Employee Perks: Working Remotely - Interview with a Programmer

Sean Xie   6 December, 2019
Employee Perks employee benefits Lifestyle

In today's world of work, there are dozens of different models of workplace. Some offices have cubicles, some have hot-desks. And then there are some offices that don't have a physical location at all. What's it like to work in a remote team? We posed this question to Jelle Van Mourik, a Dutch audio programmer who has been working remotely for the past year. Jelle lives in the UK, where alongside his day job, he is a professional salsa teacher and performer. 

What exactly do you do, in a nutshell?

My job title is Senior Audio Programmer. In practice, that means I develop software for a whole range of audio and music purposes. Over the last year, I have, for example, worked on headphone spatialisation technology (what we call 3D Audio), microphone enhancement, and some game audio systems.

How do you and your colleagues manage the work progress? 

My current team is small, only 4 people: 3 programmers and 1 manager, all of whom work remotely. The larger audio department in which we operate is around 50 people in size, located mostly in the US and Asia.

Our team uses the Agile/Scrum workflow, which for a small remote team is perfect. We work in 2-week sprints: at the start of each, we have a number of tasks we commit to, which each of us pick up as we go along. Everything is managed in JIRA, so we can see who is doing what and what still needs doing. A very important thing is that we have a daily scrum every morning, in which everyone goes through the stuff they worked on the day before, and what they plan to do today. Especially in a remote team, this is extremely important in order to keep track what going on around you. It's also an opportunity to talk about technical issues or blockers, and frankly just a good reason to see your colleagues' faces.

Are there any tools you guys use to help remote work?

In terms of tools, besides JIRA for sprint tracking, we've found that Zoom is the absolute best app for video calls. Its added advantage is that it is easy to use for clients outside the company, and that it has all sorts of useful features for screen sharing and presentation modes. Other than that, we're basically all permanently on Slack, which is a useful way to quickly ask each other questions or share items or ideas.

Was there anything you were worried about when you first started working remotely? If so, how have those things played out? 

I was a but scared at first that it might be isolating, but within a few weeks I was convinced about the benefits. The first thing I was surprised by is that I didn't become less productive. When you work at home just 1 day a week, it's easy to get distracted by house chores, laundry, social media, because you are not used to thinking of your house as a work environment. When you permanently work at home, however, this mind set changes pretty quickly and you're more in the work zone during work hours and in the home zone during home hours.

The other thing I noticed is that it is a lot less isolating than I expected. When you have regular Zoom calls and good communication with your colleagues, it's nearly as good as real-life contact. On top of that, as you have no commute whatsoever, you're left with much more time for hobbies or meeting friends after work.

Is there anything that you've found you struggle with more than you expected? 

One danger, I noticed, is that it is harder to switch off when your home is your work. You need to be disciplined about setting your own working hours and stick to those. In our case, it helps that we still have fairly regular (albeit flexible) 9-5 office hours, which helps make sure you switch on and off at the right time.

Has there been any specific approach that you or your team have adopted to deal with challenges?

Sticking quite rigidly to the scrum practices (daily scrum, planning and review meetings) is definitely helping us to work efficiently while working remotely.

The other thing, when remote working is encouraged or even mandated by your company, is that you should make sure your home work environment is as comfortable as possible, and it is reasonable that your company assists in this. When your company is *not* having to spend thousands of pounds a month on office rent, electricity, and security, the least they can do for you is buy you a comfortable desk and chair.

What's your plan in the next few months? Are you planning to move to other locations?

The obvious advantage of working from home is that you can freely decide where your home is. I currently live in Barcelona, to escape the London weather and to spend more time on my main hobby, dancing.

Even though it's not my preference, there is definitely an option to live the tech nomad lifestyle and travel from place to place. Personally, though, I prefer to pick a city and moor there for a longer amount of time.

What's the impact of living abroad on your life and wellbeing?

Even when I worked remote in London, I felt like I had more time and energy to get out after work than when I worked in an office, to go to the gym or go dancing. All in all, it has impacted my life in a positive way.

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Sean Xie

Head of Performance Marketing @Staff Treats, founder of @ZelusLondon, a bit Zen

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