09 Jun Working Remotely as a Developer in a Distributed Team
When I started at Frankli, I was in my final year of college. I was only working evenings, weekends or between classes when I had the time. There were only a few of us in the company at this stage so getting office space wouldn’t make much sense. Instead, most of our communication happened over Slack. In addition to this, we had a monthly meeting where we reviewed our completed work as well as planning what was next. Things moved a lot slower when there weren’t full-time employees focused on development, so this process worked well as it allowed us to map out the month clearly.
By the time I started working full-time with Frankli, I had experience working as part of a distributed team for some time as well as another internship in an office with the whole team. I found that for programming especially, sometimes it was beneficial to have your own space with no distractions. When you’re working on something rather complex and get interrupted for a query of some sort, it can ruin your ‘flow’ and disrupt good work. On the other hand, working on designs for a new part of the site or iterating over ideas was much more fluid when all the team were in one place, whether for a meeting or when we moved to an office. You could point at the work on your screen and change it on the go taking the whole team’s suggestions on the fly rather than sending pictures and documents back and forth between many people that might only be making small changes. It’s no surprise that intrinsically co-operative work like design would benefit from that in-person communication, after all, it’s how we have worked together as humans for as long as we’ve existed.
One issue I had was that it was difficult to gauge when I should be working on Frankli, and when I should be getting a head start on college projects that were coming down the road. I had a full-year of individual college project to complete that needed to be worked on every week, as well as weekly assignments, so I hadn’t always done as much as I would have hoped. But this was something I learned to prioritise a lot better later in the year by taking a look at the due dates of all my assignments and finding gaps for work.
I was lucky enough to have a spare room that I could use for work and college work so that I could separate work from where I slept. However, another challenge arose when it came to my hobbies, which were mostly online or computer-based such as playing games with my friends. Since I had no official working hours I would have to make this decision every time I sat down. My workspace was perfectly set up to be either productive or procrastinate, so that decision fell onto me. I solved this by just making sure I had done a certain amount of work or college assignments before I could play an equal amount of games or watch an equal amount of Netflix. This meant that even if I went way over that time and stayed online for hours, my responsibilities and work were done first so it was okay.
While working remotely, a lot of frankli was built from many different locations. Whether at home, on a train, in a coffee shop or the college library, the flexibility of all of the communication being online and the tasks set out the month before, work could be done in small chunks while waiting for dinner to cook, or in bigger chunks when a lecture was cancelled. And even when I switched to full-time working from home after college it meant that if there was something small to be done around the house like putting clothes in the dryer or answering the door for a parcel, it left less to be done all at once when coming back from a day’s work.
Having done both remote work and office work, I can safely say that working remotely isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone should try it or let their employees try it. It requires some level of trust, and an increase in online communications so that nobody is left outside the loop, but when it works for someone and takes some of the pressure from their shoulders it is definitely worth giving them that choice.