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I've worked with a remote team for three months. They all sit in a different company office while I sit in the HQ. There are development teams in the HQ but I have no work interaction with them, they are just neighbors in the same office.

After the three months, I am a little disillusioned with the whole concept of remote work. I completely agree with the Yahoo! CEO. Not that I work from home but I do work remotely and my office presence is merely a formality. After the last three months, I have realized that working remotely can work out only in non-collaborative environments where the management carefully dissects work into atomic units assigned to workers (definitely not us). I do understand that theoretically collaboration is possible remotely but in practice the lack of physical presence is all but an insurmountable obstacle to say the least.

Not that I have not made improvement and learned the product and made enhancements but I feel the lack of teamwork and physical presence is overwhelming and I feel like I am trying to walk through really deep snow. During the initial months, I think it is critical to have physical presence of mentors who know the product and environment so that you can just walk over to them and ask them questions or they can sit by your laptop physically and explain things. I have been deprived of all that and most of the learning has been the hard way, mostly on my own because I find it easier than writing emails to ask them questions. The ideal would be to just walk over and ask.

Now that I am actually up to speed the hard way, another impediment is that I have no clue what the rest of the team is doing and where I fit in the big picture. We have daily huddle meetings but I cannot understand what the rest of them are saying over the phone when they are speaking on the speaker phone, which I only hear as mumbling. So I feel very isolated.

I really like the people who are in my HQ office and how their teamwork is organized. They heavily interact with one another, XP style. Their teamwork and collaboration is fantastic. I want to be a part of that as opposed to my current work setup. However, the product they work on is entirely different from the one I've worked on with my team so my training time so far would largely go to waste and I would have to do it all over again. So my questions are:

  1. Who should I go talk to? My immediate remote managers from whom I wish to part ways over this logistical nightmare? Or his boss's boss who sits in the HQ down the isle from me? Or maybe HR?

  2. How do I tell them that it would be better for the going forward basis for me to work with a team in physical presence and de facto trash the training I and they have invested in over the past three months? My actual work contribution (code checked in) as a result of that (mostly self) training so far does not pull its own weight yet.

  3. I do like most people from my remote team, including the boss. What I dislike is their physical absence. How do I explain my position while not incriminating my immediate management for not making my remote setup work out better? I do not think it is so much their fault, I think working remotely is simply not a viable model for how this team is organized.

closed as off-topic by Jim G., jmac, CincinnatiProgrammer, IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat Nov 17 '13 at 11:40

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else." – Jim G., jmac, IDrinkandIKnowThings
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    i think the word "rant" is overused. obviously, if everything was right, there would be no need to come to this site, no?? and any expression of dissatisfaction or problem can be portrayed as a "rant" if you really want to – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 1:27
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    Your question outlines your specific situation and why you dislike it, not the actual problem you are facing and that you want to solve. "I don't like working remotely" is not a problem, it is an opinion. "I like the team next to me" is not a problem, it is an opinion. That is why it reads as a rant -- there is more info on your preferences than on the problem you are looking to solve. – jmac Nov 13 '13 at 1:37
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    amphibient, I think you misunderstand what I'm saying. I have no doubt that many companies are shifting away from remote work (and I'm sure there are companies shifting to remote work). That is a discussion not appropriate for SE. Taking a position on an opinion-based issue does not demonstrate a solvable problem. Your question minus the commentary boils down to, "I am unhappy working remotely. How do I constructively address this with my company?" The added stuff reads like a rant. Disclaimer: I work in an industry where people cannot work remotely, so I have no skin in the game as it were. – jmac Nov 13 '13 at 4:51
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    amphibient, you are free to disagree with any of our policies. However, the correct response is to post a question on meta, not to call a volunteer community names. Regardless, do not confuse stack exchange for a forum. If you expect this to be the place to rant and have discussions, you will find yourself butting heads with the other community members often. – jmac Nov 13 '13 at 23:40
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    The last paragraph and your bullets really outline the problem here - you've decided you want to change teams. The current team happens to be remote, the desired team is local. That's the big question here. You're certainly entitled to any opinion you like about remote work, and you don't have to like it - but the three paragraphs at the start read as a justification of your dislike and only distract from the problem you are trying to solve. – bethlakshmi Nov 14 '13 at 14:07
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Your first step should be to talk to your manager. You have many valid concerns about your interactions with your manager and your team. If you feel unhappy, or like you're not able to be effective, then it's in your manager's best interests to try to help you address that. It might be trying something else within your team to address the issues that you've brought up, likely a combination of changes in behavior for you and changes in behavior for your team. It might be working on a project with local colleagues. It might be having a mentor who is also working remotely from their primary team. It might be travel between your site and the other location so that you can build a relationship with the rest of the team. It might be some combination therein.

I definitely would not talk with your manager's manager, or with HR. You should give your manager an opportunity to address the problem, and you should be willing to work with your manager to try out solutions that might not be the solution that you have in mind. You should assume that your manager is on your side and has your best interests at heart. After all, if you're unhappy, you're more likely to look for another job. Losing you so quickly will probably look bad for your manager, and there is the obvious loss of the training that you have that they will have to invest in your replacement, not to mention the time and cost involved with finding someone else to do your job. Give your manager a chance.

When discussing this, you should be careful in how you discuss it. Focus your discussion on a few things:

  • You feel like it takes a long time to get answers to simple questions, which impedes your progress.
  • You feel like you're not making as much of a contribution as you should be making at this point in your tenure with the company.
  • Your team is not practicing good phone etiquette in the daily meetings. You cannot hear what people are saying, which results in the feeling that you don't know what is happening, and you don't know what the big picture is. This lack of phone etiquette in an important meeting (it's obviously important, otherwise it wouldn't happen every day) makes you feel isolated.
  • You don't have a local mentor, which contributes to the feeling of isolation.

Discuss the problems that you are experiencing and what the impact of those problems is on your work and your feelings about your position. Once you've laid out the problems that you are experiencing, you should give your manager some time to consider what you have said and come up with potential solutions. Don't start with the solution that you think is optimal, but rather give your manager time and space to come up with other solutions that might also work.

I disagree with you that lack of a physical presence is an insurmountable obstacle. I currently work with a distributed team, and I have previously worked with distributed teams. It takes some awareness and effort to ensure that the team works smoothly and efficiently, but it's possible. Often, the behaviors that help make a team be more effective when distributed help the local team out as well. However, I completely understand how your current experience has soured you on remote work. I hope that you'll be able to discuss the problem constructively with your manager so that you can reach a resolution that is best for both you and your team.

  • the obstacle may be surmountable if the team is well established, protocol and all. but in a growing business, that is seldom the case. so it is just simpler and cleaner to be on site rather than experimenting with fancy "innovations" like remote work. i dunno, i am conservative like that... – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 1:54
  • It may be that the innovation was in being able to get the right people to work on the project (the others might be unwilling or unable to work in the office). If they are seen as higher-value than you are, you might conservative yourself out of a job. – Amy Blankenship Nov 13 '13 at 3:49
  • I strongly disagree that this problem is insurmountable in a growing business. There are plenty of growing businesses that manage distributed work. My employer has more than doubled in size in the 3 years that I have been here, and we have development offices worldwide. – nadyne Nov 14 '13 at 0:36
  • @amphibient I also strongly disagree. My entire company works from home, across the nation. There is no office. Its not for everyone, but it works for us, and this has been one of my most productive gigs. – Andy Nov 5 '15 at 1:18
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Who should I go talk to? My immediate remote managers from whom I wish to part ways over this logistical nightmare? Or his boss's boss who sits in the HQ down the isle from me? Or maybe HR?

When you aren't pleased with your working situation, you are usually best off to discuss this with your immediate managers. These are the people who have the best chance to help you.

Going over their head immediately might cause resentment. And his boss's boss would likely just go back to your immediate managers to have them handle it anyway. If I were the immediate manager put in that situation, I'd be unlikely to want to help you out.

You might also wish to tone down your words a bit before talking with them. As a manager, I know I react poorly when folks use terms like "nightmare" when discussing my workplace.

Remote work isn't for everyone. Many folks prefer to work as closely as possible with others on their team. This seems to be particularly true of knowledge workers. If you are a good employee, and are currently doing your job to the best of your ability, the company may be willing to work with you to find a non-remote position for you.

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    makes sense to talk to him directly. – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 1:56
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After the last three months, I have realized that working remotely can work out only in non-collaborative environments where the management carefully dissects work into atomic units assigned to workers (definitely not us).

This is just not true. Working remotely requires people to take much greater care in communication, however, and it seems you have not done this.

I have spent many years working nearly exclusively with remote workers and had no problems (even on collaborative software types of projects).

Which brings me to:

I have been deprived of all that and most of the learning has been the hard way, mostly on my own because I find it easier than writing emails to ask them questions. The ideal would be to just walk over and ask.

It astounds me you can complain about how hard working remote is and at the same time list off a solution to many of your problems, then act as if it's the other people's fault you are having trouble when you admit many of the problems are your fault.

You have clearly identified your need - increased communication. So rather than complain about it, either do one of two things:

  • Adapt your work style to fit your work arrangement. Suck it up and write emails. Video conference people. Ask for more documentation and/or email communication about key project discussions. Request notes for the huddle meetings.
  • Recognize you are not willing to modify how you work for remote work and change your job. If you don't want to change, stop blaming the system and accept your personal style is not compatible. I don't believe this is true most of the time but it very well might be if you aren't willing to ask via email or IM/video call.

More than likely your team has actually assumed you actually like being a lone wolf and not having constant interaction, since it doesn't seem you've tried to actually do things (and have acted in such a way to clearly communicate this to them).

Who should I go talk to? My immediate remote managers from whom I wish to part ways over this logistical nightmare? Or his boss's boss who sits in the HQ down the isle from me? Or maybe HR?

The logistical nightmare sounds like it is mostly your fault. Generally people assume things are going fine unless you say it (this is true everywhere, from relationships to work to friends, btw).

Therefore, approach this situation with your boss, from the perspective of:

  • "Hey boss, I've been thinking about how the past three months have gone since working remotely. I do not think I've done a good job of initiating the communication I need to feel a part of the team. I definitely need more day to day communication than I've asked for, what do you think we can do as a team to change this in the future? I have trouble understanding the team huddle and feel disconnected - I am planning on reaching out via email, phone call, and IM considerably more than I have in the past three months, as I understand I probably should have done this but did not realize how important it was until recently."

When you have done this and actively tried to improve communication, then you can say things aren't working out. But having a "well I guess I can't have an onsite mentor so I won't email anyone, woe is me" is NOT attempting to improve communication.


Your other two questions assume you are the victim. You are not the victim. You need to not blame the "system" or your remote work for the things you could have done (and still can do) differently.

  • you are right, i don't want to go extra in making remote work a success. i think it would be simpler and cleaner to work with people on-site. so that is what i want to accomplish. there are things like work-life balance and convenience. looking for another job is plan B if they don't want to reassign me to work on a project on-site – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 14:15
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    @amphibient I think it's important to realize to none of your coworkers can read your mind about this, if you are having problems with communication you have to make them known or people will assume you are doing fine. – enderland Nov 13 '13 at 14:16
  • many things can be made to happen... but at what cost. i tried remote work, realized it takes too much communication engineering. some ppl may be willing to do it but i would rather go the old fashioned way and use the proven techniques – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 14:17
  • they can't read my mind -- that is why i am asking here for advice how to approach the problem before i approach it on my own devices and make a series of mistakes. – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 14:19
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I don't think you've considered your team's perspective.

I think it is critical to have physical presence of mentors who know the product and environment so that you can just walk over to them and ask them questions or they can sit by your laptop physically and explain things. I have been deprived of all that and most of the learning has been the hard way, mostly on my own because I find it easier than writing emails to ask them questions. The ideal would be to just walk over and ask.

Easier for whom? I don't know what kind of work you do, but for many people, interuptions cause productivity problems. If I sat next to you as your mentor, there would be blocks of time set where you can accumulate questions and ask at the appropriate time. Most people in mentor positions do not have the luxury of putting all work aside and catering to a trainee. Only considering your loss of productivity over your team's is tripping over dollars to pick up dimes.

You can't understand people on the phone? Do something about it. Ask them to speak up, repeat themselves, turn off the speaker phone. Make it work. Billions of people across the world talk on phones.

Most teams in this setting are built around getting things done. You need to have a discussion with your supervisor to see how you are performing. You may be performing well, but still not like the situation. Your team isn't going to relocate, so ask what you can do. Maybe a timefreme could be put in place to transfer you to another team?

Yes, I work remotely and it is not perfect. I was able to work with others on location in my company for a few years and then move out of the office. No doubt that made it easier. I hope you will be able to work around this as time goes by, but it's not for everyone. No shame in that.

  • RE: "interuptions cause productivity problems" -- yeah, that's called teamwork, i.e. not being selfish about just doing your own thing staring at the monitor all day. that's what the team that i want to switch to do, they interact with one another and do not regard that as an annoyance – amphibient Nov 13 '13 at 17:55
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    @amphibient - If you need to collaborate, set time for it. What is so wrong with being organized? Being on a team doesn't mean everybody gets to do what the want when they want. Blocking off an hour or two to get complicated work done that requires focus benefits everyone. I don't have a job that requires interaction 24/7. If I was talking to a customer would you interupt with a question that can wait? Is it always the other guy who is being selfish? – user8365 Nov 13 '13 at 20:42
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    Most developers need to concentrate to be their most productive. Any interruption ruins their productivity the next 10-15 minutes. You need to recognize that the team is not just for you. You also have a responsibility for them. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 9 '15 at 14:23
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Who should I go talk to? My immediate remote managers from whom I wish to part ways over this logistical nightmare? Or his boss's boss who sits in the HQ down the isle from me? Or maybe HR?

The correct choice of action would be to discuss the issue constructively with your immediate supervisor. Focus on finding solutions instead of simply making a complaint. If you come to the table with some suggestions, you're more likely to find a resolution you're both happy with.

How do I tell them that it would be better for the going forward basis for me to work with a team in physical presence and de facto trash the training I and they have invested in over the past three months? My actual work contribution (code checked in) as a result of that (mostly self) training so far does not pull its own weight yet.

Unless you're completely unwilling to try other options, I strongly suggest this be a last resort. You could certainly express your desire to work with an on-site team, but if you make it sound like an ultimatum or that you're unwilling to continue working with a remote team, that may lead to eventually needing to find new employment. Instead, express your concerns about how working remote disconnects you from the team. Ask your supervisor if she has any suggestions for how to overcome this issue. Don't expect an immediate solution, but do stay focused on solutions.

I do like most people from my remote team, including the boss. What I dislike is their physical absence. How do I explain my position while not incriminating my immediate management for not making my remote setup work out better? I do not think it is so much their fault, I think working remotely is simply not a viable model for how this team is organized.

Your goal isn't to incriminate anyone. You have a problem. You're a problem solver. Work with your supervisor and your team to solve the problem. If every issue that comes up involves blaming others, you'll likely have trouble collaborating on solving those problems because everyone will likely be afraid to make a mistake. Also, this is also your responsibility as a remote worker to be proactive, so if there is blame to go around, consider that some of this blame may rest on your shoulders. :D)

Use Technology To Your Advantage

Before throwing in the towel, you should give technology a chance. This isn't 1950, and technology can make remote workers feel like part of the team, almost as if they're all in the same room.

I worked for 4 hours today on a problem with a colleague in India over a video call, using the very product we're collaborating to build. We made a ton of progress towards a solution to a complex problem. We both even got up once or twice to go grab more coffee and left the call running. There was also a period where he was trying something out while I was researching something on a forum.

Its tough to get over thinking of a video call as a video call and not treating it like you're both just sitting in the same room. Don't think of it as a call where you must block out time with colleagues. Instead, just start the call, and leave it running. It feels awkward at first, but as it becomes a norm, you may find you don't feel so disconnected.

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