Remote working isn’t about the tools

I’m currently working in a situation where most of the team is in India. This curiously puts me in the position of being a “remote worker” even though I have a regular office in our business’s office building.

As a result I’ve developed a fascination with online collaboration tools. I have become more and more convinced that getting successful adoption will be key if I’m to continue to succeed working on my current project.

I’ve lamented quite a bit that the tools available to us are somewhat restricted.  But I’ve moved ahead and after getting agreement from the team to start using some the new tools. So now we’re working with a patch work of tools that should provide reasonably useful minimal functionality, but it’s slowly becoming apparent to me that it’s not going to work because every one else but me has very little motivation to use the tools as they are all collocated.

There are other issues as well, we’re pretty conservative as an organization, with good reason in many cases. But I feel like its set up abnormally high barriers to trying anything new. The business climate in our market is rapidly changing and failure-to-adapt looks as likely to kill us as anything else (in my opinion).

In the meantime I’m pursuing what John Seely Brown calls the “Tom Sawyer’ing” approach. “Hey everybody, look how much fun whitewashing this fence is”. Based on where the project is now I’m going to have to slog along for awhile yet, about 3 months, to get read on whether or not this is going to work.

Well even if it doesn’t work I’ll have a nice looking fence.




  1. I was in a similar situation about 6 months ago. A good part of core team was in one office, while me and a few other developers were in a distant office. Even though I was supposed to be a key designer, ideas and then solutions would often take shape during “hallway conversations” which I wasn’t a part of. I’d find out the next day over the phone when someone would think to mention, “oh yeah, we all had a great conversation and decided to…”

    Interestingly, I’m now in a situation where none of the developers on my project share an office. So, technically, we’re all remote. Things are working very well and communication is actually much better than I’ve experienced even when working in the same breathing space as other teams.

    I deeply miss having whiteboard conversations. There’s just nothing like sketching out a problem and mulling it over together, in person. Go to lunch together and you’re almost guaranteed to have an “aha!” moment that cracks the case.

    Have you found any tools that begin to replace the whiteboard for developers with too many miles between them? One thing I’ve found useful is to “pair program” over a shared desktop conference, such as Webex or It’s almost like being there, except you don’t get a bad back while trying to look over the other guy’s shoulder.


  2. What little experience I have is similar to yours – collaborative code editing over the internet seems like the next best thing albeit a very distant “next best”. From that perspective I’d like explore more online IDE’s like cloud 9 or compilr.

    I suspect using some sort of pen input device might help replicate the whiteboard experience a lot. The latest generation of BLE enbaled pens for tablets are something I want to experiment with.


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