speaking at the NY Java Sig and including remote attendees

This week, I spoke at the NY Java Sig reprising my QCon Java 10/11 Release Train talk.It was fun.  Last time I spoke at the NY Java Sig, I was the unplanned “opening act” for the main talk. This time, there were two planned speakers and I was one of them. I went second.

The NY Java Sig was hosted by Credit Suisse. They had 12 remote attendees from their Raleigh, NC office. We were able to hear, but not see them. They were able to see me.

I work on a distributed team so dealing with remote people I can or can’t see is just a part of me. I didn’t realize how much so until this presentation though.

When I present, I try to involve the audience a bunch of times. They raise their hands, vote on stuff, etc. Almost every time I did that, I asked someone in Raleigh to comment on how the vote looked there.

I got feedback at from the NY Credit Suisse representative that this was the first time that a speaker included them. (To be fair, most speakers don’t involve the NY audience either.) The really cool part is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. It was just part of me; they were attending so I asked.

For this particular presentation, I had offered a couple “free conference level training” available to any of our offices remotely. So I had practiced with people I couldn’t see as well.

working remotely successfully – brad greenlee – qcon

This is part of my live blogging from QCon 2015. See my QCon table of contents for other posts.

Etsy does remote better than anyplace else he worked. Alot of people in Brooklyn office and other offices and people working from home office. He uses “remotes” as a noun as shorthand for “remote employees”.

Advice for Organizations
Number one factor for success is critical mass. Having one remote on the team doesn’t work. Having enough makes communication happen in a remote friendly format. Using chat/email/video conferencing rather than in person/physical whiteboards.

Communication

  • Chat – like IRC or Slack. They use channels; not just one on one chat like Sametime or Lync. Have #remotes channel. Virtual water cooler.
  • Shorter, more frequent interactions build stronger bonds than longer, less frequent ones.
  • Etsy is a “reply all” email culture. Use ignore/mute feature so not reading all.
  • A/V – 4 full timers work on A/V. Google hangout wasn’t enough. Switched to Vidio. Remotes type in name of room to join video conference. Remotes never late to meetings so a remote showing on screen reminds the previous meeting to end
  • Make it easy. Don’t want resistance from on sites to including remotes

Info sharing

  • Can attend talks remotely or watch them later
  • Too many people for monthly all hands to attending in person

Other tips

  • For larger meetings, have remote advocate in room – make sure speaker repeats qustions, remotes are header, et
  • Weekly one on ones are more important. Might be only (virtual) face to face. And chance to give inside info everyone in the office knows.
  • Daily standups. Video conferencing in hasn’t worked well because clustered around computer in open office. Async check ins worked better because cross time zones. [we have remotes by phone and it has been smooth. We have a room with a door though and don’t try to do video
  • Make visits special. Take time to talk, have lunch, etc. Make sure to have seat/monitor/etc
  • Try to go remote once in a while to see what person is dealing with

Policies

  • Remotes can visit any time they want and company pays for. He visits quarterly. Goal: appreciation
  • Local employees aren’t free. Company pays for desk. Should pay for remote to have good space too.
  • Responsive IT group.
  • Mailed hoodies in advance so everyone got on same day
  • Be mindful of decisions and how they affect remotes. Ex: Friday afternoon beers exclude remotes

Obstacles

  • Open office plans suck – not many quiet spaces to speak to remote
  • Remote collaboration is hard – ex: pair programming. Haven’t gotten enough experiencewith a tool to get past this. Don’t have a good virtual whiteboard tool yet.
  • Fear of remotes/fear of unknown

Advice for remotes

  • Visit at least once a quarter. Socialize when there. Visiting to talk to people; not to sit in corner and code
  • Make sure have proper work environment at home or find a co-working space
  • Some people need a dedicated space for work at home
  • Don’t forget to go “home” at end of work day. If start at 7am to sync with East Coast, don’t feel bad about ending at 3pm.
  • At disadvantage in being heard/seen, so put extra effort into being noticed.
  • Support each other; talk to other remotes
  • Mixer app – created app to randomly pair people and suggest they talk

Q&A

  • With open office, do headsets help with noise? Sometimes. Other times, cut in and out. People often don’t have a quick call to avoid disturbing neighbors
  • How do you evaluate remote people? Same as in office. What do you get done
  • How look for workers and find those good fit for remote culture? Networking. % of remotes depends on job function
  • If all remotes used to be in person and are now far away, don’t have critical mass. How address? People at company a long time to handle being only remote person better. [presumably because already have network]
  • Agile and remotes? There was a presumption this can’t work. [I disagree and commented to that effect.]

Good talk from both points of view (company/team and remotes). I also saw an underlying theme that Etsy supports remote to get the best employees. Not to save money on office space. Good intent.