I went to Nepal for 10 days last year because they are using the Squeak programming language for their One Laptop Per Child work. They flew me in to get them jump-started on some of the non-obvious aspects; the stranger parts of Squeak and Etoys. They were so happy that I showed them a few tricks that are not written down in any book. If you are an experienced user of the system [those tricks] make your life so much easier.
If you can watch over someone’s shoulder for as little as a week you will pick up so much more than if you’re exploring the system by yourself. There are so many little things you can learn by being with someone in the same room.
Face-to-face meetings are important. However, being a remote engineer means most of your time will be spent away from your team. Most distributed teams only meet in person once or twice a year. During the time between in-person meetings you must cultivate personal connections with your team.