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Software development with distributed teams


My first job as a developer, in 2009, was remotely. And although this experience was positive, I do not know when I became a detractor of remote work. I think it was when I went from being a developer to leading work teams for a North American company where I started working later.

In 2012, the time in which my experience leading my first teams for this company is located, I ran into the first difficulties since part of the team was in the office and another part in the United States, keep in mind that at that time the tools for remote work were not as advanced as those that currently exist. Our main communication tools were email and Google Hangouts (previously called Google Talk). For the coordination of tasks, we used a tool called Basecamp. At the time they seemed like the right tools, but we constantly encountered “communication problems” that perhaps could have been avoided by all being in the same place.

When Swapps started, we established that we should have an office where we could all be in the same place, to coordinate work in a simpler way and thus avoid “communication problems”. This is how we settled into an office where we were all very close, we could even see each other face to face. We quickly saw some of the advantages:

  • Communicate anything fast.
  • Ease to do pair-programming.
  • In-person meetings in any moment.
  • Bigger opportunities to share with the team.

This all sounds very good; however, it also has its disadvantages:

  • Interruptions between team members are constant. It is difficult to ignore a direct question.
  • Face-to-face meetings may tend to be more time consuming due to logistics.
  • The commuting time, between home and work, can be high and mean 2 or 3 hours lost daily in some cases.
  • Since everyone is in the same place, making video calls can be annoying for those who are outside the call and those who are making the call may need privacy.
  • When there is a remote member and the others are working face-to-face, the external member can easily be ignored.

Back to remote work

Due to temporary circumstances, we were without an office for a couple of months and although it seemed crazy that the team went to work remotely for a while, we had to do it. From the first day we realized that the transition was natural, because the tools we use for day-to-day work allowed us to communicate effectively: Slack, Jira, Zoom (tools that did not exist in 2012 when the Internet was not as good).

Little by little, we realized that it was not necessary to be in the same place to work effectively, and although after 2 months we already had an office ready for everyone to go to work, we made going to the office optional. And that’s how the office started to look empty; Despite all the comforts, the vast majority of the team prefers to work at home and go to the office when necessary.

Advantages for the worker

  • Time saving commuting.
  • Lower costs in food and transportation.
  • Adequacy of the workspace to their liking.
  • Ease to carry out parallel activities.
  • Closeness and more time to share with the family.

Advantages for the company

  • Cost reduction in office equipment.
  • More office space.
  • The productivity of your employees may improve.

¿How to compensate the lack of human contact?

Human contact is important, because seeing your partner’s face can tell you more than what is written in a report. That is why we have not stopped seeing each other daily (by camera) in the daily follow-up meetings and we try to meet in the office at least once a month to share some time.

It may interest you:  Manners in distributed work teams

Is an office needed?

After talking so much wonder about remote work, do you need an office? The office is probably not totally necessary; However, this is closely related to the type of business and the relationship that exists with customers. In our case, eventually clients visit us and some team members prefer
opt for the comfort that is in the office. Therefore, we have a good office, not very large, which is mainly occupied by administrative staff but allows us to operate from all levels. The only thing that is clear, is that with or without an office we can serve our clients with the same quality as always.