Full Circle on Remoteness

May 9, 2017

I think I’ve come full circle with my thoughts on working remotely.

I worked remotely for about a year from Japan for my own company around 2015.

I thought it was a brilliant idea: who doesn’t like the idea of working from anywhere?

But I’ve come to realize that, while I got a lot done that year, I mostly worked on completing a big project.

I was sustaining an existing client relationship, not building new ones. There were some new projects that started but they were mostly with people I already new.

You don’t build new relationships over Skype.

The growth in our company stalled that year. I learned a lot personally, but we didn’t evolve as a group. The team was kind of working like a few freelancers.

I think remote can be done for certain tasks. Support and some parts of application development come to mind. If there’s support requests to answer you can do that on your own time. If you’re doing “issue driven development” you can do that whenever you want.

But if you want to do something that is next level you’re going to have to sit together in a room and spend the time together.

This counts for development, this counts for design. You can try to do it in chatrooms and in issue trackers but I don’t think that’s where the best work gets done.

My best design ideas are conceptually heavy and are very hard to explain without the right combination of voice, images and gestures.

You can try to Skype your way out of the process but you are handicapping yourself.

Now, maybe Skyping is more efficient than travelling 2 hours a day to get to a central location.

Sometimes travel is impossible.

As a knowledge worker you need your focus time, and what is more efficient than hopping on and off Skype?

There’s a lot to be said for remote work. I think it can work and it’s not necessarily bad.

But I had this lightbulb moment a few weeks ago where I was at a client’s office, and we solved something that would normally have been a giant discussion in 5 minutes on a whiteboard.

That very evening I ordered a giant 240x120cm magnetic whiteboard that is now adorning my living room. I love it.

I’ve switched over to sketching more, to prototyping things on paper. And discussing these things in group.

I do all sorts of things that I felt were a waste of time before.

Time will tell if I made the right decisions… but I think you have to see the two sides of the coin to know what’s better.

We are opening an office in Ghent soon. For me this marks the end of a period that was mostly remote. I am curious what’s going to happen.

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