While speaking recently at a conference, I realized two important things about the nature of remote work. First, I choose to work remotely. Second, many of the people who work remotely, particularly in large organizations, did not choose this way of working.
I had roughly 200 people attend my talk at the Global Scrum Gathering in Orlando where I spoke about working in completed distributed teams. Specifically, I spoke about my current organization and how everyone works from home while using the Scrum framework to organize our work. According to many agile experts, this should be a disaster. However, we are successful working this way. This was why the attendees were interested in my talk and, in some cases, frustrated by my answers to their questions. What amazed me was that most of them stayed for my entire talk and even found me for three different open space discussions the following day.
I realized that our success at working this way is unique, but I didn’t realize how unique until I was asked questions the second day. Almost every person who asked a question was struggling with some challenge on how to connect or engage someone else. This problem is not unique to distributed work. I've worked with many co-located teams that have struggled with being “connected” and working together.
What makes the difference? How do you build that connection? One of the key differentiators I have found that makes any team successful is that each member of the team wants to be there. Perhaps they believe in the vision of the company and want to help make it happen? Maybe, instead, they get value out of being challenged by their co-workers and continually learning? Perhaps, they get a thrill from using most of their talents and strengths on a weekly basis and enjoy the appreciations of teammates and leaders? Perhaps your organization provides a combination of these things so the person can work with some of the brightest in the industry and provide meaningful work?
In other words, they have a choice. They can choose to follow a vision, or not. They can choose to be challenged and grow or not. They can choose to utilize all of their talents or not. They can choose to be recognized privately or publicly, or not at all.
So what's the secret to working well remotely? Choice.
Working remotely raises the same questions as above, but adds some additional questions for each person to consider. Is maximizing my time with my family or friends important? Is limiting the time on a commute important (whether to reduce my impact on the environment or reduce the impact of the commute on me)? Is choice of how I structure my work environment important (for example: Whether I have a sitting or standing desk? Whether I play music or not? What genre of music I like to play when I get into focused work? Whether I have pets in my office or not? Whether I have visitors in my office or not?)?
Much of my joy comes from the choices I am provided in my work. Working remotely provides me more of the choices that are important to me. What about your work?
Sean Sowell says
Mark, great article. I made a choice to work remote and love it. I am a program manager for agile teams in Atlanta and Bangalore India. I agree that you have to want it to work, you have to set your work hours and have a working space. My commute time in Atlanta continued to grow and I now spend that commute time walking the beach and either preparing for the day or unwinding at the end of the day. Your closing says it all “Working remotely provides me more of the choices that are important to me.”
Mark Kilby says
Glad you liked it Sean. Working remote can provide advantages.
Hi Mark, I found this post on the Agile Coalition forum (I joined today!) and it’s a topic that is quite important to me, you’ve outlined some great points that I am actually going to bring to my Director’s attention. You’re right in that everyone’s definition of successful working is unique. I find that being given a choice to work in a certain way is better than a “one size fits all” rule. In our company it is the Managing Director who works remotely in another country while the team are co-located. He struggles to understand the ways in which we like to work, individually and as a team because he doesn’t work in the same way while he is at home. I’m looking forward to making the transition to working remotely next year and shaping my environment to how I work best. I hope to be sharing your joy! 🙂
Mark Kilby says
I am glad you found it useful!