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A New Etiquette For Remote Working

11 Nov 2013

Office hierarchy and structure quash my desire to think, share and learn freely. My spontaneity is lost in organisational structure and the fear it generates. Provide me with the following and we can flourish together

The will to work together, towards our shared purpose, will come from that.
I don't see this happening in offices. Cubicles and desk layouts encourage silos. Meeting rooms, calendars and agendas kill spontaneity. Personalities and egos, magnified in the flesh, lead the less confident to disengage and keep their brilliant ideas to themselves.  When I work from home I've got access to whomever I want, it is no harder to talk to the CEO as it is another developer. Egos seem less without a physical presence.


We've discovered that this freedom must be used with care and over time a new etiquette has emerged for remote working. Without it uncertainty can leave words unspoken and replaced by assumptions that lead to conflict.

Invitations Not Prescriptions

An invitation is an offer of an opportunity to collaborate. In remote work invitations come in the form of a broadcasted text message, Skype or IRC or whatever. "Anyone fancy pairing with me?" "Looks like I've found a possible vulnerability, who wants to discuss?" "This customer is really unhappy, who wants to help me fix that?" An invitation is something I might pick up if I'm happy take a break from what I was doing. An invitation allows me to decide whether it's valuable, prescriptions don't.

Requests Not Demands 

A request for help or a request to be part of something. "Chris could you help me understand how to configure X?" "We've got an urgent security problem, can we all discuss it now?" To me a request is more invasive than an invitation. I might drop what I'm doing to help. I trust the needs of the person making the request are greater than mine. I'm careful not to betray that trust.

For us an invitation or request leads to a higher bandwidth form of communication using voice or video. A request still leave me with a choice, demands don't.

Openness Not remoteness

If I don't know what you're doing I'll ignore you. I can't learn from you and I can't offer help when I see the opportunity. Worse still my trust in you will diminish, I'll make assumptions about what you might and might not be doing and that will lead to conflict. On our team, etiquette dictates that everyday we share what we've been doing and our board shows how this changes during the day. Our online status show's if we're already talking to someone. There's no need to force our status on anyone, but if you want to know it's visible.

Progress Not blame

Once I blame you I relinquish my ability to help in the removal of the problem. Whilst corporate culture is often full of blame and punishment our new way of working must rise above it. Failure is part of experimentation and part of creativity. With blame we get stasis and mediocrity. Our new etiquette requires us to acknowledge a problem and deal with it openly and constructively.

Nothing Is Mandated

Without hierarchy nothing is mandatory, If you want me to join you, show me why it matters. No more wasted time in meetings. Mandating something is bad etiquette, whoever it is from.

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