Every journey starts with a single step

After leaving Microsoft and then doing fun work at Amazon it was time for me to try something, well, smaller. So I tried my own startup – Bonavika was an attempt to reduce distracted driving. It was a good idea but we were such rookies. Eventually I needed to make some money so I went to a funded, ~120 person company, Cyanogen. That was a good experience with some ups and downs. The key thing though is I knew I wanted to keep working on the smaller, entrepreneurial side – well – as long as I don’t run out of money:-)

May 23rd we published the first step of my newest leap of faith – Ramp Catalyst. Please check out our website. Clearly the paint is still dripping and we have some procedural work to get to.

More to come later.

Not just for remote-work… everyone should ask these questions

Many of you may have noticed that there’s a new “perk” or “category” that’s been popping up in job listings a lot more l…

Source: 6 things to ask when interview for a remote job — Medium

The gist of this article is that remote-work requires a certain amount of dedication and thoughtfulness. The truly interesting part is that your co-located work (i.e. what most people think of as work) should be asking these same questions. To paraphrase and revise this list then (skipping #1 which is purely about remote-work):

  1. How do you typically communicate with your team? If you don’t have a strategy for communication it will devolve into a morass of emails that don’t quite reach everyone or hallways conversations which are guaranteed to miss someone. Have a strategy, evolve the strategy as your organization changes, and understand which tools work and which don’t. Hint: email is not it.

  2. How much does the team use Slack/HipChat on a daily basis? Good teams communicate. The tool itself doesn’t matter as much as the fact that everyone understand how to do asynchronous communication (i.e. when you don’t need an answer right away) vs. synchronous. In the old days when we needed an answer we’d call someone. Now you can use Slack, HipChat, any of the various IM tools out there, or even text messaging if needed. But the team needs something. Hint: email is not it.

  3. How do you work through ‘collaborative problems’? This list notes that doing this on a whiteboard means someone is left out. That’s true in a co-located office as well because 90% of the time someone is sick, on vacation, in another seemingly-endless meeting, etc. In other words 100% of the people who need to be involved won’t be. So you need to capture the heart of the discussion and outcome and communicateCapturing this could be a quick photo of the whiteboard + notes. Or it could be using a nice wireframing tool like Balsamiq. There are many techniques but the key is capturing the information and then communicating it. Hint: this might be a decent use for email but probably better for a shared server/Dropbox or similar.

  4. What time do people usually sign off for the day? Every culture is different. Developers tend to come in late and stay late. Others come in early and leave early. That’s okay. Have a known rhythm and stick to it. Fire-drills should be rare and not repeated (i.e. fix the problem so it never repeats). Death marches (this is when you command a team to work nights, weekends) are a function of poor planning and bad executive management most of the time.

  5. How many tools do you use with your remote workers? What are the tools you need? Have they evolved with the times and your business? Does everyone have access and does everyone know how to use them? Are the tools a sensible part of the workflow; if they aren’t you will never get adoption. Hint: you need some combination of shared storage (Dropbox, Box, Git for engineering teams, etc.), asynch communication (email, forums, Slack, Yammer), and synch communication (IM, Slack, HipChat, etc.). Beyond that the tools will vary between designer tools like Adobe/Sketch or source code tools or project management tools (Smartsheet, TeamGantt, JIRA). Know what these tools are and make sure you are evaluating new tools.

Invest in good video-conferencing tech: Remote Working – 3 Year Retrospective

Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, if you only do *one* thing in this section, invest in decent video conferencing. When you have remote employees, *every* meeting they are in will necessitate a video conference.

Source: Remote Working – 3 Year Retrospective | blog.jonliv.es

Of all the common points involved with remote work, this one always stands out. Whether your team is 100% remote, partially remote (i.e. some people are remote while others work in offices), or distributed (everyone works in an office but the offices are geographically different) the most common complaint is video conferencing.

There are two avenues that I have seen that fail:

  1. The company goes the cheap route and invests in nothing. The employees muddle through with Skype, Google Hangouts, or whatever random solution they can get through the expense reporting system.
  2. The company invests in tech but a) it’s usually poorly designed, b) it’s poorly maintained, or c) the rooms in which video conferencing (VC) tech exists are too few and usually booked.

It’s hard to believe in 2016 that most small, remote companies haven’t latched on to a solution*. It’s even crazier that big, distributed companies still struggle with VC tech. As the author of this piece notes “If it takes 20 mins out of every meeting to get people dialed in, it frankly sucks.” And worse, sometime during that 20 minutes inevitably someone will announce “let’s go to voice only”, the team switches to an antiquated conference calling number, and voila… you have an inefficient, frustrating meeting that reinforces the belief that remote/distributed work cannot work as well as co-located.

What’s the solution? Easy, set a goal for VC meeting efficiency and monitor as you would anything else. Imagine you had a build system or source code repository that broken between 12.5-25% of the time (i.e. 1-2 hours daily) and cost your engineering team that much productivity; would you allow that? If the tool isn’t meeting your company’s goals… replace it with something that is.

One key thing about remote work: move!

Telecommuting can blur the boundaries between work and home, to the detriment of both, but it doesn’t have to.

Source: 7 Ways to Make Working Remote Work Better

Most articles point out some of the key items about remote work and these are important: routine, space, good headphones, standing desk, etc.

But what these articles miss is one of the joys of remote work: You can get up and move to somewhere else! In the early weeks of getting a remote startup going I felt pent up, trapped in the house. Then I wondered why I was feeling that. When I had a corporate job I would leave the house, commute, walk outside to get lunch, and move around the office all day. Why then did I feel compelled to be in one place in my house now?

The tip then is to make yourself portable:

  1. Love your laptop. Get a good one you feel comfortable using anywhere.
  2. Keep documents, data, anything you need for your job in the cloud. Dropbox is good, Box too, iCloud if you are 100% Mac, etc.
  3. Have a good laptop bag. Mine has a power cable for my laptop, a cable for my iPhone, headphones, pens, some paper, and an umbrella. Pretty simple but it means I can grab it and go.
  4. Find a few different spots you like. For me this is a coffee shop or two nearby and also a pub or two for late afternoon working (doubles as a social meeting spot later).

Bottom line: you have a remote job, revel in it.