An interview with Michael Buday, Chief Software Designer at Fuze.
What are you (and your team) working on?
We work on all UX and UI related design aspects of the product, whether it’s a desktop, mobile or web based client. Right now we’re working on the next phase of the Fuze product, async activity spaces that can move to real-time conversations.
How many remote employees are there?
On my team - which is comprised of five designers, anyone of us can be remote at any time. Everyone on the team is free to work remotely when they need to. For example, I live 600 miles from the Bay area and only commute to the main office twice a month for two or three days at a time, so I’m remote most of the time. The rest of the team works remotely whenever they see fit to do so. Perhaps they’re working late and don’t want to fight traffic the next day, or their creative flow is peaking in the morning and they don’t want to stop in fear of losing momentum. Or maybe they have Dr. appt in the morning and traveling to office afterwards will consume even more of their day. It doesn’t really matter. As long as they’re getting the job done and we’re staying in tight communication, I don’t really care where they’re working from.
What’s the biggest challenge of managing an employee you are not in direct contact with?
There really are no challenges from my POV as long as the employee has earned my trust. I won’t let an employee work remotely until I first see they can produce what’s needed to get the job done in the office. Once they prove that, then I “free up the office barriers” a little bit at a time. As long as they're getting their work done in a timely manner and they’re staying in touch, I allow them more and more freedom. It’s a wonderful two-way relationship and it benefits everyone. The more freedom they feel they have to work in an environment that suits their needs at any given time, the happier they are. Their happiness translates into higher quality, more creative work, which makes me and the company very happy.
What tools do you use to stay connected (ie. video, chat, email)?
Fuze is used for the heavy lifting, real-time video conferencing and media sharing/collaboration. For async chat, for now we use HipChat and Gmail for corporate email.
How do you ensure the employee is part of the company culture (feel a part of it)?
By making sure they spend some time in the office whenever possible, but more importantly, by staying in constant touch via products like Fuze. I “Fuze” with my team several times a day, so it really feels like we’re in the same room most of the time. Yes, you don’t have the “water cooler” chat sessions that you can have when you’re in the same office though you can do this through, but I often find that I get much less done when I’m in the office because of such distractions. Further, because there are no walls in the office (it’s an open floor plan except for a few executives and conference rooms), it can be difficult to find peace and quiet to concentrate on a creative task. It’s ironic that the trend today is all this open space for people to freely collaborate, yet when you look around, everyone has earphones or headsets on 90% of the time so they can tune out all the noise. That’s why the option of working somewhere quiet that may not be the office is always a great option.
What’s the biggest misconception about remote work?
That there’s no way to monitor people - and as a result, worried they’re on the beach getting a tan and not at their desks doing what they’re paid to do. I have no time for that line of thinking. Lets face it, in essence most of us work remotely anyway at least some of the time. Who doesn’t answer a company email from home? Or catch up on work related tasks at home? Most of us do, and if we do - we’re essentially working some of the time from home. If an employer says “our policy is no working from home under any circumstances”, then you better make sure to tell your employees they must never answer email or help a customer in trouble unless their butt is within the confines of the office. But we don’t do that. We don’t because it’s more or less expected that some of the time, you may have to work from home.
The other important element is the personality of the employee. Not everyone copes well with working from home or remotely. Some people simply cannot stop from being distracted if they’re not in an office, so it’s not gonna work for them. Or their remote (home?) environment is even more disruptive than the office (kids at home with no private office, etc.) I was a film editor for twenty five years and for fifteen of those years, I worked freelance off and on from home. So for me, getting work done was my lifeblood no matter where I was, and as a result, I established a great work ethic. And the best part was, if my creative juices tanked during the day but came alive at 3AM, it didn’t matter. I simply rolled out of bed and got back to work.
So the point is, it takes the right type of person to stay focused out of the office. And it’s easy to gauge if it’s working or not. Are they meeting their deadlines? Is their work up to par? Are they staying in communication with you and the team? If the answers are “yes” to all of those questions, then why not offer them the flexibility of working remotely when they need to? If the answer is “no”, but this employee shines when in the office, then you know you can’t give them the same amount of freedom. It’s not for everyone.
Lastly, you also have to consider the talent you’re looking to hire and keep. Sometimes the people you really want on your team are not conveniently located in your backyard. OK, if they’re a plumber, I guess they need to be where you are - but if they’re a designer or programmer - everything they do can be done via the internet. Do you really want to lose them because a competitor down the street has a more liberal policy for remote workers? Great talent is extremely expensive to find, so flexibility in this regard can go a long way to retaining top talent.
Top tips for managing remote employees?
- Make sure the person first meets your expectations when working in the office.
- Make them earn the right to work remotely. Test the water first so they earn your trust. If they shine, allow more freedom. If not, reel them back in. It’s a privilege to work remotely. Don’t let them abuse it if they’re not meeting goals.
- Stay in constant communication. Make sure you the your tools for video/audio, file sharing, etc already in place for all the devices we use today - desktop, mobile and web.
- Establish scheduled sync ups with the team.
- Their remote work environments are critical to be successful. They need a modern laptop computer (something made in the last two years), a good internet connection and a quiet place to work.
|Michael Buday is the Chief Software Designer at Fuze. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelbuday or connect with him on LinkedIn.|
To learn more about how to use Fuze with your team, check out the Fuze Use Case Catalog.