A man in shorts working on a laptop.

Remote office afterthoughts

Coding overseas is no news in 2016. As long as one is provided with a smooth internet connection at all times, it's business as usual. But I, as a project manager, did think twice before I had the guts to suggest to my supervisor about joining our remote crew due to my responsibilities in the customer interface.

Luckily, we both turned out to be rather excited than anxious about it, and so did our clients.

In web projects the role of a project manager is to provide the client with an up-to-date status of the project at all times and to make the team’s job as easy and stress-free as possible. This is mainly achieved by careful planning, resourcing, and communication, and these activities are not really tied to a certain space, excluding face-to-face meetings. Their relation to time is slightly trickier, though.

To ensure smooth flow of communication between the clients, remote office and the Helsinki office, transparency regarding the working hours and common rules was essential. The +5 hour time difference turned out to be very pleasant, especially from our remote developers’ point of view, as they got to work without distractions (read: without other project managers bugging them) and enjoy a longer siesta at noon. In the afternoon, we still had 4 to 6 hours of overlap time with the Helsinki office.

Early in advance, all project follow-up meetings had been scheduled to match our remote office plan, but to avoid any inconveniences caused by our remoteness, we were really flexible with our working hours. As a minor downside to this, most of us ended up working a lot more than in Finland, which reeled the work-life balance.

The feedback

The feedback we’ve received from our colleagues from the Helsinki office or client side has been mainly positive. The few exceptions concerned the occasional breaks in our internet connection that made online calls mostly impossible on two days, the feeling that things did not always proceed as quickly as if we had been in the same country, and that reaching us (or us reaching Hki team members or clients) was slightly more difficult than usually. And I must admit, an email or a digital ping in an instant messaging system is not as “instant” compared to walking to your colleagues desk to ask something.

Naturally, the physical absence also decreased the amount of casual conversations with our Helsinki teammates which is likely to lead to the lack of information, some extra work and misunderstandings. In addition, workshopping with clients via Hangouts could be tricky.

Overall, I’m tempted to encourage other project managers to follow the example of developers and other digital nomads and try out remote work, at least for a couple of weeks. Based on our experience, the remote office experiment was a success and every one of us would be ready to take another round without a doubt. It's not quite as sunny and warm here in Helsinki, but hey – the summer is just around the corner.