
I haven't had the problems you've had, but then again I'm in usually in the office whenever we have a meeting and I work at home when I need to "be in the code" all day. When I do get online remotely, everyone is pretty good about it but I work with guys 1000 miles away every day, so we're all used to it anyway.
I ALWAYS answer my phone or any communication when working at home (and e-mails within 2 hours), so people know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. That helps a lot with the trust issues of people letting you work at home at all.
I don't work with full time, home based remote workers, but have plenty of multi-site conference calls, and truth be told I find them very difficult. Always full of pauses and people talking over one another, followed by them both stopping to let the other talk.
You just don't get the speed of reaction from visual cues that you get in-person. Sure people still talk over one another but the back off, keep going, back and forth is way faster.
Even with the best technology tools available, in person meetings are still so much better.
I think a lot of people think like that, and add in a mixture of distrust, jealousy and laziness I can see why you have to suffer the bad behaviour described.
I think it helps a lot that I work for a company with many offices and it is not at all unusual for teams to be distributed across two or more offices. Also, my manager has made a concerted effort to make this remote working situation work. I guess I should make a point to thank him for that.
I probably sounded like a broken record by saying "remote communication is hard" so many times.
We are setup for remote workers, there is always a bridge. When the scrum Master runs the meeting he always pays attention to the people on the phone, but at times, I've been hung up on or left waiting on calls.
I just roll with the punches though, because working from home is the best.
When I do show up at the office I'm bombarded with questions and can't get one second of real productive work done. I've explained hundreds of times that there is absolutely no reason they can't get in touch with me when I'm not at the office. I actually had one coworker say that it's just too much of a hassle - we are a west coast company with all of our customers on the east coast and he's incapable of picking up a god damn phone, writing an email (my pref), or using Lync??? How does he communicate with our customers?
Despite being more comfortable at my home, I feel more pressure to show my productivity and end up working through the night sometimes to make sure all my work gets done. When I was at the office, I would let tasks slip and nobody would care, but if I do it while not at the office I feel like people think I'm at home with a monocle and top-hat while binge drinking champagne and having a slip-and-slide bbq/pool party with a gang of expensive hookers (whatever the most anti-work thing you can think of is).
I've joked that I can be just as unproductive at the office as I am at home.
Hm. :) Just a thought.
Along those lines, all I gotta say to Mr. Hanselman is: HoloLens. If I were you, I would be building a skunk works DIVISION around this product to (among other things) help developers/team members better excel at their craft and improve coordination around these efforts -- no matter where they are on the globe. I myself can think of no less than FIVE HoloLens applications that could basically revolutionize (or at the very least, radically augment *smile*) how remoting/teamwork/collaboration is currently being "accomplished" (for lack of a better word). I am sure with your remoting-centric (and clever) mindset you won't have much problem seeing them either (if you haven't already)!
I have been working remote for 8 years now, and I agree, it's all about respect. I am showing you respect by making sure you can communicate with me clearly, please reciprocate. And don't panic if there is a 5 minute lapse when you can't get ahold of me... developers need to poop too.
I think this takes second place only to my apparent non-existence that my remote situation has perpetuated. I have been having to smile and nod for the past 9 months, while having to listen as a fellow colleague receives the atta boy's for a system that I designed and built from scratch, from my home. Simply because his is the IT face that they know. It's not HIS fault but geezuz ... cut me some slack! I'm here!!
Ya' know what the irony of it is? I can't speak for others but I feel that when you work from home you are under pressure to perform and produce MORE in order to justify and maintain the "privilege" of working remotely (some have lost their jobs because they were being required to come into the office ... and since they lived 1500 miles away from the office it makes for a hell of a commute).
Synchronous communication is overrated anyway. What I do is chat, mail and some telephone calls. Some projects just have a kick-off meeting in person and one after finishing the task. If the client knows me already, there might be no meeting at all. And that's great. I can sometimes do a days work in an hour here at home. Source control and task tracking systems like TFS or Jira, if used extensively, can replace the need for meetings on software project to zero.
I've work for a company that didn't even have an office, everyone was remote and that was my best experience as a remote worker. Everyone face the same struggle/challenges of a remote worker but worked together to remove them.
Now, I'm back at a not 100% remote job, the challenges are back and I'm now an expert to set up meeting with remote worker...
Remote doesn't necessarily mean 'far away', it's just from another location (could be next door), and has an async nature to it, which makes it so important to replace as many 'offline' communications with an online counterpart (e.g. team chat rooms, online whiteboarding, etc).
The thing that I find annoying about working distributed, is the 'artificial lag' created by simply not responding to an email or question. Sometimes a simple "yep, got it, will look into it by end of week" and setting expectations is a no brainer, but being remote, you can't tell whether the recipient actually read it, or already planned folow-up. Then again, should get rid of email, but it still seems to be the only medium everyone looks at for sure, and one doesn't simply IM/call with a 9+ hours time zone difference.
Now, I work in an office, and there are others who work from home. When they're at home, their colleagues will come and ask questions, which should have been directed to them, to the wrong people. When they're told, 'X is working from home, you can ask them,' they adopt a blank look as if they don't understand.
I have worked from home when others are all in an office and it's exactly as you describe, Scott. People who have no empathy with or respect for their colleagues / subordinates, or no idea how to communicate with people, will disclose that in the way they deal with remote workers.
You have pointed the exact pain of being a remote team member and doing important stuff but the guys who are at same place enjoy higher priority same as SHELL configurations priority for current session is higher than default config files!
1. I had to work additional hours, to make up for not having to commute. The additional hours was to be determined by the average of the rest of the offices commute time.
2. I had to wear a suit during my working hours. At home. Not taking video calls from clients or suppliers.
Yeah, turned that one down.
The company I consult with, NeoStream Technologies, has been really great in helping the experience, and we do a daily huddle where everyone gets together and this helps keep in touch with some people I would otherwise seldom see, but for the most part most people swing by my desk space and talk to me like I am really there.
I live in the country using a radio internet connection so internet isn't the fastest (4MB down, 1/2 MB up on a good day), but for the most part, Lync works fine (my upstream connection can get a bit laggy at times though). We just recently got the internal Lync server able to talk to Office 365 Lync accounts and I can make direct calls to my remote Lync account, and so I am going to try AutoAnswering since that is really annoying to manage otherwise.
I do agree that co-workers shouldn't "have to" accommodate my remote situation, but etiquette applies like anywhere; they are as much remote to me as I am to them.
It's on you to go the extra mile to make the situation work, not on them. You shouldn't have the expectation that they'll meet you halfway, because they didn't sign up for the extra burden of coordinating with a remote worker- you're forcing it on them.
This is not to say that I don't think remote work is valuable or that it can be very productive. I just don't think anyone doing remote work should be indignant when other employees don't go out of their way to accommodate them.
We've had remote team members (notice I didn't use the word *worker*, it so cheapens what we do) for many many years and while not perfect I don't have near the frustrations you do but I think that is because our company and culture has realized that everyone is remote. Thus we adjust and we move on. It seems like you are still *fighting the man* there and not making strides.
You either change where you work. Or you change where you work.
Because I'm not a regular remote worker, people forget that I'm working at all. It's great for me because I can really focus on one task without interruptions, but everyone else just waits for me to come back to work and instead of coming back all caught up because I've shielded myself from a lot of the random distractions, I just come back to two days' worth of distractions.
The weirdest thing for me is that as I've slowly increased the frequency of remote days, people have taken to assuming that any time my office door is closed, I've obviously gone home. Lights are on and visible through a window; you can hear me talking via speaker phone or hear music playing; we have a face-to-face in 20 minutes, but no, I've obviously decided to go home.
As for the comments asking why both sides should have a camera, I've noticed that when there's nothing to root both sides in the meeting, one or both sides ends up doing other things (dishes, reading email, what-have-you) and therefore they aren't absorbing the actual content of the meeting. That presence isn't just a social nicety, it's a place of focus. Just my $0.02.
1) When you first join the conference, you are asked to say a few words and the audio is immediately played back to you so you can see how good or lousy you sound to others.
2) Periodic audio monitoring that checks every 5 seconds for:
- Signal dropouts. A lot of people call into remote conferences from cell phones and have no idea how bad their audio is.
- Volume dropouts. A lot of people have crappy headsets where the mic boom tends to swivel downward until you are straining badly to make them out.
- Background noise levels. A lot of people do other tasks while they talk on a conference and don't realize how hard it is to hear them over the things they or other family members are doing in the background.
When a problem is detected the conferencing client plays a short 3 second snippet of audio back to the speaker that is having audio problems so they can correct it.
The worst part of this is the people having the audio problems sometimes believe you are pointing out their audio problems as some form of passive aggression when all that is happening is that you really can't hear what they are saying.
I have absolutely no problem working remotely as some have mentioned. In fact, I work too much because I'm "always at the office." That said, I have a home office with a giant monitor, standing/sitting desk with treadmill. I go in TO my office to work every morning.
With the huge number of ways to communicate today, it's amazing to me that people can be befuddled by remote workers. Do we not work in the technology business? Can we not creatively use that technology? :)
Just this week I experienced a meeting where 4 of the 8 attendees were remote. First there was no GTM or Hangouts for us. Then they added one. Somehow though, the "in office" workers ended up in a meeting room where there was no phone so that they could also dial in. So we were stuck trying to hear through someone's computer (which meant, one person could be heard, the others were like tiny mice and we hadn't a clue what they were saying). It's not always this bad — this was a particularly frustrating one.
There's a big scrum/alignment meeting every day. It's in a large common space with a phone dialed in, but it's nearly impossible to hear most of the people reporting in when I'm not sitting there (heck, it's hard when I am sitting there). In such cases, using something like CrowdMics to broadcast voices in the room more loudly would be great and might solve the lack of being able to hear (http://www.crowdmics.com).
I've heard of some places actually setting up an old computer with a camera pointed at the workspace in the office so that the remote folks can be included in impromptu things going on. I would love that. But barring that, dialing me up on Hangouts when you and another person start having a spontaneous chat that I should be involved in is pretty simple. And chances are 95% that I'm sitting right here. You just can't see me.
If someone actually bought me a webcam, I'd set it up and use it. Honestly, it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. Like, what value is looking at my face adding over my voice?
I did remote work for several years, and now I am on the other end of it. I have 15 developers that I manage with 4 of them being remote guys. They can work any Friday remote if they choose to do so as well. So while I do know what its like and I sympathize it's also much more difficult to manage remote workers. If I had to quantify it, I would say its nearly twice as difficult to keep them in the loop, exchange information, do peer reviews, etc. For instance, when the remote developers have a problem I can't just walk over to their cube and sit down and show them how it works. I have to setup an elaborate screen share that will hopefully work correctly over crappy corporate LAN and over there crappy home internet. Or try to blindly walk them through it over phone. During stand-ups we have to conference them in every morning. When they get stuck on something I often feel like they spin their wheels for longer and more often than someone who was in the office, mainly because I would know they were stuck if they sat within proximity.
Speaking of proximity, there have been studies that have shown the closer developers sit in proximity the more productive they are since they can share information easier and quicker. I feel like this is completely lost for remote developers as well.
At this point, in order for me to hire a remote person I would need a rather compelling argument vs. someone who would be on-site. It's not that I dislike working with remote workers, or don't trust them, its just that it adds unnecessary administrative overhead that would otherwise not be needed.
That's my experience at least...
Consider this: Individual "remote" workers are distant from "local" workers in terms of space, but often active in the same time span. For many companies, entire teams that need to collaborate are "remote" from each other in both geography and timezones.
But, inevitably, everyone is going to need to be in sync with things that happened in a different time & space than they happen to be at now. That includes even you with your earlier self - you can't always rely on your memory. The "remote" workers are just the canaries in the coal mines.
In other words, all the things that need doing to keep "remote" workers in the loop also happen to be well aligned with things that support scalable institutional memory & cognition. Email, collaborative notes & documentation, recorded meetings, group chats, etc - all of this stuff helps on many fronts.
If you think working remote is some kind of special benefit that the remote workers have to compensate for - then you're failing yourself, your team, and your company. Everyone is remote, at some point.
And maybe you should give working from home a try. It's not a vacation. Sometimes it's a productivity boost, which is a definite benefit to the team. Sometimes it's longer hours than if you'd gone into the office.
I am remote worker and I didn't have such experience as you. The only thing that puzzles me in current world is IT companies hiring folks requiring knowledge of cloud, machine learning, big data, text processing, tons of frameworks, and they make cutting edge technology. "-- Is remote work possible? -- No."
Riiight, cutting edge. A company that is supposed to be an IT cannot handle remote workers, because we can transfer information all over the world, but somehow the code has to be written on site. Probably the bits gain additional "1"s ;-).
I think another thing I would add here is the (in)sensitivity to timezones. I'm in PST, our HQ is in CST, a large part of our team is on EST, and often work with offshore teams in India (IST). Concessions need to be made, and I don't mind too much being available in odd hours. It can get frustrating at times though.
Often times the guys that go into office check-out (offline completely) after 5PM hits. I honestly enjoy that time of day. It's the only time I can get real work done.
We have 2 main offices.Sydney + Brisbane. TCs and VCs are a regular thing, and depending on the mix the experience varies. I've been guilty of continuing a meeting after hanging up. And then there's the absence of an enforced unifying platform... Hangouts/lync/etc.
It can be hard, but at least posts like these highlight the problems, and improve awareness..
While my definition of 'business casual' is a lot more casual than others at times and I can step from being a manager to being a Dad in a few seconds, it should not be cause for a negative view of my job or performance because I'm a professional that keeps my personal life separate from my job and still try to excel at both everyday. Those that still go into an office (and sometimes I wish I did too) have a reason to be there rather than working remote, and we understand that, but you have to realize that if they don't embrace the new way of working and accommodate a geographically agnostic attitude, they risk being left behind in other things.
1) "It's 2015 and everyone is a remote worker"
I strongly disagree. My understand is well summed up in  by Alistair Cockburn. If you can, please read chapter 3 of his book (communication, cooperating Teams). Remote working deprives a team of many communication modes and opportunities. Not just because remote communication is very much less rich than face-to-face (and web cams etc. don't nearly make up for it according to Alistair). Additionally, many communication opportunities don't present themselves to the remote worker (on the hallway, at the coffee machine, chiming in when you hear someone discuss a Topic).
All of this is not a shortcoming of the person working abroad. Nevertheless, as a team lead I'd prefer a 4 person local team to a 6 person distributed team any day. If your company makes distributed teams the default, I think it's worth considering if the tradeoff is actually improving things for them. The answer may be different depending on company size and many other factors.
2) "Commitment of the remote worker vs. commitment of the local worker"
Remote workers usually point out they are working longer hours. However, they often don't account for the hours local workers spent travelling to/from work. Or the hours they spent moving to the place where their new Job is. These actions are actively contributing to their work and should be understood as an act of dedication to their work.
 Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game (Second Edition), Alistair Cockburn
It's people being wrong not the way of life? Seriously? Sad world.
I'll be honest while I understand all of the above point you mention, I can't say that I've been as affected by them, and here's why I think that is. The company I work for started out life remotely and it's only with the growth in recent years that people have started flocking to the new offices that have sprung up, so I think remote workers are built into our work ethos from the outset.
If I could have one minor annoyance is that I do miss out on all those coffee break chats, I'm sure if I schedule a coffee break meeting on Lync I'll be the only one on the call..
i guess these are natural team reactions to any remote worker (unless all of them are on the same playing field). i guess it comes down to how others finding the arrangement. if they don't like something or the person they will find a way to slow things down.
Driving to an important meeting early in the morning to attend in person and realize after 200 km of Autobahn that a meeting cancelation came in.
DO NOT NOD AT THE CONFERENCE PHONE WHEN I ASK A QUESTION
Having had to remind a room full of people that I was unable to see them on a number of occasions, this one is a bit frustrating.
It seems like companies need to make working with remote workers part of the company culture. This really means giving employees the training to bring remote workers into live meetings without relying on IT support, as well as purchasing computers with built-in webcams and pre-installed with conferencing software.
It seems you're not responding to these comments, but I'm giving it a chance...
Where can I find the list of jobs at Microsoft which are open for a remote employment? I'm especially interested in C++ related positions.
Watch this - it will explain everything.
I do see it from their perspective and try to not get too upset about it but it is frustrating. The company I work for hired me as a remote worker, the team interviewed me and knew I would be remote. I am holding up my side of the agreement to be always online and available and expect them to make some effort to do the same.
We use good tools like Sococo, Lync and Skype but people in the office just forget to do simple things like having headsets or to sign in to Sococo.
Where I've really run into issues (sadly) are with client calls, typically led by one of my colleagues stationed at the client site. I could count on one hand the number of clients that have conference rooms with video capabilities or even multiple microphones at the table. I'm left constantly wondering who among the 6 or 8 people in the room is speaking, and often have to ask people to repeat comments and questions.
I don't see your requests as any kind of real burden to accommodate. The things you're asking for simply add up to better communication and greater productivity.
Comments are closed.
I'm sure your team works very well with you and knows how you work. I'm sure your manager understands and appreciates what you do.
It's the other guys, that manager from the other team, a new team member, that has never worked with a remote worker. Perhaps someone like me. And here's where I think the discussion from your angle is important. What we don't understand, we naturally fear and then reject.
A few years ago I asked to work from home while we waited for the birth of our child. I figure I can help out with some chores and be around. Getting the permission from boss isn't hard. And I turned to your tips on keeping Lync/Skype open all the time so they can see when I'm not here (BRB helping wife) which was super helpful for 'presence' in the office. But ultimately, I couldn't make it work - I get distracted, a lot. Then I can't get back in the zone. Older kid returns home and I'm distracted again. I feel I'm at home, but should not relax and think that it's OK to relax. After falling behind on work I've promised clients, I ended up just wrapping up the sprint and ask to take the remaining time off.
There was a stronger push for remote workers a while back, with employees doing long travels and the availability of broadband - but the employees that took this up don't try to make it work. Perhaps technology wasn't ready (VPN / VOIP down, can't find someone for meeting). Eventually a few companies rolled back their experiment with remote workers and managers told everyone to come to office.