Art and the Remote Engineer

Tasktop’s ability to make it work with the right people rather than the right place stands out against the backdrop of some companies discouraging or banning remote work (e.g. Marissa Mayer Bans Working from Home, Tim Bray on Leaving Google). At Tasktop remote team members is the norm. Almost every meeting involves some form of video conferencing, be it appear.in, Skype, GoToMeeting, or something else. With the challenges involved in distributed teams causing some companies to react so severely, how do we make it work? There are many factors, but the one that stands out the most for me is establishing trust.

Trust is one of the essential ingredients that enable great teams. With trust, we know that people are going to do what they say they’ll do when they say they’re going to do it. We know that code review will get done, that follow-up story will get created, that demo will be prepared, and that they have integrity in everything they do. Trust makes code reviews go faster, and enables communication without judgement. Teams perform at the highest levels only with trust as a foundation. This has been proven to me as I’ve watched high performance teams improve over time in part due to their growing foundation of trust.

So how do we do it? How do we create an environment that fosters trust, knowing that many of our workers are remote?
With art. Really.

Take a look at the screenshot carefully. Jordi and I are having a great conversation – and art is a key part of that. Jordi has a slew of interesting things – art made from images of various spaceships, vinyl records, and what is the text in that middle framed piece? All of these create a conversation piece, which enable new and different types of conversations. Conversations that enable us to know each other in new ways.

Art gives us a place from which we can understand each other, that we’re human. It’s with the empathy that stems from those conversations that we can establish trust. It can be a small thing – even a plant suffering for lack of water after a vacation. It’s these things that contribute to the high performance teams of Tasktop, remote workers and all.