“We are ALL Remoties” (Jun2015 edition)

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Since my last post on “remoties”, I’ve done several more presentations, some more consulting work for private companies, and even started writing this down more explicitly (exciting news coming here soon!). While I am always refining these slides, this latest version is the first major “refactor” of this presentation in a long time. I think this restructuring makes the slides even easier to follow – there’s a lot of material to cover here, so this is always high on my mind.

Without further ado – you can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.

Certainly, the great responses and enthusiastic discussions every time I go through this encourages me to keep working on this. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working remotely or as part of a geo-distributed teams, please let me know (either by email or in the comments below) – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

The canary in the coal mine

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After my recent “We are ALL Remoties” presentation at Wikimedia, I had some really great followup conversations with Arthur Richards at WikiMedia Foundation. Arthur has been paying a lot of attention to scrum and agile methodologies – both in the wider industry and also specifically in the context of his work at Wikimedia Foundation, which has people in different locations. As you can imagine, we had some great fun conversations – about remoties, about creating culture change, and about all-things-scrum – especially the rituals and mechanics of doing daily standups with a distributed team.

Next time you see a group of people standing together looking at a wall, and moving postit notes around, ask yourself: “how do remote people stay involved and contribute?” Taking photographs of the wall of postit notes, or putting the remote person on a computer-with-camera-on-wheeled-cart feels like a duct-tape workaround; a MacGyver fix done quickly, with the best of intentions, genuinely wanting to help the remote person be involved, but still not-a-great experience for remoties.

There has to be a better way.

We both strongly agree that having people in different locations is just a way to uncover the internal communication problems you didn’t know you already have… the remote person is the canary in the coal mine. Having a “we are all remoties” mindset helps everyone become more organized in their communications, which helps remote people *and* also the people sitting near each other in the office.

Arthur talked about this idea in his recent (and lively and very well attended!) presentation at the Annual Scrum Alliance “Global Scrum Gathering” event in Phoenix, Arizona. His slides are now visible here and here.

If you work in an agile / scrum style environment, especially with a geo-distributed team of humans, it’s well worth your time to read Arthur’s presentation! Thought provoking stuff, and nice slides too!

Interviews about “Work from home” policies at Facebook, Virgin and yes, Yahoo!

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When I talk about “remoties”, I frequently get asked my thoughts on Yahoo’s now (in)famous “no more work-from-home” policy.

Richard Branson (Virgin, link to first video) and the separate comments from Jackie Reses (Yahoo, 2.27 into the link to second video) confirm what I’d heard from multiple unofficial mutterings – that Yahoo’s now (in)famous “no more work from home” decree was actually intended as a way to jolt the company culture into action.

I also liked Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) comments about how a successful remote workplace depends on having clear measures of successful results. Rather then valuing someone by how many hours they are seen working in the office, instead it is better to have a company culture where you measure people by results. This echoes comments I’ve seen from Jason Fried in his “Remote” book, comments I’ve made in my “we are all remoties” presentations and which I’ve heard again and again from various long-term remote workers.

These two interviews discuss these points really well. The entire article is well worth a read, and both videos are only a few minutes long, so worth the quick watch.

Encouraging!

“We are ALL Remoties” (Apr2015 edition)

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Last week, I had the great privilege of talking with people at Wikimedia Foundation about “we are all remoties”!

This was also the first presentation by a non-Wikimedia person in their brand new space, and was further complicated with local *and* remote attendees! Chip, Greg and Rachel did a great job of making sure everything went smoothly, quickly setting up a complex multi-display remote-and-local video configuation, debugging some initial audio issues, moderating questions from remote attendees, etc. We even had extra time to cover topics like “Disaster Recovery”, “interviewing tips for remoties” and “business remotie trends”. Overall, it was a long, very engaged, session but felt helpful, informative, great fun and seemed to be well received by everyone.

As usual, you can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image. I’ve changed the PDF format slightly as requested, so let me know if you think this format is better/worse.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.
=====
ps: Oh, and by the way, Wikimedia are hiring – see here for current job openings. They are smart, nice people, literally changing the world – and yes, remoties ARE welcome. :-)

“why work doesnt happen at work” by Jason Fried on TEDx

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While reading “Remote”, I accidentally found this TEDx talk by one of the authors, Jason Fried. Somehow I’d missed this when it first came out in 2010, so stopped to watch it. I’ve now watched this a few times in a row, found it just as relevant today as it was 4-5 years ago, so am writing this blogpost.

The main highlights for me were:

1) work, like sleep, needs solid uninterrupted time. However, most offices are designed to enable interrupts. Open plan layouts. Phones. Casual walk-by interrupts from managers asking for status. Unneeded meetings. They are not designed for uninterrupted focus time. No-one would intentionally plan to have frequently-interrupted-sleep every night and consider it “good”, so why set up our work environments like this?

2) Many people go into the office for the day, attempting to get a few hours uninterrupted work done, only to spend time reacting to interrupts all day, and then lament at the end of the day that “they didn’t get anything done”! Been there, lived through that. As a manager, he extols people to try things like “no-talking-Thursdays”, just to see if people can actually be more productive.

3) The “where do you go when you really want to get work done” part of his presentation nailed it for me. He’s been asking people this question for years, and the answers tend to fall into three categories:

  • place: “the kitchen”, “the spare room”, “the coffee shop”, …
  • moving object: plane, train, car… the commute
  • time: “somewhere really early or really late at night or on the weekend”

… and he noted that no-one said “the office during office hours”!! The common theme is that people use locations where they can focus, knowing they will not get interrupted. When I need to focus, I know this is true for me also.

All of which leads to his premise that organizing how people work together, with most communication done in a less interruptive way is really important for productivity. Anyone who has been at one of my remoties sessions knows I strongly believe this is true – especially for remoties! He also asked why businesses spend so much money on these counter-productive offices.

Aside: I found his “Facebook and twitter are the modern day smoke breaks” comment quite funny! Maybe thats just my sense of humor. Overall, its a short 15min talk, so instead of your next “facebook/twitter/smokebreak”, grab a coffee and watch this. You’ll be glad you did.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Feb2015 edition)

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Since my last blog post on “remoties”, I’ve worked with ProCore, and Haas, UCBerkeley (again!) as well as smaller private discussions with some other companies. Every single time, I continue to find people eager for passionate conversations, and clear “ah-ha!” moments, which I find very encouraging. There’s also plenty of volunteering stories/ideas of what did/didnt work for them in their past. All this helps me continue to hone and refine these slides, which I hope makes them even more helpful to others.

You can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.

Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more common in the workplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real and potentially disruptive. Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep working on this even more.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2014 edition)

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Its been a while since I last blogged about “remoties”, but it continues to be a very popular topic! In addition to Twilio in February, I’ve given presentations at Automattic (best known for WordPress), RiotGames (twice) and Haas, UCBerkeley (twice), as well as smaller private discussions with several other companies.

You can get the slides in PDF format by clicking on the thumbnail of the first slide. (I’m happy to share the original very large keynote file, just let me know and we’ll figure out a way to share without hammering my poor website.)

Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more commonplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real. The interest before each presentation is cautiously high, while the Q+A discussions during/afterwards are very engaged and lively. Every time, I find myself tweaking, honing and refining the presentation again and again… yet, the core principles remain the same:

  • remoties / geo-distributed teams can be very effective, and can be sustained over time.
  • remoties != compromise. In fact, a geo-distributed team means you can hire best-available, not “just” best-willing-to-relocate.
  • easy to use, cheap, technologies work just fine if used correctly (maybe even better then expensive systems?)
  • crisp, careful organization of human processes is essential
  • in a geo-distributed team, *everyone* is a remotie, even people who happen to sit in an office. If you are remote from someone else, that makes you *both* remoties. Hence the working title “we are ALL remoties”.

Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep talking about this. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

ps: I noticed in my website logs that a lot of people were still downloading my original remoties slides, first posted in apr2012, even though I’d posted multiple revisions of the slides since. So, I’ve gone back and updated my earlier “remoties” blog posts to all point to these latest-and-greatest slides.

Calling all Release Engineers, Hortonworks is hiring

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The Hortonworks Release Engineering team is growing, so we’re hiring!

We’re passionate about open source, and ensure that all 100% of code in a Hortonworks HDP release is open sourced in the Apache Software Foundation Hadoop project. We work with other large organizations to help them upstream their contributions to the Apache project, which helps accelerate the general Hadoop community. Its so important to us, it is part of the Hortonworks Manifesto.

We’re proud of our HDP releases. Our clients rely on HDP in production environments where phrases like “petabytes per day” and “zettabytes” are common. We sim-ship on centos5, centos6, ubuntu, debian, suse and windows – all from the same changeset. Building and testing at this scale has its own special forms of challenges, and is exciting. In the rare case where customers hit production issues, we are able to deliver supported fixes super-quickly.

The Hortonworks Release Engineering team works hard behind the scenes to design, build and maintain the infrastructure-at-scale needed to make this possible. For more details, and to apply, click here.

Note: The current team is spread across 3 cities, so remoties are welcome, even encouraged! Hardly a surprise if you read the other remoties posts on my blog, but worth stating explicitly!

“We are all remoties” @ Twilio

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[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 09nov2014]

(My life been hectic on several other fronts, so I only just now noticed that I never actually published this blog post. Sorry!!)

On 07-nov-2013, I was invited to present “We are all remoties” in Twilio’s headquarters here in San Francisco as part of their in-house tech talk series.
For context, its worth noting that Twilio is doing great as a company, which means they are hiring. And outgrowing their current space, so one option they were investigating was to keep the current space, and open up a second office elsewhere in the bay area. As they’d always been used to working in the one location, this “split into two offices” was top of everyone’s mind… hence the invitation from Thomas to give this company-wide talk about remoties.

Twilio’s entire office is a large, SOMA-style-warehouse-converted-into-open-plan-offices layout, packed with lots of people. The area I was to present in was their big “common area”, where they typically host company all-hand meetings, Friday socials and other big company-wide events. Quite, quite large. I’ve no idea how many people were there but it felt huge, and was wall-to-wall packed. The size gave an echo-y audio effect off the super-high high concrete ceilings and far-distant bare concrete walls, with a weird couple of structural pillars right in the middle of the room. Despite my best intentions, during the session, I found myself trying to “peer around” the pillars, aware of the people blocked from view.

Its great to see the response from folks when slides in a presentation *exactly* hit onto what is on top-of-their-minds. One section, about companies moving to multiple locations, clearly hit home with everyone… not too surprising, given the context. Another section, about a trusted employee moving out from office to start being a 100% remote employee, hit a very personal note – there was someone in the 2nd row who was a long-trusted employee actually about to embark on this exact change. He got quite the attention from everyone around him, and we stopped everything for a few minutes to talk about his exact situation. As far as I can tell, he found the entire session very helpful, but only time will tell how things work out for him.

The very great interactions, the lively Q+A, and the crowd of questions afterwards were all lots of fun and quite informative.

Big thanks to Thomas Wilsher @ Twilio for putting it all together. I found it a great experience, and the lively discussions before+during+after lead me to believe others did too.

John.
PS: For a PDF copy of the presentation, click on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote file is available on request.

(Update: fixed broken links. joduinn 26jun2014)

“We are all remoties” in Haas, UCBerkeley

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[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 12feb2014, 09nov2014]

main gate

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of being invited back to present “We are all remoties” in UCBerkeley’s “New Manager Bootcamp” series at Haas.

The auditorium was packed with ~90 people, from a range of different companies and different industries. After my experiences at Mozilla Summit, I started by asking two specific questions:

1) How many of you are remote? (only ~5% of hands went up).
2) How many of you routinely work with people who are not in the same geographical location as yourself (100% of the hands went up!).

I found it interesting that few thought of themselves as “remotie”, yet all were working in geo-distributed teams.

photo of crowded auditorium
This was similar to what came up during the “We are all remoties” sessions at MozillaSummit just a few days before, as well as at other previous “We are all remoties” sessions I’ve done elsewhere. Somehow, physically working in an office tricks some people into believing they don’t need to think of themselves as “remote”, and hence don’t think “We are all remoties” is relevant to them!?

People were fully engaged, asking tons of great questions right from the start, and were clearly excited by practical tips to working more effectively in distributed groups. The organizers planned ahead, and specifically put this session immediately before lunch, so that the Q+A could continue overtime… and a separate crowded room of 15-20 people continued the great back/forth over food.

After lunch, I was part of a 4-person panel, where the class got to set direction and ask all the questions – no holds barred. As the class, and the panelists, all came from different backgrounds, different cultures, different careers, it was no surprise that the Q+A uncovered different perspectives and attitudes. The class were agreeing/disagreeing with each other and with the panelists. We even had panelists asking each other questions?!?! As individual panelists, we didn’t always agree on the mechanics of what we did, but we all agreed on the motivations of *why* we did what we did: doing a good job, while also taking care of the lives and careers of the individuals, the group, and the overall organization.

The trust and honesty in the room was great, and it was quickly evident that everyone was down-to-earth, asking brutally honest questions simply because they wanted to do right with their new roles and responsibilities. Even while being on the spot with some awkward questions, I admired their sincere desire to do well in their new role, and to treat people well. It gave me hope, and I thank them all for that.

Big thanks to Homa and Kim for putting it all together. I found it a great experience, and the lively discussions during+after lead me to believe others did too.

John.
PS: For a PDF copy of the presentation, click on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote file is available on request.

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