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Telecommuting & Management December 3, 2009

Posted by yvettefrancino in Management.
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Let’s face it… I was spoiled by my job at Sun.  The office was less than 10 minutes from my house and I could work from home whenever I wanted.  So on snowy days like today, I could simply pop on down to my office in my fluffy robe and slippers and get on with my work, never having to endure the icy streets or slow traffic.

My team was geographically dispersed and most of us worked the same way whether we were at home or in the office….  using the phone, IM, WebEx and of course,  email. We could work any time and anywhere.  Of course, this was kind of a bummer when work continued around the clock with urgent emails and conference calls outside of the “business day,” but the benefits far out-weighed any incoveniences.

And there were lots of benefits for the company as well. When the infrastructure is in place to work remotely, virtual teams can be extremely productive. I know I was typically much more productive at home than I was in the office because there were fewer interruptions of people stopping by to “chat” (ie. spread rumors, complain, fret about layoffs, etc.)  Of course, sometimes the “chat” was good stuff — water cooler tidbits of knowledge or opportunities to get the inside scoop from an exec. When I was at Sun, I often mixed my week with some days in the office and some days at home, which worked out perfectly.

Since I’ve been job-hunting, I’ve been limiting my search to companies in the area. Moving is not an option for me… my three kids are here, including my son who’s still in high school. I asked him whether he’d rather move or be really poor and he picked “really poor” so we are sticking this thing out.  I hadn’t really considered telecommuting because I know most companies won’t hire a remote manager…  but it certainly would open up a lot more opportunities.   And I seriously think it would make a lot of sense, especially for a manager that’s managing an offshore or geographically dispersed team.

The problem, of course, is that you usually need to build trust within a company before they’re willing to let you work remotely.  And some companies just don’t go for it at all.  They don’t have the infrastructure set up for it and just don’t trust that people are really working when they aren’t physically in an office.

However, my “thing” is fostering relationships…especially relationships between remote staff and colleagues. I once gave a whole presentation about “collaboration from a distance.”  Perhaps if I brand myself as the “queen of distance collaboration” I can convince employers to give this remote management thing a chance. I know some face-to-face time is needed, but with all the technologies we have available these days, there’s no reason we have to be physically co-located to have an effective team.

What about all you Agile gurus. Do you agree? Can an Agile project be run effectively with a geographically dispersed team? I’d argue, ‘yes’, but a lot of people would be skeptical.  The key is strong communication.  Much of communication is body language, and that’s what’s lacking when you work remotely, but if you take advantage of strong communication using all the tools and technologies that we have available, you can have a very strong virtual team.

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Comments»

1. Michael Kelly - December 3, 2009

Where I’m currently at, we have a very similar arrangement. People work from home a couple days a week and from the office a couple days a week. We even have a couple people who work in other states (so they work from home full time) and we’re exploring having someone move overseas and working from there.

We primarily use Scrum as our development methodology, and to date, it’s not been an issue. Through a mix of IM, desktop sharing, and a great conference call service, most people don’t miss the office “experience.” For some rituals (sprint planning, sprint review, retrospectives, etc…) we try to get as many people in the office as possible, but it’s not a requirement.

yvettefrancino - December 3, 2009

Michael Kelly! Another name I’ve seen all over the QA Blogosphere! I just checked out your Website (www.MichaelDKelly.com) and you have a lot of cool stuff there! I’m adding that to my “resource list” and a future blog topic.

It’s good to know that even an expert, such as yourself, does not think going “agile” requires co-location. Just this morning I was reading about ” Mingle “, a project management tool that allows for “distributed agile.” Are there tools you use (or could recommend) that cater to a distributed agile environment?

And are any of those out-of-staters, managers? Did I mention I was Queen of Distance Collaboration?

(Oh, and by the way, I’m being completely sincere with my praise, but I’m also known as a KUQ (Kiss-up Queen) and can lay on the flattery even thicker if it will get me an interview! 😉 )

Michael Kelly - December 4, 2009

We use JIRA and GreenHopper for managing sprint work and @Task for more “formal” project management. Both tools seem to get the job done. There’s overlap in functionality, but like any organization we couldn’t possibly just choose one tool and use that! That’d be silly…

Seriously, I’m a big JIRA fan. Those guys know what they’re doing.

2. Matthew Heusser - December 3, 2009

Hello, Yvette. For what it’s worth, Socialtext has a physically distributed, work-from-home model. It seems to be working for us.

The best tools I can recommend to do distributed Agile? Well, IRC, VOIP calls, VNC (for screen sharing), gnu screen (for programmer pairing), and a wiki, like, maybe … Socialtext? 🙂

Thank you for your kind words. I wish you the best in your search.

yvettefrancino - December 3, 2009

Hi Matt, Yes, I remembered that Socialtext used Agile Development from your chapter of Beautiful Testing. I also knew Chris McMahon was remote based on that article he just published about tools for effective telecommuting. I didn’t realize you all were work from home. Thanks for the tool recommendations! I might want to talk to you guys some more to get some case study info.

I’m seeing a real possibility for a niche consulting area…. Distributed Agile tools, technologies and methodologies. It seems like everyone wants to go “agile” but they already have distributed organizations. If I could become an expert on “Distributed Agile” there might be a consulting market for this! On top of it, in order to “practice what I preach” I could work remotely. I’m going to blog about this tonight.

BTW, one of the perks that I’m going to promote is that by learning how to use the right tools and communities, it’s possible to get advice from industry experts. It’s really great to hear from you guys!

3. Distributed Agile « QA Management Musings - December 4, 2009

[…] About Yvette ← Telecommuting & Management […]

4. (anti) Cube Life - January 7, 2011

Hi Yvette,
I realize this was posted a while ago, but I like your article despite the fact that I have no idea what ‘distributed agile’ is! I am, however, a fellow Queen of Distance Collaboration and telecommuter. I’m going to link to your article from my blog called (anti) cube life (www.anticubelife.com). And perhaps I am experienced with some of this distributed agile stuff you speak of, without even knowing it? I suppose it’s nothing google can’t find out. Thanks for the post!

yvettefrancino - January 7, 2011

Hey Fellow-Queen of Distance Collaboration,
It was probably thanks to this post that Matt Heusser (one of the other people who commented long ago) recommended me for a job as Site Editor for SearchSoftwareQuality.com… a 100% work-from-home job! So I’ve been officially employed as a telecommuter for coming up on a year! Yay! Thanks for linking to my site. I’ll come visit yours!

5. (anti) Cube Life - January 10, 2011

Sounds like you have an awesome work from home job! I love the connections made between virtual friends- how cool! Here’s my latest late night post linking to this one of yours: http://anticubelife.com/2011/01/10/are-you-a-queen-or-king-of-distance-collaboration/
Have a great week! Oh, and I’d love to know your opinion on my 4 ‘mandatory things’. I did write them pretty quickly tonight… but I know they certainly are in the top ten of what’s important to me as someone who works from home.


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