Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Remote Pairing Month 3

Overall, this is not a bad process. When we're truly engaged and the bandwidth is good, and we don't have the same partner too long, it's a very workable arrangement. Overall, this is a good way to go about things. At least 80% of the time, it's great. There are a few issues that go into the 20% times when it is less than perfect.

Sometimes we can hold meetings well. Other times, the person on the phone is being left out. It is hard to hear the voices well, and forget about reading the whiteboard. If we're together, and can stay focused, and can keep chatter down to one voice at a time, and can keep background conversations quiet, then meetings work quite well. It's really a lot of effort on the part of the physical participants to stay attentive to the needs of the remote. I miss a lot of it. Face it, long distance may be the next best thing to being there, but it's a distant second. At least where meetings are involved, this is second-best.

It also seems difficult sometimes is when the other end has a lot of discussions going on so that we can no longer make out the voice of our partner, or any particular voice. Some people also have very round, mellow voices that blend into the background a bit too easily. Others have bright, crisp voices that cut through the mix even when they're ten feet away from the microphone.

Standup meetings are sometimes a total loss due to background sounds. I hear people typing better than I hear people talking, and sometimes I hear only the background chatter and various office noises (chairs, scooting, mouse clicks). It is very frustrating. I suppose this is what people have to deal with when they have new hearing aids: the electronics pick up sounds very differently and our brains have more difficulty filtering the sounds. Also the tiny webcams don't help with lipreading, which I find generally helps in noisy environments.

Perhaps the secret is that there should be a microphone somewhere in the center of the group, or the meeting should be in a more quiet place where the individual voices can be distinguished.

I've also noticed that you can't pair remotely all the time. You really need breaks to give your ears and eyes a rest. It is wearing to spend too much time with pixelated video, keyboard/screen lag, and severely clipped audio. Filtering out noise on the screen and in your earphone(s) divides your attention a bit.

Overall, this is a good way to work. I would certainly recommend that it is tried. Companies can bring in developers from a distance, continue pairing, and make some good gains. Developers can work and be useful from a distance. It is a good deal overall, but no work arrangement is 100% great 100% of the time. When you're remote, it's eye fatigue, ear fatigue, bandwidth, and the fact that you aren't there in person. You can work it out, but it's going to have rough moments.