Ohad Ron

Five insights after three months of distributed teamwork 1.9.2019

I joined Showdigs about three months ago as VP of product. We are a tiny but growing distributed team currently working on a very cool PropTech product from Seattle, Portland, Minsk and Tel Aviv. Personally, I'm working from my home office in sunny Jaffa. It's too early to share huge success stories, nevertheless here are a few assorted things I learned about distributed ("remote") work that could be valuable to others.

For more info about distributed companies I recommend the ‘Remote Only’ manifesto and Zapier’s “Ultimate Guide to Remote Work”

Jaffa Port, just 5 minutes walk from #general (photo by Faruk Kaymak)

#1 - The benefits of a very flexible schedule

In terms of hours, I probably work the same 8-hour daily average of a tech worker . But unlike having an office you commute to, my hours are spread across the week and not siloed in huge depressing 8-hour blocks. I drop my kid in school, work for 2-3 hours, do some house chores or exercise, eat lunch, go back for 3-4 more hours of work, pick up the kid from school, spend the afternoon together, and after dinner spend time catching up with my colleagues on the West Coast. This schedule has some amazing benefits:

Overall, I manage to achieve much more and I no longer have that feeling when you’re trapped, completely useless, unenergised in your cubicle.

#2 - The benefits of almost zero distractions

Much has been said about the fact that in order to do really high quality work you will need to deeply concentrate for a prolonged period of time. No context switching.

For me, The Zone arrives after about one hour of work. After an hour of unbroken concentration, my fingers are on fire and I'm completely immersed in the problem I'm trying to solve. I'm creating (relatively) great stuff. Previously, I needed to show up in the office very early to have that alone time, but now I can just tune in and start solving a mess if I want to. No one will show up at my desk or ask me if I want coffee. This, of course, requires the very precise setup of all the distractions my various devices are capable of: I use StayFocusd, Screen Time on my iPhone, and I turn off all the notifications from non-critical apps on my phone.

I feel I can complete "heavy" work (complex specs, hard data science tasks, grooming some complex tasks, writing a PRD) much faster than I did previously.

#3 - We should all improve in working asynchronously

We're using Slack for the majority of our communication, and I have mixed feelings about it. The thing I dislike the most is that it is very purposefully designed to emulate an office - with the concepts of who is currently online/offline, the virtual ability to just jump on someone's desk, etc. This is a bit like playing a driving simulator for an hour a day to emulate the commute.

I can understand how Slack has evolved to that point, but I think our future communication tools should aim to help us work asynchronously. They should support conversations across timezones without forcing my colleagues to context switch. In turn, this also requires tight integration with our knowledge management tools to allow us to maintain and look up answers to common questions.

#4 - Make your own water cooler

Wade Foster of Zapier claims that one of the things you need to look for in a prospective hire is the existence of a local support system - a family or a real-life social circle around them. I definitely agree with this point. You need those water cooler conversations every now and then. It's quite easy to go crazy and lose touch with humanity if you don't have other humans around you. I'm very glad I'm able to spend a lot of time with my family, and in addition, I use the time conserved from not having to commute for catching up with friends. I try to schedule a morning coffee or a quick lunch together with those who live or work nearby.

#5 - Tools are gradually enabling more and more distributed work

There are several tools that are crucial to our workflow that were not available in the past. They honestly enable deep collaboration that was previously unavailable for distributed teams. Google Docs pioneered the collaborative editing mode which we now have in apps like Figma. Our designer and I can just talk on the phone and see each other's cursor on our just-designed app mocks. In some aspects, this is better than being in the same place. Same goes for https://trello.com/, where during sprint planning everyone can see and tag the cards we're talking about. I'm looking forward to similar improvements to other parts of our stack.

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