Remote work, team building, and selfies at RWDevCon.
Way back in 2005 when I was starting my freelance career, I worked with a fantastic group of colleagues. They were also here in Toronto, but it was four months before I met them. How strange, I thought! To go four months of working closely with people, talking on the phone almost every day, but never meeting in person.
Pixels and bits on the screen
Fast forward to more modern times. My closest colleagues are now best known to me as Twitter handles and IRC nicks and more recently, 36x36 Slack avatars.
I always thought text-based conversation makes it hard to get a sense of people’s feelings and emotions – are they kidding? Serious? Did they mean to add a sarcastic smiley face on that? I still feel this way about email, which often reads as cold and terse to me.
But spend enough time on IRC/Slack and throw the odd Google Hangout into the mix (with an upgrade to 100x100 pixels per person) and an amazing thing happens: you feel like you know these people!
I start thinking: I know exactly what Brian will say next! Tammy sounds super enthusiastic today! Where has Felipe been lately? That sounds just like a @cwagdev joke! How can I troll ecerney this week? And so on.
Turns out, these people aren’t just bits over the air. Even in the early dawn of 6am on our first team outing and as the day went on, I had no problem recognizing voices and faces and personalities.
There were no odd introductions or awkward moments. It was like I had been working with these people for many years – because I had! Seeing them in person and starting up a conversation from where we left off online was the most natural thing in the world.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about remote work and how it’s the way of the future. Generally, I agree. Maybe not to the extent of wearing VR headsets in virtual meetings, but it’s not necessary to be in the same room as your co-workers for anywhere near 100% of the time.
As much as I love working remotely from home, which I’ve done for ten years now, there’s something to be said for meeting in person. Having lunch, casual conversations, doing a walking tour of a city, and just hanging out with these ~40 people I work with were the highlights of the conference for me.
Ultimately, we’re a distributed remote team and there’s no way around that. With tools such as Slack and Trello and Google Docs and good old email, we make it work. Even so, there’s no substitute for hanging out in person at least once in a while.
For everyone who was there this year – colleagues, people who said hello, attendees at my two sessions: it was a pleasure to meet you! For those who missed it: let’s meet up soon.
I’m on record as having suggested both fall and winter editions of RWDevCon. Hey, why not make it a travelling show like CocoaConf? ;]
Epilogue: the selfiepocalypse
In my non-work life, I’m the unofficial family photographer. That means I’m not in many of the photos, which some family members have commented on. My solution: I try to take lots of selfies at Christmas and Thanksgiving and other such family events.
So here’s another thank you to the team members who put up with my new habit at the conference.
I didn’t get to everyone, so my apologies if I missed you. Next time I’m bringing an attendance list with me!