Being part of a virtual team: The good, the bad, the awesome

Hi there, my name is Petyo, and I recently joined the Wildbit team as rails developer. After 7 years of cubicle dwelling, I decided to see what the whole remote work fuzz is about.

First things first, how I hooked up with Wildbit?

Being an RSS addict, I follow 150+ feeds (huge time killer). Having so many sources, I sometimes skip the 1000+ piled up items by hitting "mark all read". Fortunately, this article had a title catchy enough to spare some time on it. I was really impressed by the insights in it - practices that until now I have only dreamed of. Next thing was to contact Chris, giving my best to describe the reasons why I want to work with the team. Somehow, he trusted me. The rest is obvious.

Working in a virtual team turned out to be a very different experience than working the traditional way - in an office, with colleagues around you.

Working hours not fixed? Well, I fixed them.

I have been working from nine to six for most of my professional life, and to be honest, enforcing this is not a bad thing at all; especially if you want to have your free time, well, free. Many people take advantage of the remote work and time differences, working in weird hours. I don't. 10AM is the latest time to check-in, 1 hour for lunch, usually around 1PM. Usually, I avoid work after 7PM, evening hours are really counter-productive for me.

Maintaining fixed working hours is actually very important for the team. In this way, everyone knows when I am available, and when I am sleeping or eating; People waiting on me can easily determine the time frame of my actions.

No daily commute (killer feature)

Sofia, Bulgaria. A city, once designed for 500k people, right now is the home of at least 2 million, with approximately 1 million commuters every day to work. You can imagine the traffic jam (yeah, I can hear you saying "that's nothing, here it is worse"). At some point saving 2 hours of my day, every day, for recreational activities turned out to be my top priority - I was feeling constantly tired and discharged by the mind-numbing stay-in-the-car-listen-to-radio-and-stare-at-the-lights routine. In this aspect, the freedom of working from home (or from anywhere) means a lot for me. More on this later.

No physical human presence throughout the day

When you work in an office, your colleagues become your friends (well, some of them at least). It is inevitable – you spend more time awake with them than with your partner. This is one of the disadvantages of a virtual team – nothing can compensate a beer and some small talk after work (No, IM and Skype do not work for this. Really.). Even for a typical introvert, this can be a hard experience. For me at least, this meant (re)establishing strong and healthy connections with friends and finding fellow "virtuals" in my area. Otherwise, my communication skills would seriously deteriorate. Maybe that this is one of the main reasons why co-working environments are becoming popular. I would rent a seat in such a place, maybe not visiting it every day, though.

Meanwhile, I usually work from cafes, or parks at least once a week. The cool thing - I am not the only loony. It is fun to some of the local cafes slowly turning into mini co-working environments, with half of the tables occupied by people with laptops and nargiles, spending half of the day over a cup of tea.

Home turns into office

Gilbert had this covered already (check it out, his home office rocks). This is definitely something that every virtual should take care of.

Inglish. I praktiz it.

Really, working in multinational team is great for this. I love learning words in different languages, practicing my German, Russian and Serbian. Minor trouble: after the retreat (a single week!) I had some troubles switching back to speaking and understanding Bulgarian. Not kidding. Maybe it is just me.

Async communication, learning to love it.

As most programmers, I hate being interrupted during coding sessions. Concentrating on a task requires time, and it could be easily broken by a phone call, IM, or (this one you can't really call off) a visit by the desk from the beloved manager or colleague in a chatty mood. Well, this can't happen once my nearest team mate is 500 kilometers (~ 310 miles for you imperial guys) away.

Does this sound exciting? You can try too. Self-discipline and good motivation are the most important part of being a virtual. You will (and can't) no longer be 'micro-managed', and your time is in your hands. You should be really careful with this, procrastination is a deadly sin. Some people swear by the freedom this type of work gives. While not being that fanatical, I definitely prefer it compared to being cubicled.


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