In my current position the rest of my team is located in a different office. I’ve been the only remote member on the team for about a year now and I just got the opportunity to travel to the main office where the rest of my team is. The office with the rest of my team is our headquarters and is much much bigger than the office I work out of; where I work it’s almost exclusively people working on a different but related product. So while I was at HQ,I also got to meet a bunch of people outside my team I had interacted with remotely for years, but had never met and knew only as a voice on the phone and a tiny profile picture.
My team has done some video conferencing before, but we didn’t use it for the ad hoc communication that goes on through the day, just the larger scheduled meetings. But then there was very little of the camaraderie that builds a strong team. Part of it was that there was a lack of meeting space in their office, so when you’d get to your meeting the last meeting would still be going on, and you couldn’t get the room for 5 minutes then another 5 for them to get out and you to get set up the videoconference. Which then meant your meeting would be running long, and causing trouble for the next group, and you’d have no opportunity for lingering teambuilding conversation.
While I was at HQ, we did a bunch of live whiteboarding sessions to plan out the next steps on various problems we’ve been working on. This worked great and we accomplished a ton on those problems. This was something I felt that we had been missing while I was remote. We had tried a couple of virtual white board tools but they all had various problems (https://awwapp.com/ was the nicest of those we tried but it lacked pointing, which became a problem). Figuring out an effective solution to the design aspect was the largest technical hurdle we faced from me being remote.
The biggest overall hurdle we have faced was the social aspect of team building. Being the only remote person on the team, I became a bottleneck since the rest of the team was colocated. This was magnified since most of the other teams in our department were colocated with my colleagues at HQ, as well as most of the other departments we worked with. Having so few remote team members meant that we didn’t have tools and processes to really deal with working with remote teams and people. I know I had never worked with a remote team like this before, and it has been a challenging experience.
The overall travel experience to HQ was a positive one, both on the social and technical aspects of the trip. Although it makes me miss more the social aspects going on day to day, maybe we’ll do better to maintain the social aspect now that we had the opportunity for face time than we did trying to create them remotely.