Friday, October 27, 2017

Leading from a distance - personal learnings

Remote work is hardly surprising for anyone - especially in the area I work in, IT. Software developers, testers, designers have worked remotely for many years now - and it is often claimed to be "the future of the workplace".

However, remote management is not as often talked about.

It is not as straightforward indeed - as a manager, one has few pre-packaged specific tasks to fulfill. As a leader, one shall rather... well, lead. But what is leadership besides communicating to the people, both internally and externally?

For the past seven months I have been located several thousands kilometers away from both my colleagues as well as clients. The business department I am responsible for has more than 30 people. I am visiting our office and our clients on average every 1,5 months. Otherwise, I have on average 3-5 videoconference calls every day (and an impressive amount of e-mails and text chats).

So, here are some reflections so far:

What is good about remote management:

  • It pulls you out of your familiar environment, it gives different room for thoughts and innovative ideas
  • It provides a push for greater efficiency - being stripped away of usual working methods, you are pushed to think differently
  • Whenever you come to office, it feels like a special occasion both for you and your colleagues
  • Less disturbance and more room for concentration (like with any remote work)
What is difficult about remote management:
  • No social source of motivation (not having your excellent colleagues nearby)
  • No possibility to have spontaneous (but meaningful) lunches or talks in the coffee corner
  • If there are videoconferences with several people and someone is showing something on the screen or whiteboard, it is difficult to see it
  • (this is by far the most difficult) If the Internet connection is slow - or even down - the bad video/audio quality can ruin the whole experience of the calls or videoconferences - and be highly inefficient
  • It requires strong discipline (like any remote work)
Additionally, I live in Central Asia, while the office and clients are 3-5 hours "behind" me in Central / Eastern European time zone.

Upsides of working remotely 3-5 hours ahead of the time zones of your colleagues / clients:
  • Allows "slow" start of the day - provides flexibility to use this time for sports (e.g. swimming in my case), reading interesting articles or books, playing with kids
  • Allows to start working day before everyone else and focus on tasks requiring concentration
  • Allows to do personal duties (like shopping, hairdresser etc) in the mornings when there is least demand and fewest other customers
Downsides of being several hours ahead of your colleagues / clients:
  • Sometimes need to take meetings during late hours
  • Need to operate in 2-3 time zones simultaneously - sometimes creates mental errors as of at which time I have which appointment
Preconditions of remote management - it is only possible if:
  • The teams and people in general are, to a very large degree, self-going and autonomous 
  • There is a very strong middle-management level (in my case, team leads) 
  • There are frequent video conference calls with the key people 
  • Need physical presence time-to-time (once every 1-1,5 months in my experience is a good frequency)
All in all, what is my evaluation of this experience so far?

 At times challenging, but very stimulating and useful if not lasting for too long.

I am happy to work in and have a strong impact on an organisation allowing me such management experiments. :)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Book Review - Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally like books substantiated by and based on the research. This one is. It explores human psychology in light of what motivates us as humans to do what we do. It refers to several psychological experiments done over the past decades.

Not surprisingly, it is not money (money is more of the "hygiene factor"). It is the purpose of what you do, the possibility to be better and better in what you do and the autonomy of your actions.

All of that is presented in a clear, structured and even entertaining manner. Many examples and some helping illustrations.

However, I missed the team / comradeship as one of the motivating factors.

I also found the explanation of purpose to be too "grandiose", missing the link to the ones the activity is directed to (your customers, your partner, your kids, your colleagues etc).

The last 1/3 of the book was too American chewed-and-overchewed DIY approach ("10 tips how to do it at work"). The first 1/3 is quite powerful though.