Alex Aitken

@alexaitken

Leading Remotely

I went rogue! I did it. I led a team remotely (within the same country, of course). But to be honest, I can’t say too much changed while I was away from the office. It was, as it should be, business as usual.

Now, I can’t say I’m an expert on this, because I’ve only tried one week away from the office. But I do think there are a few caveats that you need to keep in mind when you lead remotely.

As I’ve mentioned in Being a Remote-Enabled Team, you need to have rules or processes in place before someone can work remotely for an extended period. Normally, for my team, that’s probably two or more days. Hopefully, you’re not working while you’re sick, though!

I’ll cover some stories from my week and let you be the judge of how being a remote leader felt like.

Being away from the office is weird. You sit alone (or at a cafe/table) and begin to code or unblock your team. My days always started quietly because I could begin to work earlier with no travel time.

The first challenge of the day was a stand-up meeting. We actually have a tool called Zoom which we use for remote meetings. It’s super handy because our PM and designer aren’t located in Berlin with us.

You know that awkward start when no one knows who should talk first? That kind-of happened for our first stand up. It was a Monday morning — so you can understand. I started the stand up by saying hello and then getting into the nitty-gritty of what’s going to happen today.

Such things will become natural over time, but when you first try it out — it’s like walking for the first time. You’ll stumble and even fail, but in the end you’ll get there. You just need to keep trying. Which is what we did! We had stand-up meetings Monday to Thursday and each one became more natural.

What I have to say about my mornings that I did enjoy — was the extra time I got. I’m usually up at 7am in the morning and have a tea with my wife while I prepare lunch. Since I had no travel-time and I didn’t have to prepare lunch, I could in fact start work and have a conversation with my wife. I got quite a lot done!

The next story I want to talk about is what you miss out on. There’s a lot you can miss out on when you’re away from work. This week was especially hard for me because I missed out on seeing a colleague before he left for a month.

My leave was already planned before I knew he was leaving — so it was an unfortunate coincidence that I couldn’t be there in person to say goodbye and see you soon. A month is a long time!

The good thing was that we get along quite well — so on his last day I managed to squeeze ten minutes out of him and chat over video. It was great to hear about his plans for the month and that he’s going to disconnect. Thankfully, we haven’t needed him while he’s been away so I’m pretty sure he’s enjoying his holiday!

I found myself communicating quite a bit. So, usually, I would type in Slack when I was available and at the end of the day when I was going unavailable. I found this helped separate work from home and enabled the work-life balance that everyone talks about.

That balance is harder when you’re working remotely because what constitutes work? I found that at least recording my available hours on Slack helped me focus and not break the work-life balance.

I did have a tea with my wife in the mornings, but other than that — she did her own thing during the day and knew not to disturb me. I also went into a less communal room when I had meetings I needed to attend.

Overall, I would say I found the experience helped me focus. I could probably work remotely full time. But it does have its elements of loneliness and a kind of emptiness. You don’t have the comradery that you get when you see the same people day in and out.

I would also say that my leadership skills were tested. Leading meetings when people are right there with you is one thing and leading meetings where they’re somewhere else is another. Especially when you set the agenda.

Conclusion: Would do again. Need practice. Keep up those interpersonal skills.

Originally published at www.alexaitken.nz on September 24, 2018.

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