Now Is the Time To Prove That 100% Remote Works
A Zone Leader talks about how we can demonstrate a higher level of productivity as a collective from being forced to work remotely.
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With the continued situation of COVID-19 (coronavirus), a majority of those reading this article have been in a position to work 100% remotely for a month (or more) now.
As a follow up to my "Coronavirus Should Be a Wake-Up Call" article, I wanted to dive deeper into what I truly believe will be lessons that can be learned by this unexpected ability to place IT resources in a 100% remote situation around the globe.
With the number of page views for my original article reaching approximately 29,000 readers, I received some thoughts from a senior Information Technology (IT) executive of whom I hold a great deal of respect. His high-level questions to me regarding a 100% remote scenario, can be summarized as follows:
- From the employee perspective, how do we handle things like less-productive staff, coaching/mentoring and development/training?
- From a business perspective, how do we establish camaraderie, team productivity, communication and integrating with external teams?
- From a customer perspective, how do we build trust, learn their business and drive solutions?
In the following article, I am going to provide some key thoughts about each question.
Like any industry, when there is a high demand, individuals flock to meeting that demand. This is no different in IT.
Prior to 2001, 2003 and 2008 recessions, there were periods of high demand for IT professionals. As a result, there was an increase in the number of individuals seeking professional employment within the IT industry. The problem was, not all of those were truly qualified or geared to function long-term in our industry.
As such, I feel like, in the type of situation introduced by COVID-19, there really isn't room for the un-motivated/un-productive team member. After all, individuals are getting paid to be productive and I would not expect any employer (regardless of the industry) to pay someone who was not motivated to their job.
The other aspects of the senior IT executive's questions also fall into line with this very same train of thought.
From a training and development perspective, there are so many options that do not require someone to be located inside a brick and mortar edifice in order to improve their skills. Each person learns differently. Not only do online courses exist, but YouTube and Twitch.tv options often walk an individual through exactly what they wish to accomplish. Me personally, I enjoy starting a new git-based project, pulling down the necessary libraries and exploring a wide-open landscape to gain an understanding of something I desire to learn about.
In each case, I feel like there are assumptions being made, which are not truly with merit. The business perspective aspect of my senior IT executive's questions is where I feel like it is most important to bring forth some misdirected assumptions.
Years ago, I was a major fan of the Team Fortress 2 (TF2) video game. Each year, at Halloween, there would be an update (called the "Halloween Event") to the software which would draw in players to play the game at the end of October through early November. It was around this time that TF2 introduced their Mann vs Machine mode, where a team of three to six human players would take on an onslaught of artificial intelligence (AI) bots through a series of waves or challenges.
This mode was expanded for Halloween to include a Wave 666 mission that comprised of 666 levels. Without teamwork and communication, beating this level was not a simple task. Below, is a screenshot that was taken during one of my attempts.
I was able to beat the Wave 666 level on more than one occasion, which was solely based upon being able to work as a team and stay in communication with each other. I did this every time with five other teammates that I had never met in person. Most of the time, I communicated with then during the game for the very first time.
Over the past three years, I have seen just as effective results with respect to team productivity, communication and even integration with external teams — using very common (and often free) team-based software. All of this while working in a 100% remote scenario.
While I don't place a high degree of value on camaraderie, I do feel like this is something that happens naturally — having really nothing to do with being in the same physical space as another person.
In many aspects of our industry, there is a fine line between the business and the customer. In consulting, the customer just becomes another aspect of the business. In fact, in my entire time as a consultant, I have found myself engaged with my customers far more than I have become engaged with the consultancy by which I am employed.
I could easily just "copy and paste" the response from the prior section, but there are other aspects that I can bring forth in this section to further illustrate my thoughts.
Understanding a client's business is certainly not something that has a requirement for being located inside the customer's structure. In fact, I typically review system documentation, stories/issues around the solution and the actual source code (including legacy code) as the key manner to understand my client's business. Furthermore, using online communication tools (like Slack) have an added benefit of forcing (me, at least) to be precise and direct with my questions — when I do need to reach out to the customer.
Building trust has more to do with the quality of work that one provides. Personally, I begin every project (regardless of the size) with the mindset that I must be expected to support my solutions and designs. As such, I want to provide solutions that I would enjoy supporting for years to come — even if my role on the project has nothing to do with production support. Like I noted above, I don't feel like our industry should have individuals who are not fully engaged in providing quality work — which I feel like is often a trigger for a lack of trust.
Finally, providing solutions is something I feel like works best in a 100% remote situation. In fact, if we're to be having a Slack meeting with that executive, I would provide recorded videos, presentations and even illustrations which were key to architect solutions for clients where I have never once met in person. With my current project, I cannot imagine how far behind I would be if I would have been forced to work from a location that is not near as productive for me.
In the end, I believe it is our goal as IT professionals to provide the best solutions and quality work for our customers. Without a doubt, I believe most of us can reach a higher level of customer satisfaction in a 100% remote opportunity.
I feel like the biggest challenge to allowing more to be in a 100% remote situation is what I feel like are "dated" expectations and practices which still exist today. Unfortunately, those ideals have outlived their life expectancy as realistic options and have gotten in the way of allowing more productive ideas to thrive.
I fully believe the topic of allowing IT resources to be 100% remote is one that is of interest to most in our industry. In fact, below are articles and their respective page views at the time I started working on this article:
- When Will 100% Remote Be an Accepted Norm? (175.6k page views)
- Is Your Management Style Stuck in the Stone Age? (8.2k page views)
If you are currently in a 100% remote position as a result of COVID-19, I urge you to bring forth your best abilities and show your manager, client or employer just how much more effective you can be — not only now, COVID-19 is contained.
Now is the time to make your case and prove just how much better a 100% remote situation is for everyone involved.
Have a really great day!
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