Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's the kitchen table for me

Written Expression Skills is the #1 requirement from every member in a  distributed development team

I love working from the kitchen table. After everyone in the house has left to their day, I take my laptop, a paper pad, a pencil, today's newspaper and a cup of Espresso and enjoy the silence and the space. These are my most productive hours. The kitchen's radio is playing classical music and I dive deep into my work.
Working from the Kitchen Table
Some members in our team live just few blocks away from each other, others live in another city and some are hundreds of miles away. It doesn't make much difference. Physical distance plays lesser role today then time zone.

Like our team, there are many others. They have learned to collaborate with team members that rarely meet face to face. People from different nations and different cultures that share a common passion to software and computers, byte crunchers, geeks, designers, artists, that enjoy the great versatility of the digital world.

Some of us maybe in different locations, away from the others, but they are not alone because we have a live and active communication channel, through which we are writing emails, chatting, sending smileys :) and thumbs ups (y), tickets and documents that we use to create great things together.

The internet opened new doors for international collaboration. Good communication has always been a key to success in almost everything and as communication became more and more efficient, successful projects get completed faster and better today then ever before.

But while this works in favor of team members that no longer need to spend hours commuting or others that get better paying oportunities, virtual teams sets new challenges to managers. Marisa Mayer decided that working from home is not good for Yahoo and shut it down. Intel on the other hand encourage employees to work from home ocasionally.

Managers of the traditional office work environment, that have strengths like charisma, excellent Verbal Expression Skills, eye contact, even looks, may
find it harder to lead a distributed team where their first hand contact skills are less appreciated. The grand meeting room at the office where they used to shine serve now mainly as a dining room.

The internet work environment is Writers Heaven. Every member in the distributed team has to read and write coherent stories every day. E-Mails, Word Documents, Online collaboration systems, wiki pages, text messages, chats, everything is done in writing instead of talking. Its faster, cheaper, and most of all, persistent.

Written Expression Skills is the center pillar of the distributed work environment. Phone calls are left for off-the-record talks and if your boss asks to meet you in person, better start thinking what you've done wrong.

And its not just management that changed. Sales has changed too. The sale cost of a deal that is closed purely by exchanging email is a fraction of, for example, the sale cost of deal that initiated from a trade show lead and was closed after couple of visits to the customer headquarters. There’s great value in personal meetings but its not a go-no-go any more.

When we do projects, the customer's QA manager is on our back as a watcher in our online project management system. They see exactly how fast or slow is our progress and can at any point build the project, if they likes to, directly from the source code. They can see just like us how many tasks were completed, how many bugs were found and fixed and even how frequently we add or change code. They have access to the stand ups of every developer. 

As a manager I usually have access to my team’s desktops. I can monitor their screen online as they are working. Its very easy to judge if their work is efficient and they know it. Developers get payed higher per hour because when they’re at work they’re working. A typical working day of a developer in our team is 5-6 hours long for which he or she get payed more then their traditional equivalents that spend 8-10 hours in the office not including transportation, to and from the office.

As new professions and job titles are emerging like "Online Project Coordinator" or "Offshore Consultant", some developers tend to narrow their professional skills and become wizards and masters of their niche while others learn to integrate multi-disiplinar projects and know how to glue the team's work together. Developers no longer feel that they need to justify their lack of knowledge in certain areas when they know their domain knowledge is indispensable.

When conducted properly, using good collaboration tools and methodologies, a distributed work environment assembled of highly skilled professionals and experienced managers can produce high quality products in short time and tight budget. The key to success is that all team members should have, in addition to their professional skills and their role in the team, high Written Expression Skills. If there's one thing that modern education should teach children, to prepare them for their adult professional career, Written Expression should be the one.