The Book I Wish I Had Seven Years Ago

July 31, 2009

I worked remotely for seven years before I started writing The One Minute Commute. When I started working remotely, I did some things right, but I did a lot of them wrong. It took time to learn what was important and what wasn’t. I wish I had this book seven years ago.

During my time working remotely I’ve come to believe in teams. When I was in the office the team seemed less important. I took them for granted. They were just there, I didn’t have to think about them much. Looking back on it, I don’t think I treated them very well.

A good team is worth much more than the sum of its parts. Working with other people can make you a better programmer. There is no faster way to become a better programmer than by working with more senior people. Your code will get better and your overall design skills will improve when you talk about them. Your code will be cleaner when you work in a team.

The benefits of working with a team don’t come for free. Collaborating with other people takes effort. You have to go out of your way to communicate and stay in the loop. In contrast, losing touch with your team is easy; just don’t do anything.

Working remotely forced me to learn how to communicate differently. It no longer worked to make people listen by speaking louder and longer than everyone else. I couldn’t just out-shout or out-last people because they just wouldn’t call me anymore. Trying to be louder when I was remote just meant I was excluded. I started being part of the team instead of trying to control it. Being physically separate from my coworkers taught me how to listen to them.

This book is about communication and emotional connections, and they are important whether your coworkers are across the corridor or across and ocean. Most team problems are caused by poor communication. Communicating remotely makes it even easier to be misunderstood. Working remotely will teach you to communicate because the stakes are higher.

Teams waste an enormous amount of energy without realizing it by working against each other. Poor communication causes hurt feelings and prevents positive emotional connections; often without one party realizing they offended the other.

These teams never build trust and respect. Some team members argue, but most often they just stop asking for help. When people stop getting feedback then they stop becoming better engineers. They make the same mistakes over and over because there is nobody there to help them improve.

Good teamwork comes from emotional connections. When you like someone it is easier to work with them. When you trust someone it is easier to ask for help. You build trust and friendship by getting to know people. Without a personal connection that person can never be more than a screen name.

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