Remote jobs vs. remote teams

There’s plenty of evidence that working remotely is a more productive arrangement than forcing everyone to a single geographic location. One study, reported by Forbes earlier this year, for example, found that remote workers tended to be happier, feel more valued, and have more contact with their managers.

In an (ultimately self-serving) post on the RemoteBase blog, Sung Won Cho bemoans the fact that regular online jobs boards don’t delve into the team aspect of remote working:

Because of such distributed environment, remote teams are in a constant pursuit of achieving a semblance of real human interactions among its team members. The way they do it can make a huge difference on the effectiveness of the operation, and our personal fit to the organization.

I worked remotely for three years for Mozilla, albeit with plenty of travel. Now, as part of a co-operative that geographically-dispersed, it’s a similar feeling: there’s some amazing things about remote work, but also some things that are tough to work out.

The abstract notion of team and its culture is all that binds us together at a remote team. Therefore we need to care more about the team culture. Remote job seekers need to look more deeply into it, and employers should explain it better.

It’s a fundamentally different discipline to work from the place that you live than to commute between two separate places. It’s not the same to be geographically co-located with your colleagues compared with seeing them mainly via video conferencing and whatever little avatar they’ve chosen to represent themselves online.

While I’ve said it many times, it bears repeating: when your communication with colleagues is mediated by technology, every interaction becomes an intentional one. You have to schedule meetings, or ‘ping’ people to get their attention. There are no serendipitous meetings in the corridor or by the water cooler.

The massive upsides of remote working outweigh the downsides, but I welcome this post if only because it highlights the fact that, as with jobs dependent on physical locations, team culture matters just as much — if not more — to remote work.