Writing by Peter Hilton

Working remote on hard mode

The value of regularly meeting in-person - 10 August 2021 #remote

Silence on a snowy road

unsplash-logoJeremy Bishop

When I joined a distributed team in 2015, they all came to Rotterdam for a few days so we could get to know each other. Setting up a whiteboard on my kitchen table proved useful, but we got the most value from the time we spent together discovering the city, sharing meals, and sampling local beers.

Meeting in person created space for conversations we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and the opportunity to learn more about each other and thereby deepen the trust we needed to collaborate effectively.

Twelve days per year

Over the next few years, I learned that we needed to spend one day per month together. In practice, we concentrated those days in less frequent meet-ups, meeting every quarter for three or more days, to reduce time spent on travel. This provided nearly the same value, but made it more important not to delay any discussions until the next meet-up for the sake of convenience.

In September 2020, when I joined a remote-first company, the Corona pandemic prevented team members from meeting each other. Instead, during the next ten months, we worked hard to compensate, using various techniques to build trustful relationships (see How to Remote with BRYTER from 12:10).

The effort paid off. Team members now describe our team as wholesome and our meetings as efficient, as we avoid the toxic relationships and disfunctional meetings that I’ve experienced in the past. From a developer, ‘good meeting’ indicates high praise.

Meeting up

Last week, five of us (half the team) had our first two-day team meet-up, in Frankfurt. Sadly, the other half of the team couldn’t make it. I met the other four for the first time, which made me very happy.

Despite the oddness of working with people and getting to know them before meeting for the first time, our first meet-up felt natural and comfortable. It didn’t feel like our first, in fact, because we already knew each other professionally. Still, two days to chat, drink coffee and eat together created space to learn more about each other. Meeting in person adds a dimension to how well you know someone, beyond the trivial discovery that you guessed wrong about people’s heights.

Hard mode

I now realise that we’ve just had ten months of doing remote on hard mode. Working without three days per quarter to get to know each other in person, we’ve had to work harder on our relationships and the team dynamic.

The whole team will meet next month, which makes me wonder how much easier working together will become afterwards. Not only do I look forward to meeting the other six team members, I can’t wait to discover how much further we can grow when we discover the joy of working remote on easy mode.