Remote Working Technology

A long time ago (nearly 20 years ago), I was very interested in the concept of remote working, especially from the confines of coffee shops. I amassed as much knowledge as I could, tested as many products as I could, all with the strong conviction that it was the future.

This began really in around 1997 with the release of the Newton Messagepad 2000. I was working in network operations supporting a large developer community and the [BIG NAME] laptops weren’t really cutting it. Battery life of around 45 minutes and very poor sleep functions meant that running across the campus to plug into a router also meant lugging a power brick and taking a lot more time. I wanted something smaller and lighter with a fantastic battery life. The MP2000 hit that – especially with the modem, the external keyboard and TTY apps running over serial. I replaced it with a Palm Vx with a serial cable and kitted out my network team with these pocket devices that enabled them to have access to not only email and the web, but also a serial cable for the router and switch connections we needed to make (we later added a full out-of-band network and terminal server solution which greatly reduced the need to run across campus).

From then I’ve been a fan of personal and capable mobile technology – laptops a given but also palmtops, ultralights, tablets and phones. I would be an early adopter of all this technology and I remember sitting in a room in around 2008 and making the case that in ten years everyone would have a smart phone and we therefore only had ten years to make everything accessible to them.

Around the mid 2000s, the term used was “Bedouin”. The amassing of a knowledge-base of practice and technology that was searchable and available. Needless to say our thought experiments were a decade ahead of the technology. We just didn’t have the battery life, we didn’t have the software and we didn’t have the services that would enable us to work effectively in a team. My first remote team (in the late 90s) used the nascent Yahoo Messenger app to communicate ahead of any official services like Yammer or Teams. We just used what we could – and a previous creative writing group used a text-based MUD, accessed via telnet, to maintain group communications internationally (pre 1994).

Nowadays, with everyone having a smartphone and laptops still outpacing desktops and the growth of the tablet market, the learning of previous years can be applied. For now, we’re being forced to stay home.

We are not “working from home”.
We are isolated at home during a crisis and trying to work.

There will be oodles of information available on the soft skills of managing teams remotely. I guarantee every manager is being rushed through something right now, but the same principles apply. Good managers will thrive, bad managers will struggle.

For the technology, make sure your services are in the cloud, make sure your backups are still running (a frightening number of laptop users only have their laptops backed up while they’re in the office), make sure that you can still work if your laptop takes a coffee bath. And make sure you stay connected to your team, your family and your friends. It’s going to be much harder to see who’s struggling right now – but accept that everyone is struggling.