An All-Day Video Conference for Remote Workers: Crazy or Brilliant?
BY Will Yakowicz
With 13 remote programmers spread across the U.S., the start-up knows a thing or two about keeping in touch the new-fashioned way.
When Dan McCormick moved to a farm in Pennsylvania, he knew he wouldn't commute to Shutterstock's office in New York City.
As a workaround, he devised a robot with a Galaxy tablet. He logs in on Google Hangout and controls the robot's movements using his smartphone. It's as if the senior VP of technology never left.
Though there's only one robot, each of Shutterstock's 13 remote employees, who call each other iPeople, clock into work on Google Hangout using their iPads. The tablets are fixed with wide-angle lenses, fitted on stands, and sit atop lazy Susans.
"Having it on all day creates a community," said Travis Beck, an engineer in San Francisco whose Google Hangout won't expire until 2050. "We can joke around, but most importantly we're all on the same page in one shared space and culture."
Of course, the always-on culture of video conferencing requires some etiquette, so we asked Shutterstock's workers for some tips. Here's what they said.
Keep a calendar handy.
Many employees are in different time zones, so you'll need a shared schedule. For example, Belden Lyman, the senior software engineer, has Pacific Time employees work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since Google Hangout shares everyone's calendar who's been invited to the conference, you'll want to check to make sure that they're free. "If you don't have the always-on arrangement with a certain person, message them first," Beck advised.
Remember, people can see you.
"Some people don't treat the iPad like there is a video camera on it and don't care if you can't see them," said Beck. "It drives me crazy. It's not a phone, so don't treat it like one."
Don't fight the technology.
A bad connection, background noise, or an iPad with a drained battery can disrupt a workplace. Shutterstock follows this rule: Don't fight with technology if it's not working for you. "The first solution is move somewhere else," said Beck. "But we are programmers and we're introverts. Occasionally we like to turn it off and get the job done by ourselves. It's never worth our time to fight with the technology."
Don't ask for a tour.
Another rule is never to ask a remote employee for a tour of their home or workspace. "I don't ask my co-workers who are physically in the office to show me their homes, so you have to treat remote-paired developers the same," said Lyman, who works with employees in Oregon, California, Ohio, and Canada. "We are focused on writing code, not what's in the background of the video feed."
Remember, remote employees aren't in the room and an iPad's microphone isn't always the best. "It's hard for them to be involved in the conversation if they cannot hear what's being said," Lyman said, so check in at various points to see if your colleagues have anything to add. "If we don't stop to ask them what they think, then we're wasting money."
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz