“Working on the beach is not for me – work and leisure are separate, even remotely.” Alexey Kataev about remote work
Alexey Kataev is in charge of product development at Skyeng. Alexey speaks at conferences and writes articles on how to work remotely: what are the advantages, problem solving and useful tools. We invited Alexey to the Headz podcast as an expert to ask him about this format of work in the company. We talked (and deciphered the podcast) about the requirements for employees, what problems a remote team faces, what tools it uses to make work easier and about the disadvantages of this work format.
Svetlana: Alexey, in your opinion, which teams are more effective, remote or offline?
Alexey: I am often asked this question. The problem is that offline I have little experience. It’s hard for me to compare. For the last 4 years I have been working online, before that I was practically not in development. I can only compare based on what the developers tell me. For some, remote work is much more effective, while others say there is no difference. We even conducted a survey, a small percentage of people for the fact that office work is more effective than remote work.
Svetlana: Tell me, are there any requirements for the employees you are hiring?
Alexey: Look, if I was hiring to the office or hiring remotely, I wouldn’t make any difference. We have a formal interview question – was there any experience of remote work. We put a small plus sign if there is an experience and it is successful. In general, motivation is very important to us, it is important that a person does not come to work because of remote work, so that he likes the project, the company. Nothing special. Everything else is just the usual technical questions, motivation questions, management cases. There is no particular specifics.
Svetlana: Do you pay attention to whether the person has had remote work experience? Did he work in a distributed team or not?
Alexey: We may be paying attention to this, but this is definitely not one of the key parameters, based on which we take a person or not. Of course, in order to work remotely, special skills are needed: time management, self-discipline, and internal motivation. This is all very difficult to verify in an interview, even though you have done 10 of them. Therefore, everything is revealed during the trial period or even after it.
Svetlana: Tell me, what problems do you face in remote work, and how do you overcome them?
Alexey: Look, again, if I had previously worked in an office and then started working remotely, I probably would have had a list of some questions. Otherwise, I cannot accurately classify these problems. In general, of these top problems, these are different time zones. Before that, I worked in a team where we didn’t have dudes who were very far away. Now there are from Khabarovsk, Chita. In fact, there are problems with synchronization, that is, you write to a person, and he – damn it, I’m already asleep. We try to structure our work so as to depend as little as possible on these quick answers. We do not have synchronous processes; we are focused on results, not interaction.
Svetlana: What about infrastructure? What kind of CRM do you use, or maybe planners for organizing remote work?
Alexey: We use Jira as a task tracker. I think it doesn’t depend on whether you work remotely or not. There is also mandatory time tracking. We add our logs manually to Jira too. All other tools, I think, are standard for all IT companies: Slack, Trello, etc. We use Trello instead of Jira when we need to quickly organize the process. In addition, we use Google for calls, because it is platform-based, it works for everyone. We have a corporate version, which allows us to record all meetings.
Svetlana: Super, it seems to me that it is very effective. Meetings can be watched by someone who missed it, for example, right?
Alexey: Yes, if it is, say, a demo at the end of the week or a presentation of plans. This is the most popular recording. Not all business representatives can immediately see what the team has done. Then they look through the notes at 2x, the most interesting moments for them, instead of 40 minutes of being present at the meeting itself. By the way, you asked about the infrastructure. We have a separate team that is exactly engaged in creating this perimeter. We have VPN, testings, Jenkins, everything is secure. In general, you need a shared VPN to connect to the internal network, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s a remote team or not, everyone is about the same.
Svetlana: What do you think are the pros and cons of remote work?
Alexey: Look, it can be divided into two parts. I identify myself with two people. One is a person who works from home, and the other is an employer because I hire people and take care of the interests of the company. If you look at me as a person working remotely, I myself now live in Kaliningrad, then there are only advantages.
First, I have the schedule that suits me. I have it quite tough, but I can get up when I want to, work as I like and finish when I feel comfortable. I am not tied to the clock in the office or to transport, I do not need to stand in traffic jams. And, you know, some people find it convenient to work, for example, I won’t say that at night, but late at night. Therefore, everything is very convenient and is not tied to the outside world in any way.
Secondly, it is infrastructure. I have a comfortable table, the required number of monitors, an equipped office. I did everything the way I want, and not how the company did, the same for 500 people.
Thirdly, I can work productively, concentrate on my tasks, I am not distracted. I have Slack enabled everywhere. If I do a task, I do it for 2-3 hours in a row and no one bothers me. I think time management and productivity come first. By the way, combining travel and work, for example, from a beach or a yacht, I probably do this to a lesser extent. I try to keep leisure and work separate.
From the point of view of the company, the main advantage is hiring. We can hire many more people. In terms of the market in Moscow, you are quite limited, these are all the same people whom recruiters lure from each other. We are now getting a lot more market because there are still very few companies providing remote work. That’s all, probably. And such advantages, such as saving money on space, are not very relevant for us.
Svetlana: Tell me, do you see the disadvantages in this type of work?
Alexey: All these cons that come to your mind are actually there. You need to know about them and work with them. Take a meeting, for example, on the technical implementation of version 3.0 of our product. I would rather, of course, get together in a room and discuss everything together than we would get together in a conference. Someone gets interrupted, bad internet, etc. This is very annoying.
When you’ve been doing this for several years, you know the right tools, and the internet gets better. You get used to it and everything is ok. These are the questions that we have learned to work with. Well, yes, the problem with the belts. You also need to be able to work with her. Do not just sit and put up that a person is asleep, but arrange work so that everything is ok with this. And maybe we could hire more people with less self-discipline requirements, but this is covered by the fact that we have access to all regions, so there will be no minus in this, probably.
Svetlana: Super, tell me, how do you select people for the team, what skills do you pay attention to? What are your requirements for soft and hard skills?
Alexey: I won’t say so offhand. I have such a form, which has been built over the years, with formalized requirements, criteria where I give grades. Basically, I interview team leads and, of course, focus on soft skills. There is only one technical section just to understand that the dude has a high level. As for the rest, cases on management, hiring people, dismissal, development, how you work with the team, how you manage the OS, etc. Everything that is required from a team lead from the point of view of a manager. We are not suitable for just seniors who want to become team leaders, we need skills for working with people.
Svetlana: It turns out pumped enough?
Svetlana: Are there any difficulties in controlling a remote team?
Alexey: If we are talking about how to control whether a person works or not, then it is easy to do it in a remote team. If you are sitting in an office and you see that a person is sitting at a computer, typing something, you can, of course, conclude that he is working, giving his best, but this is not a fact. And if it is a remote team, then all you can see is what the person did, what result they brought. We are trying to build a system where we look only at the result.
If we talk about teams, then there are business metrics, plans, weekly demos. You show what you did, how it affected the business. It is already difficult to sit here for 5 days typing something on the keyboard, it is important for us to show the result. And how a person often went to the kitchen or somewhere else, this is not so important. We have worklogs, of course, but we don’t use them for control. We use them for analytics. We calculate how accurately we estimate the tasks, how much time is spent on communication, how much for code review, how much for the task. But not for control.
Svetlana: Super! What do you think is the time spent on the remote team? Are telecommuters wasting time?
Alexey: I think everyone is wasting their time. I think most of the people who work are wasting their time. We need to work on this. It doesn’t matter if it’s a remote command. We often do things that are not very important when it comes to achieving goals. Either these goals do not exist, we just do something. I don’t think there is any specificity here.
Svetlana: I realized. Who would you not recommend to work remotely? Is there such a category of people?
Alexey: I think if you have a super-need for live human communication, and you will suffer that you have to work alone at home, with your family, this will probably be a critical factor for you. But you can come to the office. We have offices in different cities where people get together and work together. And in Moscow too. Just for people who cannot sit at home alone. If you have such a need, you need to come to work to hang out, then yes. It is less suitable for such people to work remotely. Because here is more about work, result, and not about a get-together.
Svetlana: And if you get the feeling that you are both at home and at work? You feel that your life becomes work, because work is at home. How to deal with this?
Alexey: I understand what you are talking about. There are some techniques. There is a guide to remote work. There are many tips on how to overcome this. By the way, they even write that remote people tend to work even more, not less, because they cannot get up and go home at 19.00. How do I work? I have a tight schedule. I start work at 8:00 and finish strictly at 20:00. I close everything, go to read articles, watch videos, spend time with my family. Time management helps a lot here. It takes time to learn it. I don’t work at all on weekends. This is a strict limitation. And I have a separate office at home where I can work without being distracted by anything. I leave the office and there is already a different life.
Svetlana: What can you recommend to people who are just starting to work remotely? How to start controlling yourself so that the work does not take up all the space, so that there is time left for going out to a cafe with friends or something else?
Alexey: I like to recommend Maxim Dorofeev’s book “Jedi Techniques. How to raise your monkey, empty the inbox and save thought-fuel. ” It doesn’t matter if you work remotely or not, she helps, there are a lot of real time management tips out there. I think this is a must-read for those who work remotely. Time management is skill number one. Well, as I said, the guide, it seems to be called Remote Guide… It’s much shorter than the book and well worth reading. The time spent will definitely pay off.
Svetlana: Alexey, thank you very much! Very nice to talk to you! A highly scalable theme, the story of our future. We live in the digital age, we need to be able to work through different tools that we ourselves create. Thank you very much, very valuable information! I remind everyone that this was a podcast from Headz. Aleksey Kataev, Skyeng company was dreaming. Have a nice day, thank you very much!
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