Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2010 (Landsdown, VA) with: Darrell Rapier
Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2010 (Landsdown, VA) with: Darrell Rapier

Remote Work Increases Intimacy And Amplifies A Shared Sense Of Humanity

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Work

Last week, I was invited by Scott Gellman (COO and CFO) to give a talk at Kurtosys about the journey of InVision. Of the many topics discussed, one that I thought would be worth re-sharing is my perspective on remote work. InVision has been an all-remote company since day one. We are now one of the largest all-remote workforces in the world. And, at this point, I can't imagine going back to an office. But, the magic of remote work isn't just the time you get back; or, the cost savings of not having office-space; it's that remote work implicitly increases intimacy and amplifies our shared sense of humanity.

Ben Nadel and his dog Lucy enjoy the benefits of working remotely at InVision, one of the world's largest all-remote companies.

Video Communication Creates Human Connections

It seems counterintuitive that remote work would increase intimacy and a sense of connection; but, what you have to understand is that, in a remote work environment, every meeting is an invitation into someone's life - into their personal space. When that Zoom / Hangout / Skype / GotoMeeting window opens, you step into someone's private world. You see their desk; you see their walls; you see their bookcases; you see their children running by in the background; you hear the dog barking when the mail arrives; you see a loved-one bring by a drink or a snack.

In a remote work environment, you don't see people working, you see people living. And it's messy; and it's unfiltered; and it creates a connection that you simply don't get in an office. And, instead of trying to create barriers between our "work lives" and our "private lives", what we get is an integration of the two. Instead of innocuous conversations about the weather or last night's Sports Ball, we talk about our families and our pets and our joys and our tragedies. We talk about births and deaths and divorce and dating and what it means to be getting older.

Video communication in a remote work environment reminds us of our humanity; and that we are all both the victims and the beneficiaries of this silly, wonderful, ridiculous Human Condition. This fosters a more holistic understanding of each other; and, promotes better relationships and deeply sympathetic interactions.

Text Communication Promotes Honesty And Diversity Of Thought

When we communicate through text, we are freed from many of our social inhibitions. This means that things we may not feel comfortable saying face-to-face suddenly feel possible in text. If completely unchecked, this freedom can lead to regrettable moments (See: any public message board); but, what I find is that - in a work setting - this freedom leads to more open and honest communication. Whether in a chat, in a Pull Request, or in a Google Doc comment, text-based communication allows us to be more contemplative and constructively critical of the ideas being discussed.

It also allows more people to contribute. In face-to-face communication, conversations are often dominated by a few individuals. But, when anyone can quietly type a comment or leave a question in the chat, there is a natural infusion of fresh ideas and perspectives. This leads to better discussions; which, ultimately, leads to more informed decision making and an increased chance of a successful outcome.

ASIDE: Bring more people into the conversation is the foundational idea of the InVision platform. The InVision platform is not a Prototyping tool - it's a collaboration tool, that happens to use prototypes as a conversational center-piece. The conversations that take place around a prototype are the true value-add of the process; the prototype is just a happy byproduct.

Chat Applications Create An Asynchronous Echo Chamber Of Inspiration

InVision runs on Slack. At times, this can be overwhelming; and, certainly requires a new set of information-processing skills. But, the asynchronous nature of chat means that you get to be privy to more of the daily happenings. And, many of these happenings are the small victories. Whether it's a manager sharing a triumphant goal or an individual contributor showcasing the outcome of some performance optimization - the chat history becomes this repository of inspiration. And, when I see these little victories floating by, I get inspired to do better and to be better.

One of my favorite quotes is from Marianne Williamson:

.... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

This is the beauty of a chat history: it is a force-multiplier of positivity. It creates a no-cost conduit through which anyone can champion themselves, their teammates, and their company. Not only does this make the individual feel better, it provides the rest of us with a template to which we can aspire.

It's Not Perfect, But It's Amazing

Working remotely is not perfect. There are things that I do miss about being in an office: those Friday lunches in the conference room; those farewell cakes when a teammate takes an opportunity at a new company; the podcasts that I listened to during my commute. But, a remote work environment more than makes for all of that; and then some. The video, text, and chat based platform driving a remote organization accidentally creates an environment that stokes intimacy, sympathy, and inclusion of thought. It allows us to feel closer to those with which we work. And, it inspires us to do better.

I can't imagine having it any other way.



Reader Comments

This is a great article, Ben. I agree whole-heartedly. The bit about seeing into other people's homes is very true to my experience.

On my team, we tend to split between audio-only and video chat, and the form of discussion and output on audio-only has such a different feeling. It's more impatient, and less collaborative.

You've made me think hard about our product, too. As a growing startup, we tend to focus on solving "the problem" from a purely technical perspective, and I think incorporating more inter-personal aspects makes a lot of sense.

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Wow. I never thought about it like that, but you are exactly right!

Unfortunately, very few companies in the UK, offer remote work. Ironically, I am working for a company, remotely, at the moment. I go into the office, once a week, to catch up and get a more detailed brief on the coming work agenda.

It is a wonderful way to work, and equally as good for the environment.

There is nothing better than working in tracksuit bottoms. Feeling totally at ease. And the result, is greater productivity and enthusiasm. It's a win win for both employee & employer.

So, a big shout out to my current boss, Martin @ GlobeByte, for having the intelligence and trust to let his employees work from home.

I always repay his trust in kind, by putting in an extra hour or two, each day!

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@Jim,

Dogs make the best co-workers. Except when they sit next you, make heavy eye-contact, and emit a low and steady "look at me" whine :D

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@Phil,

I'm happy to hear this connected. As programmers, we spend so much time on our own as-it-is. And, when throw remote into the mix, it can become an amplified issue. But, throw some video calls in there and it can be enough magic to keep things on track.

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@Charles,

Thankfully, remote work is becoming more and more common. And ++ to the track-suit. I work in shorts alllll year long! :D And, at least for me, I'm way more productive at home that I was in an office. Many fewer interruptions (though, you have to be somewhat disciplined about it or you can drive yourself a little nutty trying to stay on top of Slack messages, for instance).

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