Working remotely at bv02 for two years - how is it going?

May142015

Hello from the West Coast!

I’m Paul Wright, the long-time Information Architect, User Experience Designer, multi-tasker here at bv02. I’ve been at bv02 for almost 4 years and I’ve been working remotely from Vancouver for the past two. Things are about to get even more interesting on the remote working front, but I’ll save that tasty bit of news for my next post.

For those who haven’t worked with me yet, get in touch! I’ve worked with the Ottawa Public Library, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Canadian Nurses Association, OC Transpo and many others with the bv02 team. I take the big, juicy problems and find the clearest way through with the focus on how real users use the web. And lately, I’ve been doing that remotely.

Quick remote work primer

Remote work can take many forms – a spectrum from working while on the road for work, to working from your home a day here or there, all the way to living and working on completely different time zones and schedules.

Remote employees can be freelance, full-time or part-time and almost any task that can be done from an office can be done remotely. Remote work is therefore quite common. In 2012, 1 in 4 US workers spent some time working remotely and the number is growing fast.

In my own personal experience, I have worked remotely with bv02 and previously as a freelancer. As a freelancer, I often had to cover all aspects of a project and work erratic hours. Conversely at bv02, we have a great project management staff and a full army of bv02ers in the Ottawa office to meet with our clients face-to-face. The PMs do a great job at the ‘air-traffic-control’ aspect of every project and are the first point-of-contact. They also use task scheduling software to make sure everyone knows what they are to be working on and when it is due.

So how is bv02 doing remote work and how is it going?

Like any organization looking to start with remote work, we had to put some effort in to make it successful. We created processes and documentation and used trial-and-error to get things right. We’re using a number of collaboration tools and project processes. Here is a quick summary of how we do it:

First, we use a VPN (“Virtual Private Network”) that allows me to connect back to the office securely. I can access all of the computers and servers just like I was in the office. That allows me to open and update all of our project documents and folders.

Second, we use other collaborative tools like Evernote, Google Docs and Apple iCloud Documents that allow us to edit documents together, live, from any web browser.

Third, many of our communication tools already have great web-based versions. Email, Basecamp and instant messaging can all be done regardless of the system you’re using.

Fourth, for meetings we use Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, the two permanent bv02 conference lines and sometimes even FaceTime to hold both quick and full, formal meetings. We can even record these sessions in case someone can’t attend.

From there, it’s all about finding the balance of meetings, strong communication and good old-fashioned, hard work. For many tasks, a few solid hours of dedicated time with no distractions is exactly what is needed. Other times, we’ll put our heads together either in a video call, or start a document to collaborate in.

It has worked well for us at bv02 for the past two years and, except for missing some office fun, it’s been great for me to get to work from my home.

Pros and Cons

While this changes depending on the person, the company and the type of work, for me personally the pros and cons of remote working are:

Pros

  • having no commute
  • being able to change scenery if I’m struggling to find focus
  • being able to have complete quiet or loud music playing (depending on my mood, of course)
  • setting my own schedule. I know when I’m not being productive, so being able to go for a walk or run an errand during these times frees me up to get things done later when I’m focused

Cons

  • I have to work harder to maintain close relations with my coworkers and clients
  • it is slightly harder to have quick face-to-face meetings that are the ‘glue’ in office work
  • more work goes into in-depth work sessions with clients. I have to work harder and use technology to make these sessions go well
  • I miss out on all the office cake and other social events

Bonus: Productivity

Many people are actually finding that remote workers in some cases can be even more productive with their time. Check out this TED Talk detailing a study that found how a noisy office can even impede work by up to 66%!

For a more detailed introduction to remote work, check out Remote: Office Not Required: a book co-written by Basecamp creator Jason Fried.

You can also check out his funny TED Talk on the topic:

What’s next

Remote working at bv02 has gone well for the past 2 years and I have some exiting news that’ll see us push the boundaries of remote working. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post!

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