Remote Culture

A rant

It doesn’t make sense to mandate that I sit in the same building as you to work on things somewhat related to the things you work on. By recognizing this fact, both employers and employees now have a great deal of freedom (for some value of the word “freedom”). Employers can hire people from across the globe, and employees can live anywhere on said globe.

When I tell people I work from home I rarely get any sympathy, but the fact is that working remotely is harder than working in an office for millions of little reasons. The in-office workplace is the default – if you’ve ever had a job chances are you went to a building some place to do that job with other folks that did a slightly different job who were (at least nominally) working towards the same goals as you. And oooh the things you took for granted in your cushy IRL job!

That meeting that was loosely scheduled for 4pm? I’ve got some time now, what if we just scrap project Foo? Work for you? Cool. {{done}}. No one updated their calendars. No one likely bothered to update the documentation for the project Foo. I can just walk down the hall and talk to Jan faster than I can update the office wiki which is always hopelessly out-of-date anyway. Nobody checks the mailing list, everyone knows if there are project Foo questions, they can just ask me. Problem. Solved.

Remote companies cannot be this lazy.

It’s not just that remote work is lonely (it is). It’s not just that it’s hard to find a good place to work when you’re remote (it is hard). It’s a million little things – documenting the little decisions so that when someone on the other side of the world wakes up, they don’t have questions (because you won’t be around to answer them), keeping the office wiki up-to-date, making sure to post big changes to the mailing list.

Being “remote friendly” is not a thing, having a remote culture is. Remote culture is something that everyone has to cultivate constantly.

Remote Desks

The Wikimedia Foundation strives for a remote culture. There are constant and seemingly innumerable challenges – both big and small, both technical and cultural.

A couple of months ago there was an email thread on the staff mailing list that attempted to assail one of the remaining bastions of privilege exclusive to the physical, IRL office-worker: seeing people’s desks!

Walking around a physical office you see people’s personalities laid out in physical space. You may discover that you have similar interests or hobbies, you may learn about a new topic, or you may discover the very key to existence simply by craning your neck slightly to take a good, long, hard look at another person’s pile of accumulated doo-dads and brick-a-brack.

Filled with this understanding, we shared our desks, and the things on them.

My Desk

This is what my desk looked like in September of 2016.

My Desk
My Desk

Some of the the things on my desk, and some of the reasons for some of the things on it (in no order):

  1. Data Science at the Command Line
  2. The Anarchist’s Design Book
  3. Phantom II Drone (with a GoPro Hero 3+)
  4. Manfrotto MTPIXI-B PIXI Mini Tripod
  5. Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom Tripod
  6. Some rusty pliers
  7. A 12’ Tape measure
  8. Google Fi powered Nexus 5x - I dislike this phone
  9. 2x Laptop Camera Covers
  10. USB Barcode Reader for my Library Project.
  11. SouthOrd MPXS-14 Lock Pick Set and a few MasterLocks for practice
  12. GoF Book
  13. Brother HL-L2340DW Compact Laser Printer $99 – best printer ever.
  14. 3M LX550 Notebook riser – no need for a monitor, works great.
  15. Vortex Poker II (with Cherry MX-Blues)
  16. A barcode that says “HI” to test out the barcode scanner
  17. Evoluent VerticalMouse
  18. Fair casino dice to generate diceware passphrases
  19. A desktop background from NASA (there’s a thing in my dotfiles to download a new one daily)
  20. SparkFun Cerberus USB Cable
  21. Vintage Kodak ad of a kid with a squirrel to liven-up the joint
  22. Renewal form for the American Homebrewer’s Association which is a problematic organization for many reasons