Many years ago, The Web – which has its own category on my website here – was an experimental playground for me. You might have guessed so, just checking out the URL of this post.
Technologies and protocols once used for displaying static websites have been repurposed, and HTTP(s) became the so-called Universal Firewall Bypass protocol. We synchronize files with Dropbox or offline-cache or mailboxes. Applications like Teamviewer or the signals from our Things (as in Internet Of Things) poke controlled holes into our firewalls so that they are somewhat accessible from the outside.
I have written about all of that at length elsewhere – about the insecurity of the Internet of Things and about Data Krakens dominating small businesses. I have had mixed feelings about the evolution of The Web. But there is one absolutely positive outcome: That HTTP(s) (mis-)use connection magic enables me to work in a way I would have never envisaged 25 years ago – at the time when my most important ‘files’ were still contained in physical folders.
I am able to work nearly remote-only, not only in IT projects. About 10 years ago I was a consultant in information security. We worked from ‘home office’, too, although company culture often dictated that there had to be meetings in real life. Today, I still support some long-term IT security clients, but mainly via remote and/or asynchronous channels. When we started our experimental heat pump side-business several years ago, my standard joke was: Someday we will work in heat pump projects the way we work in IT projects. And the joke became true – it actually became the default way of working, even for clients that are within geographical reach, like a 50-70km drive away.
This list on our website explains the steps / stages of such a project – but it’s hard to convey the spirit of a remote project properly. It sounds way too serious. On our German blog we feature verbatim hilarious quotes of a client / ice storage heat pump system self-builder – translation could never do it justice.
Working remotely seems to be about technology: We need to have the tools we have today to communicate, exchange information, to monitor and manage systems over the internet. But it is more about culture. In IT, such tools have already been available for a long time, yet some corporations insisted on ‘face showing rituals’. Notably, during the economic crisis of 2008/2009 many companies worked hard to keep travel costs low and resorted to working remotely – and later never reverted to face showing mode.
Successful remote communication is based on the skill of asynchronous communications, e.g. on processing more than the first three lines of an e-mail, but replying thoughtfully in nested threads. My anecdotal evidence tells me that our typical heat pump clients have that skill – tech-savvy geeks whose day jobs are usually tech- / IT- / engineering-related .
You need to keep politics out. As soon as that infamous ‘non-verbal clues’ become important, remote channels might be too narrow. However, I wonder if politics can ever be tamed properly even with heavy face showing. My pragmatic solution is to focus on simple ‘structures of command’ – work with one single accountable client who is in charge for his/her project and has skin in the game. Only if you need to intermediate between ‘team members’ and listen to ‘different sides’ you get into troubles. I have my share of experiences – like: Clandestine meetings in which project member X told me they considered to revolut against project manager Y – depending on my honest opinion of Y.
Many hands-on engineering tasks are gradually being supported by remote IT tools. I am not a first adopter of such technology – like augmented reality glasses for engineers in power plants. My icon is an angry dinosaur for a reason. But even I say, half-jokingly, that someday people might 3D print our heat exchanger tubes and PVC supporting constructions, instead of working with our traditional design documents and plans.
So at the end of 2017, I embrace The Web again and my outlook is positive. It’s like returning to the old days – when The Cluetrain Manifesto told us that The Internet will kill TV-like ads and foster communications between human beings – also in business. That may sound irrational, given the ominous power of online tracking, all for the sake of advertizing. But anyway: The positive spirit of remote working pioneers, like Automattic (wordpress.com) is what defines The Web for me!