Joshua introduces part time co-host Kellen Piffner and they discuss working remotely, challenges and benefits. Lots of tips for improving working from home, for both individuals and businesses.
Hey there and welcome to another episode of getting apps done, a -mostly- non-technical podcast about delivering applications.
Today is going to be a special episode and I'm going to introduce my part time co-host, Kellen Piffner, and we're going to talk about working remotely with a development team.
My name is Joshua Graham. I'm a technical consultant and what that means is I help businesses build and deliver software and usually, in this podcast, I just talked to myself... because I'm a little bit sad like that... but today I'm going to talk with Kellen, who's going to help us learn about how to get apps done.
So, Kellen is a technical consultant just like me. He's not quite as sad as me, he probably doesn't talk to himself nearly as often as I do, but...
I don't know about that.
He might but, you know, we won't hold it against him. Um, so we were discussing what we would like to do as a topic together and because we both work from home and we found that working with a development team from home is very different than working in person. We thought that would be a really great topic to try to discuss together so that we can share different points of view.
So yeah, uh, I guess... working remotely... Um, I guess would probably be the best idea just to kind of discuss what we do, the differences in the way we worked remotely. So you're working from home? I'm working from a coworking space most of the time. Before that I was a remote worker from an office. My boss was literally on a mountain top somewhere in Colorado while I was in the office working remotely for him. So..
That's just not right.
Yeah, it was good and bad. I mean, you know, boss not being there, looking over your shoulder was kind of cool, but at the same time, you know, I was still in the office and he wasn't. That was kind of unfair.
Yeah. Working remotely has its own challenges. I do work from home. I will go into a coworking space every once in a while, but usually I work at home because I'm a family guy. I like to be near my family, but sometimes that presents its own challenges to working from home.
In one case, I was in the middle of a meeting with a new client. Everybody's sitting in a boardroom talking to me on the other end and my middle child walks right into the middle of the meeting and says. "Hello! I want a biscuit!" Right into the microphone.
Good timing. I mean, who doesn't want a biscuit?
That's what everybody said. They said, "I want a biscuit. Can we go get biscuits too?" And they had a good laugh and it actually worked out as a really great icebreaker, which was good, but I don't want that happening in every meeting and there is a challenge there to deal with those sorts of distractions that you obviously wouldn't have in an office environment
Just to make sure, biscuits are cookies right?
Biscuits are cookies. Yes.
Just double checking. It's been awhile since I've had to translate English-English.
Yeah. For the record, I've never actually mentioned this in the podcast... While I am American, born and bred. I have been living in England for the past 13 years. So, uh, some of the things I say will be just downright strange.
"Schedule." Yeah. And so like to contrast your experience with working from home, I'm usually in a coworking space which has its own challenges of... like right now I'm in a small phone box, uh, doing this call as opposed to sitting at my desk. So you don't have to listen to the other people around me. That can always be a challenge. You know the... it kinda sounds sometimes like you're in the middle of a phone room with all these competing conversations. Things get really loud and that's never a good thing when you're trying to get on a call, especially with like a new client. Fine with working with your team, not so fine when you're trying to work with customers, clients, that sort of thing.
That is one of the main reasons I don't actually go into the coworking space all that often. I enjoy working with other people, particularly when, you know, I don't have to worry about a boss wandering in or anything like that. It's just working with other people like me. But I spend a lot of time on the phone, a lot of what I do is working with teams and trying to help them do better, but that means a lot of time on the phone and that's just not really appropriate in a work environment like that.
Yeah. What I did find, so like, uh, my, my joys of remote development team, we did most of our work through Slack, which we didn't have originally. Our original team was uh, me and another senior, a technical person. We weren't really a senior devs at that point, at that early in our careers, but, and then the remote Colorado, living on the mountain top with his long hair and doing basically the hippie thing by himself. But we didn't really talk all that much. So actually adding in chat was a really big deal for our team when we actually started working as a team everyday talking and solving problems together just by typing turns out, programmers don't really like phones. I don't know, you know, you ever heard that before?
Some of them don't seem to. Sometimes I just like to pick up the phone.
Personally, I'm a fan of in person, which is a little odd for someone who works from home, but I actually do prefer in person communication. I find it to be far more. Uh, I don't know. What'd be a good word. Efficient. I guess it's a lot easier to pick up the small details of communication when you're in person. You, especially with people who don't use a phone tools or text very often, you know, they're usually really terrible at emails, um, but if you give them in person, you talk to them for 10 minutes and you'll hash out a day's worth of pain. But of course downside then you actually have to be there in person with these people.
Absolutely. And when I do leave the home office, quite often that's what I'm going to do is going to a client side because I want to see them talk to them, see what they actually do in their natural environment, if you will. And that's actually one of the things I find that is actually really bad about remote working, particularly when you're working with a group that aren't working remotely. When they're all in an office and you're off somewhere in your home office, it's very hard to connect with them in the same way and they're not used to that either. They Slack is a tool that I'm very used to using because my team is all remote and we have to do that every day and that's how we keep in touch. But certainly when I work with clients and they don't do that on a daily basis, it's really hard to get them to understand that that's really important for me to be a part of the team that way.
Absolutely. When we would.. I would like... I was the only developer in the office and as our team grew, they were even more remote developers and other remote technical folks. So it was kind of weird. I was the.... I was the one in the office that had that problem, you know, that I was connected to all the decisions that were happening. The bosses would have stopped by my desk when there were... you know, anything development related rather than calling somebody. So they were always talking about how they felt very disconnected from decisions that were being made in the office while I was, oh, this is all great.
Yeah, it can be very hard. And I was reading an article the other day about startups actually being at the forefront of working from home remote working in general, and that was one of the comments they made is that the teams are built from the ground up assuming that they're all working remote for whatever reasons it may be, whether it's to reduce overall costs or to get external resources that they don't have available locally or.... There are a lot of really great perks to working with a fully remote team, but they were leading it because they built that from the start, not just down the road. They got a full team in the office and suddenly decided we're going to start working remotely. It was all built into the way they worked every single day from day one and it's hard to start the other way around and work from an office from day one and then start to shift paradigm.
Absolutely. That is definitely the definitely a challenge that we encountered as well as our, as the team kept expanding some folks would be in the office and folks would be remote and getting that to not be a cultural problem with like almost two separate groups, uh, was, was always a challenge. Um, luckily they are developers and half of them didn't talk to each other even when they were in the office. So Slack was pretty good but a little bit more of a challenge when you get, when the, the actual work is more complicated than that. Like if once you get away from just, you know, basic day to day being a developer, it was a much bigger challenge. You know, retrospective, standups. All of the normal team building stuff that you do as an agile developer was really challenging to do, you know,
Interestingly, the standups were one of the things that I identified as being a really good way to start to introduce them to the concept instead of doing our standup in a meeting room or in a hallway or whatever it was done in we would shift that to being done on Skype or whatever tools we had available for that, so everybody sat at their desk to do the standups, but it was kind of a small introduction into that concept of working with a team that may not actually be physically right in front of you and it actually.... it works because you start to in that short period of time, build up that ability to communicate and you start to then move that into more and more of your day.
Yeah, absolutely. Just uh.. Yeah, just making that as part of your day and the interacting with the other coworkers is a huge deal and especially, I mean phones, the Skypes, the movements, just kind of working together with whatever you have is is a huge bonus. Um.
Yeah. It's about learning what tools you have available to you because they're very different tools and being able to make use of those in a different way, but achieve the same results or better results potentially.
Yeah. What, what I found... It was very much a tradeoff. Um, folks who worked in the office tend to be able to come to decisions quicker. Uh, they would be able to work together to kind of plow through ideas a bit faster than they would remotely. But the downside was that they were in office. They had to be there every single day. They had to drive in, they had all that stress that Kinda came from being in the, the office environment and it was very much a tradeoff. Like the folks that work from home were ridiculously chill. They were very relaxed when they did things. They were able to be more flexible, especially with family and such. So it was, there was definitely a trade off there. Internal though, we found it to be very good. A very worthwhile tradeoff.
Yeah. There's also the ability to have, not just chill time, but to have dedicated time to focus on the work you're doing, which obviously in an office you get people stopping by your desk for maybe legitimate business purposes. Something's gone down or this isn't working or it might just be, "hey, how you doin?" But it's still, it forces you to switch context from whatever it was you were deeply focused on to, "hey, how you doin?"
My, my boss was very. He was very adamant about trying to get me out of the office, which is kind of hilarious for a normal. The normal way is the boss wants you there in the office. But because my boss was a remote worker, he was always adamant about getting me out and so people can bug me so I could focus and, and to be honest, I actually found that to be distracting. I get, I get bored at home. Sitting around all day it's like, I need more people than this. This is a little too quiet. Uh, so I actually enjoyed those contexts, which is for the most part, but it's definitely a definitely a preference thing. And definitely not for everybody and it was really nice to have the option to go back and forth. Which is why I'm at a coworking space right now.
But yeah, that was, that was definitely a thing people come up to your desk and other people need need that focus time, especially as developers and third, they're always those problems that are just really, really difficult to do. People keep interrupting you every 10 minutes.
Now, unfortunately that's all we've got time for today. I promise that we will bring Kellen back because he's going to be our part time co-host going forward.
As usual, I will toss some transcripts up at gettingappsdone.com.
Be sure to checkout Kellen's site at piffner.com. That's P, I double F N E R dot com.
And also, as always, check out my site as well. If you want to find out why you should be paying attention to me at all at joshuagraham.info.
And please don't forget to subscribe and check out the website.
If you do work from home as well or you're thinking about it or you've tried it. Let me know if there are any specific challenges or benefits you've noticed that we didn't mention.
Even better if you've got a funny story about accidentally turning on the webcam while attending a board meeting and your boxers, please, please tell me all about it. I'd love to hear that.
I can skip that part though. That's fine.
All right. Until next time. Thanks for listening.