Remote Working and Building Relationships over the last 20 years — Part 2
Part 1 Recap — Start of the new Millennium:
Building Relationships was about having a personal interest with people. Giving them encouragement and establishing trust.
Remote Working was greatly restricted by lack of technology, infrastructure and the business operating model did not set up teams for it. Working from home was not a viable option.
Moving on a couple of years and after working for a local supermarket chain and the University and I find myself back in Belfast and working for Liberty IT.
Before getting into that it is worth sharing one story while I was an assistant to lecturers in Uni. We had reached a point where some modules were delivered via recorded lectures and I remember two students coming to my room one day to ask about a particular part of the Database module. They were amazed when I directed them to ask the lecturer, who was in the room directly opposite. “He is actually here!, he is real” was the incredulous response.
The lack of relationship and understanding struck me as this was about week 7 of the module.
Liberty IT is a fully owned subsidiary of Global Insurer Liberty Mutual and back in the mid 2000s virtually all the work was with teams in the east coast of the US. I joined as the company was reaching a point where, unlike previous joiners, I did not have to travel and live in the US for a period of time. This initial travel was critical in building the trust between the colleagues in the US and Belfast and helping to understand each others culture better.
Even though it might initially appear that we both speak English there are differences that result in misunderstanding with written or “voice only” communication. I had never known so many things to be “AWESOME” and had no concept of what a “Condo” was. I am sure they wondered and still do at how many “wee” things are in Northern Ireland.
Time difference was also a notable factor and often getting “that email question sent before 5pm EST” meant a chance to get a response the next morning was critical.
For a number of years we still used desktop machines and infrastructure for personal home network connections was constantly improving for wired connections.
We did have a requirement for 24/7 production support and that included a support phone and laptop. I remember we had two laptops to share between a large team of about 12.
For day to day work all our code was checked out from the code repo to the local machine and during particularly busy efforts I would continue working on code changes in the evening by taking one of the laptops home. In order to do so I had to manually copy the full codebase across to the laptop before leaving the office and reverse the process the next morning in work. There was no concept of an online pull request for collaboration. Most of our communication was via email and at that stage having a profile photo of people was very uncommon. Unless you had traveled to the US you could only guess what someone looked like, never-mind being able to read facial signals and body language during meetings. Once you meet someone in person there is an immediate improvement in the remote working relationship afterwards.
Again getting to know people at a personal level helped greatly and some moderated humour in a team to build rapport. Even though we were very busy we still had fun.
Personal Lessons from Part 2:
Cultural Differences are important to understand.
Asynchronous working was a concept to get used to and become efficient with.
Remote working is feasible and can be enhanced by a personal meeting.
Offline files were useful when you didn’t always have network access.
Hardware improvements were starting to enable portability in working but it was still not widespread.