Why Remote Work Is Still a Difficult Thing To Do

Today’s remote work requires special management skills and management practices…
Listen to this article

Today’s remote work requires special management skills and management practices. Read blogs by leading remote companies. You’ll find out that many of them developed unusual and sometimes even odd management practices to keep their teams together.

Isolation and communication based on text chat force every company to develop its own recipes for remote work. A single standard doesn’t exist. Every company has to reinvent a wheel.

Today’s state of remote work is that:

  • Every company that introduces full-time remote work has to experiment. Established practices don’t exist. Every company is a remote-work lab.
  • Sophisticated and often peculiar practices are needed.
  • Annual semi-annual or quarterly get-togethers are needed. This is expensive. Only well funded/profitable companies can afford that.

That is why many managers unconsciously are careful about going remote. They intuitively sense that remote work is not as simple as it seems.

What is the main reason for difficulties?

Every remote employee works in isolation. He contacts fellow remote co-workers in a transactional fashion. A transaction can be text-based – a message in text chat. It can be live video transaction – a video call.

Anyway, it is a transaction, that has a beginning and an end.

In the case of text, you can wait for a response for a long time. Such communication can be slow. Moreover, tools like Slack are known to be distracting because of lots and lots of text messages and threads a user has to pay attention to.

Video calls may seem a better alternative, but they often need to be scheduled. It is hard to know if a remote employee is available and ready for a call if you want to make an unscheduled call. More often than not, every video call begins with equipment adjust with questions like “Can you hear me? Can you see me?” like on the funny video below:


More often than not, every video call begins with equipment adjust with questions like “Can you hear me? Can you see me?”

Compare such communication with communication inside an open office plan or cubicle farm. Everyone is available, visible, hearable. Even inside the cubicle farm you can just stand up, look around and see who is available and ready to talk. Then you can approach a specific person or shout out to him.

Which one is faster? Of course inside the office! In which one is quicker to get into contact with another employee? You know the answer.

Inside the office, you are continuously connected together face to face. It takes almost no effort to engage the other employee. The cost (time and effort) of making a contact is very low.

The cost of engaging a remote employee is high. The response time on a text message is unknown. Video calls often need to be scheduled. Making them also takes time since the other participant may be unavailable. Moreover, video calls often start with equipment adjustments.

The higher cost of communication means the slower speed of work. Collaboration becomes more and more difficult over time.

Is there any solution?

How can remote employees continuously stay in face to face contact?

The obvious answer might seem to launch a Skype/Zoom/Hangout/Whatever, make a group video call and leave it running all workday or most of the workday.

It seems easy, but it has a lot of hidden issues.

First, these products are technically not designed to be used that way. Video calls are usually in HD. And that will eat away your bandwidth and CPU. Some of these tools have restrictions on call duration. A connection can become unstable over time.

Second, their user interfaces are not designed for that purpose too. You can make a person’s face full screen at any time without him knowing that. Would you feel good if someone could stare right into your face from a breathing distance without you knowing that? Within such circumstances, the desire to turn the camera off or point it at the wall can be overwhelming.

When someone can see you and you don’t know that.

What king of solution we need

We need a tool that satisfies the following requirements:

  1. Provides a continuous live video connection between remote team members.
  2. Low bandwidth and CPU consumption when working 24 hours a day.
  3. Stable reliable connection without quality loss.
  4. Respects privacy by design and by default.
  5. Provides a quick and easy way to make close contact with another user.
  6. Gives clear prior notifications before privacy change when making a close contact.
  7. Gives a reasonable time to prepare before a close contact followed by privacy change.
  8. Provides the same video availability and the same video-rules for every user without regards for his status and position.

1 and 2 are self-explanatory. Let’s talk about the other points.

Continuous live video communication

Members of the remote team should be continuously connected via live video. This way it will create office-like visibility of each other (although with privacy as described below). It will provide the possibility to overhear conversations and ask the whole team quick spontaneous questions.

It will eliminate the need for extra scheduling, the need for establishing a connection before talking.

Communication will be natural and free-floating, without unnecessary technical barriers.

Privacy by design and by default

Since working remotely in most cases means working from home, privacy should be a default mode.

For example, in an experimental tool that I developed, for privacy, I decided to use partial visibility. As you can see on the image below, the guy (it’s me, actually) is visible but details are blurred. It is hard to understand what he’s doing. (hint: I am drinking coffee)

Quick way to make close contact

There should be a way to reduce privacy to enter into close contact with a teammate. The same as approaching a teammate’s table for a talk.

For example, as shown below:

A teammate makes a close contact with you.
Making a close contact with a teammate

As you can see, a teammate gets gradually unblurred. On his side, you get gradually unblurred too. The window that popped up can be resized in any way because a close contact means close visibility of the teammate.

Clearly visible notifications before privacy change

A user should be notified before his privacy changed. Nobody wants his visibility changed without knowing that.

In VideoWorkLink (VWL), he gets a small notification window in a tray area of desktop saying that he’ll be unblurred within a few seconds, as shown below:

Unblur Notification

A reasonable time to prepare before contact

Close contact is a delicate thing.

To not disrupt users’ calm, he should be given time to prepare for close contact. Because who knows what he is doing at the moment. If he’s picking his nose, he’d like to stop doing that before a close contact.

In VideoWorkLink (VWL) a close contact happens gradually within several seconds (3 seconds minimum). It gives time to get yourself ready for close contact, as shown below:

Ease of gaining additional awareness (in one click).

Same video-availability and the same video-rules for every user

The communication tool should avoid a pitfall described by the quote from George Orwell: “Some animals are equal, and some are more equal than others.”

Every user regardless of his position inside a team should be equally visible as others. Same video-rules should be applied to him and to others.

In VWL, there are several types of live video connections as shown on the following image:

As you can see, each type is pretty much self-explanatory.

Every user operates the same under the type’s rules.

For example, in Reciprocal type, a user can see others only if he has started his video. He can’t see others if he hasn’t started his video, because others can’t see him.

In Required type, a user can see and hear others only if he has started his video and vice versa.

Conclusion

The main reason for the difficulty of remote work is the absence of a continuous live video connection between remote team members.

Although there are video conferencing tools, they can’t solve this problem because they are not designed to do that.

We need a new solution that is designed especially for that purpose.

As an example of such a solution, I propose the experimental tool that I developed- VideoWorkLink (VWL).

P.S.

Guys, I encourage you to try VideoWorkLink (VWL).

It is a tool that allows remaining connected with remote teammates via live video with privacy. Its design enables remote teammates to remain connected via live video. It saves bandwidth and CPU resources.

Let me know what you think about the product. Let’s improve remote work together!

Share this article

Stop being a remote recluse. Why remote work needs real-time communication by default.

Listen to this article

I often see a hyped up pitch of remote work that asynchronous communication (text chat + video calling from time to time) is enough, you just have to adapt to it.

I don’t agree with that.

Asynchronous communication is great when a teammate has complete and clearly defined tasks. He can get himself secluded to stay focused to complete the tasks. It is better for him not to interact with fellow teammates to avoid unnecessary interruptions, stay in the state of the flow and get things done.

But how often does a team member have complete and clearly defined tasks? Not often. Usually, tasks are not complete. They often need clarifications, more brainstorming, advice from other teammates. Work is usually a boiling pot with discussions, questions, helping others and getting help from others. Staying in the state of flow is often mixed with interaction with others.

That’s when real-time synchronous communication is needed. That’s why in the long term, asynchronous communication makes a remote worker a hermit. It separates people.

Have you ever worked in a company where people sit in the same room with their headsets on, preferring to talk via text chat instead of face to face? I have. You can feel the air of isolation and separation in teams like that. You’d think a couple of times before approaching someone to talk face to face. Why? Well, because you think he is super busy, and he doesn’t want to be interrupted. At least he looks busy. And it is the norm that everyone prefers text chat and async communication in general. Separation only grows over time.

Having real-time face to face as a default mode of communication, allows teammates to interact in a more creative and diverse way. People know each other better. They can socialize and have fun. Over time the team forms some kind of a collective mind. The ability to communicate face to face by default means that the relationships within the team are staying healthy.

That is why many companies prefer open office plans because it forces teammates to have a real-time face to face communication as a default. It also prevents team members from isolating themselves and resorting to async communication as a primary mode.

What about remote workers? 

The bad news is that remote work forces to communicate asynchronously. The usual configuration is text chat + video (or even only audio) calling. Remote teammates are isolated. In such a situation it is difficult to create the same real-time face to face communication environment that you have in an open office.

You can make a Skype call and leave it always-on. Somebody does that, actually. It can work but it feels unnatural.

First, working remotely usually means working from home, often “in pants.” Nobody wants to be seen the same way as you are seen in the office wearing office clothes.

Second, software like Skype allows others to look you straight in the face in full screen. They can see every little tiny wrinkle on your face without you knowing that. Isn’t it big brother-ish? It feels awkward and weird.

Third, anyone can turn the camera off unless a team manager forces everyone to remain live-streaming. Considering the awkwardness, it can be tiresome for the team members.

So, what kind of solution could be for the mentioned problems?

Live video communication with privacy

First, everyone should feel comfortable while remaining connected via live video. One solution to implement that – to be blurred by default:

You can see that the guy is there but it is not clear what he’s doing and how he’s dressed up.

Second, a remote teammate should be aware of how others can see him, to avoid cases when others can see something, that he doesn’t expect them to see.

Third, there should be no unexpected things happening. Like when it takes only a second to unblur a teammate. It’s not cool to be suddenly unblurred when you’re picking your nose.

Every change of privacy should be notified upon and should be gradual. So, the teammate could prepare himself (get a finger out of his nose).

Is there any tool that does the mentioned things? Well, now there is one – VideoWorkLink (VWL).

It’s an experimental tool that has all the features described above. VWL allows remote teammates to remain connected via live video without feeling discomfort. The one that they’d feel in an always-on Skype video call.

Conclusion

In this article, I want to make a point that remote work needs real time face to face communication by default in order to continue winning the minds of team managers. Having only async communication is not enough for successful collaboration over the long term.

P.S.

To solve the problems mentioned in this article I’ve created the product – VideoWorkLink (VWL). I encourage you to try it out (it is in free beta) and let me know what you think! You can download it by clicking the button below.

Share this article

Какую проблему решает VideoWorkLink?

Офис Slack Technologies в Сан-Франциско. Многие стартапы, в том числе Slack, любят открытый офисный план, как показано на фотографии выше. Знаете почему? Из-за возможности спонтанной коммуникации.

Отсутствие спонтанной коммуникации в творческих командах (дизайнеров, программистов, архитекторов и т.д.), разбросанных по разным местам (комнатам в офисе, городам, странам), является проблемой, которую вам необходимо решить, чтобы ваша команда была единым слаженным целым.

Разбросанный коллектив похож на сеть отдельных независимых людей, а не на объединенное целое. Это похоже на офис, в котором коллеги находятся в отдельных комнатах с дверями, закрытыми изнутри.

Если вы хотите войти в тесный контакт с коллегой, вам нужно «постучать» – сделать видеозвонок. Коллега, конечно, должен ответить на него.

Это делает спонтанное общение – невозможным.

Текстовый чат помогает, но печатать – это гораздо медленнее, чем говорить. Более того, он асинхронный – вы не можете получить немедленный ответ после того, как вы отправили сообщение. Еще одна задержка. Чат быстро становится перегруженным сообщениями, и за ними сложно поспевать.

Вы скажете, что можно сделать видеозвонок и оставить его работающим навсегда.

Да, но видеозвонки не предназначены для того, чтобы их оставлять работающими навсегда. Скорее всего, у вас будет высокое потребление Интернета, высокая загрузка процессора. Более того, каждый сможет наблюдать за вами (в высоком разрешении), и вы не будете знать об этом. Это как будто кто-то смотрит на вас вплотную лицом к лицу, а вы не знаете об этом.

Хотели бы вы, чтобы на вас могли так смотреть? Я так не думаю. Вот почему никто не оставляет видеозвонки навсегда.

Без спонтанной коммуникации ваша совместная работа значительно замедляется.

Поскольку возможностей для спонтанной коммуникации не существует, команда должна полагаться на видео-звонки или на запланированные видеоконференции, чтобы выполнять свою работу.

Однако, поскольку организация видеоконференций требует усилий и времени, результатом этого является низкая общая их частота. Эта низкая частота видеоконференций, в свою очередь, приводит к редкой координации коллег по совместной работе, в частности, к редкой координации плана совместной работы.

Таким образом, коллеги не своевременно дают друг другу обратную связь по направлениям, по которым должна идти совместная работа, и поэтому она занимает больше времени.

Эта проблема не становится явной для коллег, потому что каждая видеоконференция кажется продуктивной и полезной, и у них не было других, спонтанных контактов, которые они могли бы использовать для дополнения этих конференций.

На сегодняшний день на рынке имеются программные продукты для постоянной аудиосвязи – такие, как TeamSpeak, Mumble, Ventrilo, Discord. Но одной аудиосвязи недостаточно для спонтанной коммуникации, потому что не возможно заранее узнать, готов ли ваш коллега к контакту, присутствует ли он, и слушает ли он.

Также, есть продукты типа Sneek и Nowbridge. Несмотря на некоторые неудобства, они обеспечивают ощущение присутствия и предоставляют возможность мгновенного тесного контакта. Но это по-прежнему не спонтанное общение, потому что вам все равно нужно установить аудиосоединение, чтобы пообщаться с коллегой.

На сегодняшний день, VideoWorkLink – это единственный полноценный программный продукт на рынке предназначенный для решения проблемы нехватки спонтанной коммуникации в командах разбросанных по разным местам.

Он связывает вас с коллегами с помощью видео на весь рабочий день и делает это комфортным для вас способом.

Blurred view of a teammate

По умолчанию, вы размыты для коллег. Вы знаете, когда кто-то растуманивает вас. Вы видите, когда кто-то вступает в тесный контакт с вами. Это выполняется медленно, чтобы вы подготовились к контакту.

A teammate makes a close contact with you.

Спонтанная коммункация занимает ключевое место в работе творческой комманды. Для обеспечения творческого взаимодействия, творческой команде важно иметь возможность быстро обмениваться идеями и быстро коррдинировать работу.

Среди всех представленных на рынке продуктов, VideoWorkLink является единственным, который содержит все, что необходимо для спонтанной коммуникации в распределенной команде.

Вы можете видеть кто из коллег присутствует, войти с ним в близкий контакт, поговорить со всей командой.

Все это позволяет объединить вашу команду, не смотря на расстояние между вами.

What problem does VideoWorkLink solve?

Slack Technologies’ office in San Francisco. Many startups, including Slack, love open office plan like the one shown on the photo above. Do you know why? Because of the possibility for spontaneous communication.

Lack of spontaneous communication in teams scattered over different locations (rooms, offices, cities, countries) is the problem that you need to solve in order for your team to be a single cohesive unit.

A scattered team is like a network of isolated autonomous individuals rather than a connected whole. It is like being in the office where teammates are in separate rooms with doors locked from the inside.

If you want to make a close contact you have to “knock” – make a video-conference call. The other party, of course, must answer it.

It makes spontaneous communication impossible.

Text chat helps, but typing is much slower than talking. Moreover, it is asynchronous – you might not get an immediate answer after you’ve sent a message. Another delay. Chat gets overloaded with messages quite fast and it is hard to keep track.

You could make a video-conference call and leave it always on forever, you would say.

Yes, but video calls are not meant to be left forever. The odds are that you will have high Internet bandwidth consumption, high CPU load. Moreover, anyone will be able to watch you (in High Definition) without you knowing about that. It is like if someone could stare right at your face at a breadth distance without you knowing that.

Would you like to be watched that way? I don’t think so. That is why nobody does that always on video-conferencing thing.

Without spontaneous communication, your process of working together slows down dramatically.

Because the opportunities for spontaneous communication don’t exist, a scattered team have to rely on ad-hoc online meetings or on more formal, scheduled online meetings to get their work done.

However, because organizing meetings takes effort, a lower overall frequency of meetings results. This lower frequency of meetings, in turn, results in less work being done by the collaborators on their joint problems, particularly the problem of refining and coordinating their work plan.

Thus the collaborators are not as timely in giving each other feedback on the directions their joint work should go, and hence they take longer to construct and select among the alternatives that guided the course of their work.

This problem never becomes clear to the participants in the remote collaboration because each meeting seemed productive and useful, and they did not have other, spontaneous contacts that they can use to supplement these meetings.

There are several products on the market for a continuous audio communication, like TeamSpeak, Mumble, Ventrilo, Discord. But having only audio is not enough because it is impossible to know beforehand if a person is present and available.

Also, there are products like Sneek and Nowbridge. Despite possible privacy problems, such products provide a sense of presence and provide a possibility for an instant contact. But they still do not provide the possibility for spontaneous communication, because you still have to make a contact in order to communicate with a teammate via audio.

To this date, VideoWorkLink is the only fully-fledged software on the market created to solve the problem of a lack of spontaneous communication in distributed teams.

It links you up with remote teammates by the means of video for the whole working day. Yet, it does that with respect to your privacy.

Blurred view of a teammate

By default, you are blurred for your teammates. You know when someone unblurs you. You see when someone enters into a close contact with you, and it is done in a smooth slow way, in order for you to prepare for a contact.

A teammate makes a close contact with you.

Spontaneous communication is a key component required for communication in a creative team. For a successful creative process, a team has to have a possibility to instantly exchange ideas and coordinate work.

Among all products present on the market, VideoWorkLink is the only product that has all means necessary for providing a possibility for spontaneous communication to a distributed team.

You can see who is present and available, enter into a close contact with a teammate, talk to all team.

With VideoWorkLink your team will be together no matter the distance between each and every one of you.