Every week in June we profile a different remote worker from around the globe.
Ryan Chartrand, @glassesgeek
1. What are you working on?
Currently leading strategy for X-Team, which is a global network of developers you can trust, whenever you need them. We’re dedicated to building a world where extraordinary developers can build their future from wherever they want, have awesome opportunities, and get paid based on their value rather than geographic location.Put simply: I’m helping lead the way for the remote movement in the development community.
2. What’s the biggest challenge of working remotely (or from multiple places) right now?
The biggest challenge has and always will be the most obvious -- communication.
For years, we’ve attacked the problem with more tools. And while that certainly helped, for the last 5 years we’ve instead focused on a different approach that gets to the root of the problem -- attitude and culture.
A lot of people go remote who don’t have the right attitude for it. They are lone wolves who went remote because they want to control their lives and stay in a silo. Unfortunately, you can’t survive remotely with that kind of attitude.
The easiest way to solve communication challenges with a remote team is by only hiring people who have a proactive attitude and understand how incredibly important communication is. People who believe that trust begins with supporting each other 24/7.
At X-Team, we call it #sleepcanwait. It’s the idea that you don’t sleep until you’ve shown your team you’re there for them; you’ve asked “How can I help?”, and even if your team didn’t need you today, they felt comforted knowing you were there for them.
Communication is simply about instilling confidence in people that things will get done. Our culture at X-Team is all about instilling confidence by contributing trust in small ways every day. By having a culture that is rooted in trust, people naturally want to communicate and support each other more.
I like to say you should communicate more than you did with your first girlfriend. I’ve never communicated more in my life than I do now. But my team knows what I’m doing, they know when I’m available, and they know I’ll be there for them if they run into a challenge.
3. Describe your workspace/ How do you choose a spot to work from?
Most often, I’m at home with a simple, wooden desk, a MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt Display. It’s important to me to have a ‘home base’ where I know I can go to focus and be productive.
You also want a nice, consistent location for video calls with clients. A lot of companies still aren’t quite comfortable with the remote movement, so if you can show them you’re not a hippie nomad always on the run, you’ll instill confidence in them that you can be trusted to be there for them.
That said, I do enjoy the occasional Starbucks or coworking space, or even a couch at an Airbnb on a random farm in the middle of Australia filled with 10 X-Teamers.
There’s an energy that comes with working around people that I think everyone needs at some point. If you need to focus, obviously it’s not the best place, but I would highly recommend at least once/week re-energizing at a public spot.4. What are the most important types of tools you use as a remote worker (video, chat, email)?
Chat rules all. Unfortunately, there are too many options, and every day there’s something new. At the moment, I’m in love with Slack and our team is very engaged there.
On the video side, there are a ton of options as well (Hangouts, Skype, Fuze, etc.). We tend to save video for crucial conversations where decisions need to be made. We also use video to help remote developers who need to improve their English, so we’ll get people together to simply hang out and chat.
The key with video is saving it for truly valuable discussions. By doing that, everyone looks forward to video calls and come prepared for them (unlike how physical meetings have evolved into the bane of people’s existence). In this sense, video ‘meetings’ become incredibly enjoyable and valuable.
Also helpful have been time tracking tools like Toggl. Mostly useful for companies transitioning out of a ‘micromanagement’ world.
5. What’s the biggest misconception about remote work?
That by being remote, you add less value. This has bothered me for quite some time, and it’s part of why X-Team’s mission around paying people based on value rather than location is so important to me.
Companies have tried to argue with me over this, but every time, the debate seems pointless. They’ll tell you that by being onsite, they can: 1. Attend meetings; 2. Join spontaneous meetings; 3. Build better relationships. All of which, of course, can be done remotely.
The real reason this misconception exists? Trust.
Companies can’t understand trusting remote workers because they don’t trust their own employees to work remotely. They need to see everyone at their desks working to know that work is getting done. They need to micromanage and see how long people have been gone for lunch.
What they don’t understand about extraordinary remote workers is that they are that way because they’ve graduated from the office environment; they don’t need to be babysat to be productive. They need leadership, supportive culture, and great feedback to flourish -- all of which most companies can’t provide.
Most remote working misconceptions exist because companies fear it; they fear the challenges it presents them in changing how they work, how they lead and how they manage. My goal is to show them those challenges, once overcome, can only increase productivity and employee satisfaction.6. Top tips for working remotely (or from multiple places) ?
I’ll gladly hand over my Top 10 secrets: http://x-team.com/2014/05/10-secrets-to-becoming-a-great-remote-developer/
7. Do you think remote employees more productive?
You can ask the same question of ‘physical’ employees and get the same answer: some are, some aren’t.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s the ones with the right attitude who absolutely are. The ones who take flexibility and harness it to become more focused. The ones who realize that communication isn’t something you do only when you’ve finished something. The ones who discover through remote working what true value they add to a team, and focus on mastering it.
I’ve learned over the years of managing remote teams that although productivity is influenced by things like environment or flexibility, it’s not what truly drives it.
What drives productivity is how grateful people are to be doing what they’re doing.
Extraordinary, productive remote workers are grateful for freedom. Knowing that they’ve been given the opportunity to do what they love from wherever they want.
Remote workers who realize that and don’t take it for granted are not only the most productive people in the world, they represent the beginning of true global equality, and if that’s not a reason to get up and work every day, I don’t know what is.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @glassesgeek