Working in a distributed team

Reading this post from James Governor No Need to Commute, Ever, that he started from a job offer from Genuitec on twitter, I felt like writing a bit about my experience working on distributed teams.

@genuitec No need to commute, ever. See more of your family, work with talented people: Genuitec is growing, developers apply today

That is exactly the Open Source community model. Back 7 years ago or so, it worked pretty well for me on the OSS projects I participated in. When later I joined Mergere, where we provided services on top of Apache Maven, it was pretty clear that if we wanted the best people we’d need to hire them wherever they where, and the advantage with OSS contributors is that there’s no need for a resume, you can see exactly how their work is. So there was people in the team working in Los Angeles, Sydney, Paris, Florida, Philippines,… a bit painful to get everybody at the same time if we wanted to, as we were all across the world, but that also ensured that the number of meetings and their length are reduced as everybody makes an effort to have offline communication in their best interest.

There’s a big difference between working remotely and a distributed team though. When some of the team members work remotely but a number of them don’t, you have an issue, there are gonna be interactions that happen in person that are not gonna be in the mailing lists, issue tracker, irc,… but when the whole team is distributed (or most of it anyway) all the communication will flow through the same channels, with the added plus that everything is documented and you can go back to previous conversations.

Working at the GooglePlex is nice, sure, but imagine what you can do with all those hours commuting to work, the ability to work from anywhere, eat at home, see your family more often,… does free food make up for that?

And what’s the advantage for the companies? You can reduce expenses, but more importantly the ability to offer employees something they won’t get in most of other companies, who wouldn’t prefer working remotely than having to go to an office? And access to great people over the world instead of a specific area.

Just make sure you take some of the cost savings and use them to get the whole team together as soon as possible, and for a few days from time to time. Getting beers together does help human interactions 🙂

3 thoughts on “Working in a distributed team

  1. Although I work from home 1 day/week, here are some counter arguments in favour of commuting
    -It’s my twice a day 5 mile cycling exercise, on-road in the rain, off-road in dry weather. Keeps me fit all winter. Some colleagues run in to be even fitter.
    -Its good at integration time, everyone in a room.
    -Meetings *can* be faster than email discussions to make decisions
    -It’s hard to work at home when there are children in the house.
    -free coffee

    Of course
    -those winter rides are pretty wet and depressing
    -it can be really annoying if there are people nearby having phone conferences and arguments
    -meetings can also be a complete waste of time
    -online meetings from home with desktop sharing can not only be very productive, if you have some exercise kit in your home office (I have a balance board), you can do exercise in the dull bits
    -too much coffee is bad for you

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