When people in Germany think of offshoring, they might have a picture in mind where a company in Germany sends some developers’ work to the East: To Rumania, Bulgaria or even to India. The people in Germany often work in a different way from the teams in the East, and the German companies want the developers in the East to adopt the German culture. With a client of mine (a company called TIM Group), this works in the same way: They are based in London, and they send the developers’ work to the East as well, namely to me, as I am based in Germany. The teams in London also often work in a different way from what I am used to when working in Germany, and I would like to point out some differences and also show some problems that occur when working remotely.
The first important difference is the work hours. At my London client, the whole company usually works at the same time, and I find this very helpful because everybody is easily available when I need them. But for me, this also means adapting to their fixed work hours because there is so much value for me in working together with them. As I am in Germany where I have a one-hour time difference, this means that I usually tend to work between 10:30 h and 19:00 h, with a lunch break in between.
Pair programming is another important topic at TIM Group: All workplaces are designed to easily allow for pair programming: They are equipped with two keyboards and two mice, and they usually have at least two monitors. There is also a camera and a headset for remote pairing with people working from home for a day or, like me, entirely remotely.
I think the people in London have an amazing sense of humour, they often make up funny test inputs or commit messages. Also, they are not as complicated as the Germans. For example, they just write the wireless password for the guest network onto a whiteboard. Many German companies would probably print a sign and laminate it so that it looks neat and tidy. They also improvise a lot, and I like this very much because it feels very refreshing to me.
Joint coffee breaks are also very important for them, and they go to a nearby coffee shop once or twice a day. Not always with the same people, but usually with everybody who is interested. Also, they buy their lunches together and eat them together. First they figure out where to get the lunch from, and sometimes people join in simply to take a walk over lunchtime. There are many great food markets in London, my favourite being the one at Whitecross Street. They also do lots of other things together, for example they play board games during some of the lunch breaks, and sometimes also in the evening. Some colleagues are into sports, and they share their running exercises or bike tours in a dedicated Slack channel.
There is also plenty of room for learning together, and people organise a number of activities around it. Some study groups or book clubs take place monthly, some even meet on a weekly basis. Lightning Talks are also a very important part of exchanging knowledge. They take place each week, get recorded and uploaded to Vimeo, with topics covering the whole range of knowledge from tech to process to business to conference reports to anything else. Usually, lots of people attend the Lightning Talks, sometimes even people who do not work in the company (or not any more). They also tend to go out a lot in the evenings; usually they have beer together, and the bosses often join them. They have a cocktail evening each month, and sometimes they even organize beer tastings, wine and cheese tastings or something similar.
The company Slack has a lot of channels and is being used around the clock. The channels also cover topics that are only vaguely related to work, e.g. “exercise” or “parenting”. One channel even hosts the company’s alumni. In the office, the receptionist is the good soul of everything. She takes care of the office and the kitchen, of stocking the kitchen supplies like fruit, snacks and drinks, and she even distributes important and useful information like traffic reports from the London authorities, or whether there is a yoga class or a bake sale taking place in one of the other offices in the building. The office space itself is an open-plan office; everybody sits there, even the bosses. I like this very much because I can immediately see if somebody is at their desk, and whether they are being busy or whether I can approach them.
When working remotely, we also pair, of course. We use quite a number of pairing tools, be it Slack, Mumble and Google Hangout; FortiClient and ZeroTier; or Saros, RealVNC and Chrome Remote Desktop. Meetings take place as well with remote attendees, but sadly that does not always work too well. Sometimes the acoustics is not good enough, sometimes the quality of the microphones seems to be insufficient, and sometimes the network is a bit sluggish, and the video quality is poor.
At times, when working remotely, loneliness kicks in. When everybody is busy, they sometimes don’t keep an eye on Slack, so they don’t notice when I ask a question or want to talk to somebody. Sometimes, I also miss the socializing when working remotely. That’s why it is very important to physically be in the office at regular intervals. I usually travel to London every month. I know that this is not each remote worker’s cup of tea, but I think it is very important to do this in order to better get to know my colleagues, to stay in touch with them and to also reduce the friction in the day-to-day work because with some amount of background knowledge about a person, it is often easier for me to understand them when communicating in written form - and I hope this holds true for them as well.
The reward is good teamwork, not only in the evening when having a beer.
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