Writing code is a unique occupation. And it requires a unique skill set. On the one hand, it’s analytical, and you must pay very close attention to detail. But, it is also a creative endeavour. A programmer needs to be able to think outside the box.
Working in the right environment is a key component to achieve this. Office spaces are stifling of creativity.
I once worked as a content producer for the marketing department of private clinic. I was to take care of the writing. And a colleague took care of the art.
But the big problem was that there were always people running around. And the clinic’s director was always checking in. He wanted constant updates. It was almost as if he was coming to us several times a day shouting: “Where’s my Art?”
And of course, to make matters worse, the rest of the clinic staff didn’t get us. Doctors, nurses and assistants were busy doing their job. And they looked at us as “those guys who sit at their desk all day, checking Facebook.” Their output was visible on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Creative work is about peaks and valleys.
We could never concentrate on this environment, and so the work was never to our satisfaction. (Even though it ended up pleasing the director. Go figure.)
This is why the creative and analytical professionals are more productive remotely.
But there are a few caveats. Very few people can manage a good remote workflow by themselves. We’re not shaped for that in modern society. A bit of guidance from management can go a long way to help.
Beware the Perils of a Flexible Schedule
Remote work may give your employees the flexibility to sleep in if they feel like it. Or to take an extended break in the middle of the afternoon. And it will let them work on the most challenging parts of a project when they are the most creative. Even if that happens very far from office hours.
There are two things to take into consideration here. The first is that human beings are terrible at estimating their own productivity! We always believe we can do stuff closer to deadline than what’s possible.
The second is that being able to set your own schedule can complicate communication. One of the most important factors in remote success!
We at Distant Job are against bosses chiming in to shout “WHERE IS MY CODE?” every hour. (See our last post on the effects of constant interruption on employee productivity.) But it’s important that remote workers are consistently and predictably contactable.
So what’s the solution?
As a baseline, we recommend employees to work on the company hours.
This may seem a bit counter-intuitive to the remote work ethos, but it is not so. The remote worker still controls her environment. She simply has a pre-determined schedule that matches your company’s.
From that baseline, you and your programmer can optimise for creativity and productivity. Figure out a degree of flexibility you’re comfortable with and go through it with your employees.
It may also be beneficial to make good use of milestones. Set milestones that are more granular than the project deliverables. It’s much easier to keep remote work flowing when goals by breaking them down in smaller chunks. People must focus on the single next step instead of on a looming deadline. In this way, are more realistic in their evaluation. Think of it as setting micro-deadlines.
Isolation and Burnout Can Be a Real Issue; Here’s How To Solve It
Coding is a solitary pursuit. It asks for a great deal of concentration. So it’s helpful not having people talking and going around on office business nearby. But it can be isolating.
And ever worse. Those doing remote work don’t have someone looking over their shoulder all day. Far from slacking off, we've found that they tend to be fearful of the perception that they’re not working. And so, they tend to overdo it.
Tech blogger Scott Hanselman puts it like this:
“We tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends.”
He says the guilt around remote work is very real and can lead to burnout.
Following our recommendation to work on the company hours will go a long way to prevent this. But it is not enough.
There is a great solution for both isolation and “remote guilt”. It is: encourage pair programming.
With this approach, remote programmers work in pairs. They might be co-located, meeting up on a shared workspace of their choosing. Or they can share a screen remotely, during work hours. This will create a sense of accountability and of someone witnessing the work. And the company is nice.
Of course, your culture and workflow go a long way in helping avoid isolation and burnout. Here are some extra tips to manage it.
Have some questions on how to best manage remote workers? Get in touch – we read every e-mail!