About distribution, remoting and openspace

Disclaimer: We recorded this conversation before quarantine and total removal. Now many people have become able to work remotely and remotely, below we describe how it was at ABBYY before it became a global necessity.

Lisa: Lyosha, we called you because the bird brought on the tail that ABBYY has distributed teams, and you know how to work remotely. Tell me, do you have many employees working on the remote, do you have a team on the remote?

Alexey: Perhaps we should start with the fact that the company has offices in 13 countries around the world. A very large amount of communication takes place online. For example, the product that we make, its ideologue, inspirer and driver permanently lives in the States. We have about 4 meetings a week with him, so I only see him in Zoom. This is what concerns the company globally.

As for our team, we have about 30% of the team in normal mode working remotely (this is even before self-isolation and quarantine). Of those we have hired recently, 80% of people are remote workers, unfortunately. Let me explain why. On the one hand, there are no problems with remote development, we have built communication processes perfectly, in my opinion. Development does not depend on whether a person is sitting in the office or not. “Unfortunately” – because it’s much more comfortable to come to an employee and talk to him, it’s nice in a purely human way. Live communication is more pleasant than Skype communication. This is not the case now, so I say “unfortunately”.

A third of the ABBYY team is remote, and there are no problems with this. In order for people to fit into the team, we make business trips from other regions of Russia to the head office in Moscow when they are employed, they come and spend a week here. Then we repeat it periodically: that is, for about a week a person comes, communicates with the team. This is a useful moment for adaptation. And the processes are exactly the same as we have built inside the team, they are broadcast outside for remote employees and everything works.

Lisa: Is there a difference between processes in a remote team and physically located in the same place?

Alexey: Considering that the team has employees who work in the office and those who work remotely, we did not make any differences in the processes. That is, planning is a general meeting at which the whole team gathers, stand–up is a general meeting at which the whole team gathers, part in the office is in front of the TV, part is connected remotely. Even those who work in the office periodically connect remotely, because we generally have such an attitude that you can periodically work from home.

Now we have all switched to remote work and have not changed our processes in any way. Everything is as it was, exactly what we are doing. The only thing is that we don’t meet in offices and meeting rooms, everything was transferred to Zoom.

Lisa: You don’t have an openspace?

Alexey: We have different ways to accommodate the guys. There are people who sit in cubicles – such a classic ABBYY-shny fit, about 2.6 square meters of personal space. There are three walls around you, and you only see a person who can sit in a cubicle opposite you.

There are options when working in the office, it is designed for 6-9 people. There is an open space inside the cabinet. We are sitting in such teams. This is the most comfortable story when the ratio of freedom and communication with noise in the room is optimal.

There is a lot of suffering because of the open space. In my startups, I sat in open spaces for 50 people. No, I’m not ready to put my guys in such an environment.

Lisa: Is there a difference between the motivation of people who work remotely and those who come to the office? Have you noticed this?

Alexey: I would divide the situation when a person consciously chooses remote work, and the current one, when we all have to be on the remote. In the first case, it is a person’s choice, his conscious decision, and he himself must count his strength and behave independently so as not to burn out. Now that we have moved the teams to remote, I, conducting one-to-one, regularly communicate with the guys and ask how comfortable they feel.

In general, most of them note that working from home is not much different. Due to the fact that we kept a working rhythm, and we had work processes built up when we were all working in the office, this working rhythm is transferred to now. Further, when you have a working rhythm, you maintain a work-life balance. Having such experience in the office helps very well to maintain this rhythm at home.

Alexey: Code review: what do you usually look at?

Boris: There are general rules that we have adopted. It concerns, rather, the style, the names of variables, how we write functions. And then you need to look at the code: how a person implemented the task, you still need to dive into it. The review is not only about the quality of the code, it’s about knowledge sharing. I looked at his code, how he solved the problem, I understand what he did in general approximately. If he quits tomorrow, I should be able to pick it up.

Alexey: Tell us about your Definition of Done.

Boris: If we talk about mine personally, then it is mandatory: the code is compiled, the tests pass. It’s a common story that the code compiles, and the tests forgot to fix. And then I run the tests with my hands. In principle, the team has such a Definition of Done – in terms of what to commit in a common branch or post some publicly. Plus, we have this in Dodo: when the task is completed, it is rolled out on test pizzerias and works.

Alexey: And at the same time do you check the compliance with the layouts?

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