Do you feel left out? Make the best of it!

I have read a blog post about feeling left out on the Aha!’s blog and a lot of old memories came into my mind that I have to write out.

My background

About 4 years ago I was working with a centralized team and nobody was prepared to that. Not them or I. After I went through on almost all of the cases in that post I have changed a lot. And after that, I was able to turn these disadvantages into benefits. That is what this post about.

Centralized decisions

Feeling left out

The team was working together in the same open space for years. And suddenly I came into the picture. My experience is the same as in the referenced post: usually, they just simply forgot me at all. They haven’t even thought about me. Actually, nobody cared about the lonely man far away.

Feeling of left out
Feeling of left out

Sometimes they even forgot to tell the decisions after they made. So not only I couldn’t participate but had less amount of information than the others.

Work more than ever

That situation was very frustrating during the first several months. After this struggle, I made the following decision: Fuck that!. I cannot really force others to take care of me or count me as a person. But I can improve myself. I can solve the most amount of ticket, answer on the largest portion of live issues and get the deeper knowledge on the part of the system that I work on. 

Work hard
If they ignore you, you get extra time to get things done

After several months of hard work, their attitude started to change. Actually, I think, I become a person who hard to ignore. And believe me, if a team needs some help, they do everything that needs to get that.

And get the results

My hard work got a great result: At the end of the year, I had to take care on one of the new hires (who was working in the same place as the others) and I had to do some ‘technology lead’ like role in a big project (in that time I was the only remote worker on the team).

Delayed responses

When you work in the same place as the others and you have a question, you have a lot of information: first of all, you just see if your teammate is at his desk or not. Secondly, it is a way harder to not to answer you. If you write a message, there is no guarantee that you’ll get an answer at all.

That is also a topic that you cannot change. I cannot jump into my car at every single question, drive 2 hours and ask the person directly – usually, I have to wait. To solve that problem, I had two strategies:

More tasks – gain benefit on the wait time:

I always keep more than one todo item on my list. And prepare the case when somebody doesn’t answer. You cannot just sit at your desk and get blocked because you are not the top priority on some others job. But you can work on one of the other tasks or learn something new that makes you smarter.

Don’t let you left out – action plan to reach out people

I have collected as many private phone numbers as it possible. And also made an agreement with one person in the team: if I cannot reach somebody and it is really urgent, I can call him directly and he speaks with the person to please answer me. In that way, I had an emergency method.

Forgotten timezones

That is the only point that I was lucky with. We were living the same timezone so there was no question about that.

My current team is an opponent with that one. Now we have to work together with the other team and we have 9 hours of time zone differences. That basically means, there is no common time window for us and we are facing a lot of challenges.

I could lie if I would tell that I know the best answer – I think that is something that we still need to work on but we are improving day by day.

Technical disrespect

I couldn’t call that technical but simply disrespect. There is nothing more frustrating than being part of a meeting and missing the main information just because the others are using whiteboard just because it is comfortable for them.

I have to tell, in that case, I have only a small amount of patience. After I ask a team several times to please not do that because in that case, there is no reason to me to be involved in the meeting, I just say goodbye and ask a meeting memo. After that, I can work on the next important thing and wait for the meeting memo.

In the case if the topic is urgent, I’m sure, there will be some solution. In the worst case, I can ask the team to read the whole whiteboard to me. Or they can take a picture for me in every five minutes to get updated but these are not solutions.

I think maybe the best solution is just asking to be the presenter and do the job that nobody wants. And drawing the diagrams online (prefer to use a company wiki just to keep the information searchable).

Final thoughts

Working remotely with a centralized team is really hard and needs a lot of patience and I bet every single person who had to try that, lost his calm blood at some point.

My closing thought is that: yes, it is really hard when you feel left out, but there is your choice how you will respond to that. You can sad or you can make the best of the situation – It depends only on you!

 

What remote working means?

People often ask me about my job. I work for a relatively big company with a small team, and I work in a different city than the others.  So basically, I work remotely.

Expectations

Almost every single person who I have talked about that have a picture of me working as a machine: someone sends me the task and the input, and I send back the solution. That is the way how a human can work remotely.

They think it is impossible to involve me in the life of the team and I will miss a lot of important information just because I am not there: I do not hear them because my desk is several hundred kilometres away from the others.

The other expectation is the worst: they think you just sleep all day and get your salary for nothing. You have plenty of time because you do not go to work so you do not work at all.

When you work home, you do nothing but sleep in the bed.

Reality

That expectation is both true and false.

Yes, there is a chance to miss something, but no, everything depends on the mindset of the team.

In fact you work as hard as the others. Just sit on an other place

We have to work as a team and has to develop our culture to work together. I must to anything that needs to get well informed and my team has to do not forget me. and we have to have a great software and hardware toolset in our hand to make our days comfortable.

Hardware toolset

  • We have to use our web cameras, there is no question about it. Just hearing is not enough, it is important to see the person who you talk with.
  • Buy a good conference microphone. For me, Jabra was a good choice to talk with a small team.

Software toolset

  • A good chat program. Currently, we use Slack.
  • A good meeting software. For smallest meetings, we use JoinMe, for largest ones, GoToMeeting.
  • Calendar and email tool like Office365. It is important to share our calendars to see when we are available for each other.

Conclusion

Remote working does not mean you are separated from the world and work in a small room and never see the sunshine.

Remote working means you are available online and you and your team must accept the fact that you have to do a lot of things online that a regular, in-place team can handle in-person.

Remote working means you are a part of the team, not the expectation that the others have to handle different ways. That is all about the discipline and the team mindset.

Team mindset

If you want to start working as a remote developer, there are two must-to-have condition you have to have. One is your mindset, and the other is your team’s mindset. You will fail if one of these requirements are missing.

When I have started to work remotely I have not succeeded for the first time. Actually, it was a fail. I was an employee of the company that creates software that allows users to work from anywhere in the world but our team was not prepared to do that at all.

My fail

I was the first person in the history of the company who was allowed to work from home. And I had to figure out how to do my daily job between the new circumstances. I have decided to work as hard as it possible just to prove that was a good decision to make the exception with me.

Alone, far away from your team

In the other hand, I made a big mistake. I have calculated only with myself but not with my team. Actually, I could do anything that I want if my team acts like ’We do not care for you at all’. We should spend time on investigating the hardware and software requirements to involve me in the team’s life.

Personal issues

My team had about 8 members, they are all worked in the same open space. I was the exception who were 200 kilometers far away. They were never told me but it is clear to me: they did not want to work with a remote person at all. There were nothing personal in this. Maybe I was the pain in the ass for them and they couldn’t handle the extra effort.

Used to work together in the same room

For example, they involved me in the meeting only if there were no other choice. And nobody told me the important information or nobody sends me a memo about the decisions. They just ignored me and I had to collect a lot of information on my own.

Technical issues

When we had a meeting, we had only a telephone. They turned on the speaker but nobody cared about me. Usually, I have heard only one or two people and there were a lot of background noise. I asked them plenty of times to be closer to the microphone but nobody cared about it. When I asked, they did it for two minutes and forgot it immediately.

Later, we had a great meeting software, JoinMe. I thought it will be a huge step forward because everybody can use his own mic and we can share a screen with us. I thought great, that will be the breakthrough. And I have failed again. I have forgotten the most important part that is not the software but the people.

Mindset problems

They used to do a meeting in a separated meeting room. Always. And there is no exception. So they have figured out how it will go: They brought one notebook into the room, put it on a desk and started the JoinMe software. After I have joined the meeting, nobody took care of me. The didn’t share a screen and they still used only the whiteboard on the wall and I saw nothing. If you use JoinMe, it is not enough just to connect the meeting. You have to join with audio too. 8 times from 10, they just forgot to join with audio. That meant they didn’t hear me, and I didn’t hear them. Sometimes at the end of the meeting I got an excuse ’Sorry man, we have forgotten about you’.

Please do not misunderstand me, they were not a team of bad people and they did not want to harm me – They were just a group of people who have worked with an in-place team during their whole life. Working with somebody who is not in the room was a too hard job for them.

New project – new team

After about 18 months of suffering, I had a chance to choose between a lot of projects at the company. I knew that is my chance to change my life. I wanted to search a team that is able to handle me. Private talking with managers was a new field for me but I could finish my research with success: I have found a team who works in-place but their management is in another office. That means they have to have a culture about handling a remote person because both of the project manager and the technical leader worked a far distance from the team.

When we had to choose, I did not hesitate at all. I said goodbye to my formal team and started to work with the new one and everything changed. I have found everything is possible if the team has a proper mindset and everybody accepts that you are not in the same room.

Finally, success

Suddenly I have realized there are people who do not have to ask to do a JoinMe meeting – this is natural for them. There was no question about using the proper microphones, sharing the screen and the knowledge. Every time when I miss an important meeting, somebody calls me and tells the information that I missed. I see meeting memos and I we have flows to do the code reviews remotely.

A whole team can change

And what happened to my formal team? Life can bring changes and you can never figure out what will happen. Now they have a remote team member but everything has changed. The remote guy is my friend so I could talk with him and I see, a whole team can change. They have no issue with a remote developer at all. Maybe it took one additional year but they have developed their self: they are able to and willing to work with a teammate who works remotely.

Fitness as a remote programmer

If you work remotely, you can have a huge advantage in your fitness. You will be invisible to your teammates. There are a lot of areas when you have to do extra work when you are invisible. But if you want to be healthy, I can give you some great tips when you work remotely.

Use Pomodoro

As I wrote before, when you work remotely, especially when you work from home, one of the most important thing that you have to do is a proper time management.

I do not want to write a lot about this technique. Basically, that means you have to focus on your work 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break. Do it two times and take a 10-minute break. Your daily goal is to finish as much Pomodoro as it possible. As John said, using Pomodoro technique is a great way to make your day more productive by increasing your focus.

You can ask the question: Ok, there is a post with the title ‘Fitness as a remote programmer’ and I read about time management. What the hell happens here?

Active your body when you have to rest your brain

The answer is simple: If you are able to manage your time, you can have some benefit in your fitness routine. First of all, most people just want to drop some weight. My recommendation is the following: Use your rest time to activate your body.

The rule is simple: Every time when you have to take a break, you have to do something. You can just stretch out your muscles, do some push ups, squats, you can wash the dishes (I recommend you to do some leg exercises during that) or just walk 10 floors up and down in the stairs. It does not matter. The main goal is to activate your body while your brain rests.

Use your lunch time smart

If you live a country that similar to my, it is a high chance to every single person do a long lunch break. Mediterranean people prefer to take a rest after lunch. I highly recommend you to do some similar but in a smart way. Find your best places near your home and get your lunch here. You were in your house all day, there will be good to see some people around you. When you have finished go back to home and take a long, 20 minutes rest in your bed. You do not have to sleep but you can rest your muscles and your mind together. Use that 20 minutes to do some meditation and to enjoy your life.

Find your best places near your home and get your lunch here. You were in your house all day, there will be good to see some people around you. Do not eat too much just enough to remove your hunger. Do not forget to enjoy your meal. When you have finished it, go back to home.

When you at home, take a long, 20 minutes rest in your bed. You do not have to sleep but you can rest your muscles and your mind together. Use that 20 minutes to do some meditation and to enjoy your life.

After your 20 minutes, wake up, start your next Pomodoro session and you will be refreshed and more focused so you will have enough energy to do your remaining tasks during the day.

Give a frame to your daily work

The worst thing that you Pomodoros just waking up and start to work. When you work in an office you have a daily routine from getting up until arriving to work. You have a similar routine when you go home at the and of the day. If you work remotely I highly recommend to you to do the same.

When I have worked from home, I woke up, cleaned my face, got my clothes on and walked about 20 minutes before work. At the end of the walk, I have arrived at my working place: my home and started to work. At the end of the day, I worked out. I just went running or did a longer walk. Or I went to do my martial art training.

Fitness rules as a remote programmer

  • Do one longer workout at the beginning or at the end of the day.
  • Have a shorter walk at the beginning of the day.
  • Use your rest time to activate your body while your brain take a break.
  • Take some rest.
  • Do not forget to walk at least 30 minutes a day.

Extra tip if you are a parent

You can let your children playing computer games during the whole day or watch tales on the television to make your life easier. My opinion is that the worst that you can do with your family.

Believe me, I know: you can burn a lot of calories just by playing with your kids. And they will be more energy than you have, there is no way to have more energy than a young child. It means there are multiple benefits playing your kids:

  • You will burn extra calories.
  • You help them to use some of their energies.
  • You spend your time with your family.

Never use your family as an excuse for your laziness

I have heard from a lot of people, ‘Sorry, I cannot work out I do not have time for fitness, I have a family with two children and I have no life’. I think it is total bullshit. Here is a video with me doing the russian twist with a living weight:

WP_20150516_001.mp4

Russian twist élősúllyal

Posted by Zsolt Miskolczi on Saturday, May 16, 2015