The Need for Feedback

Home in Vermont
Home in Vermont

It’s been a big year of change for me. My husband and I moved our three donkeys, three cats and two dogs 1900 miles, from Colorado to Vermont. I started a new job as testing advocate for mabl at the beginning of August, and executed our long-planned move three weeks later. We love our new home, quiet and beautiful yet close to everything we could want. We’ve made many new friends.

I’m extremely fortunate to get to work from home most of the time. It’s a relief to no longer commute more than an hour each way to work three days a week (I worked from home two days a week in my previous job). I get to be a country girl and hang out with my donkeys. I work with a great team of smart, passionate people, building an exciting product.

The rocky road of working remotely

Perfect, right? Well, it’s pretty awesome. But there’s a downside for me. I’d much rather work in an office where my teammates are physically present. I depend on continual feedback to know if I’m contributing the right value for my team and for our customers.

My team makes the extra effort to include me  in meetings via video, and conversations go on all day in Slack. I can sit in on video calls with customers and prospective customers to learn about their testing challenges. My main job is helping people learn ways to overcome their testing challenges and continually build their organization’s quality culture. I do that mostly by writing, speaking, webinars and the like. I also participate in online and local communities of practitioners.

And yet, I often have the feeling that I’m working in a vacuum. I can get feedback, such as having someone review a blog post or brainstorm ideas for a webinar. But it’s not the same as asking the person sitting next to me if I can show them something on my screen, or getting a product owner and a developer together for a quick discussion about a feature. I find it difficult to work with a longer feedback loop than I’m used to.

Frantic for feedback

I confess that I’m something of an affirmation junkie. I love it when I come up with a question that makes someone say “Oh, great catch! We hadn’t thought that through.” It’s so rewarding to pair with someone and see them get excited about learning a new testing technique. Working remotely means I get fewer of those “high five moments”.

In a feedback void, I tend to start listening to my inner critic. My imposter syndrome fires up big-time. “Nobody commented on my latest blog post. Either they don’t even bother to read it, or they think it sucks.” “I reported that bug I found in the Slack bug channel, but nobody responded. Do they just think I’m an idiot using the product incorrectly? Or are they just ignoring me?” “I asked for help with getting analytics on my webinars, but nobody offered to help, they don’t care.”

This is my own doing, not on my teammates – my brain is totally making that stuff up. But sometimes, I can’t help it. I know I need to “keep it real” and get my confidence back. I know many techniques to banish my inner critic. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, but I see people I admire who have a similar job to mine who appear fearless and full of amazing ideas – with the ability to implement them.

Reflecting on my self-doubt has made me realize that my accomplishments have come from being part of a team. I can collaborate with other people to come up with great ideas and deliver on them. When I try to work solo, the ideas don’t come, and I lack the mojo to try something daring. I lose my focus, and spend time on things that aren’t the best way for me to contribute value to my company and my community.

Asking for help

I work with terrific people. I need the courage to ask them for more help. With their help, I’ll be able to help more people in turn. I’m planning a trip to Boston so I can have some face time in the office. Not asking for help would lead to disaster, so I’m going to do the smart thing. Collaborating with colleagues, we’ll be able to try experiments and learn how I can best contribute.

This has also made me realize that feedback from the software community is a huge benefit for me. It’s so valuable when a workshop participant makes suggestions how I could make the workshop better. When comments show a blog post resonates with readers, I know that’s a topic I should explore further.

Dear readers, I’d love your help too. Those of you who work remotely, how do you engage with busy teammates who are colocated in the office? How do you get them to pair with you over video, especially if they aren’t used to pairing? What do you do when you can’t hear the people in the conference room in the video meeting? I need tips and tricks to really feel part of the team even when I’m 250 miles away. How can I get that fast feedback that I rely on?

I’d also love to know ways I can help you, since that’s really my job. I’m backed up by a company that wants to reach out to the community of people who are passionate about software quality and testing. I want to use my powers for good, and I need your suggestions to do that!

20 comments on “The Need for Feedback

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Maybe we haven’t been in the exact situation but I suspect most of us have plenty of doses of imposter syndrome. I like to imagine a big yellow cashmere blanket that I wrap around myself when I’m like this. So I’m virtually lending you my yellow blanket.

    I don’t have much practical advice I’m afraid but I do know Alister Scott (https://watirmelon.blog/) works remotely and sometimes talks about that. Maybe he can provide some advice?

    I’m also wondering if its worthwhile a decent amount of time in the office in order to build relationships and friends. That way the remote stuff becomes easier?

    Anyway, I wanted you to know I read your blog and I think you provide amazing support to the community. We have your back!

  2. Hi Lisa!

    I have been working remotely for five years.
    For async feedback requests I’m using Slack, and result depends on other side engagement, and I do not have magic formula for that.
    I can only suggest for video pairing, Zoom tool. It works according to all my expectations. No voice cutoffs, no video freeze, screen sharing always works.

    Regards, Karlo.

  3. I can empathise with this feeling Lisa, a number of years ago I took a job working in an office however all my team were either in the US or China. Like you my favourite part of my job is working closely with others, getting that buzz when we learn & achieve together. I did this job for about a year and a half but it was a really tough time for me , I didn’t feel myself and I didn’t think I was doing a good job. Unfortunately I left the job before figuring out how to make it work so I don’t have advice but I’m sure there are people out there that have made it work really well.

  4. Hi Anne-Marie, thank you, your yellow blanket is so comforting!

    Yes, I have spent a couple days in the office each month except November, and it’s not enough. I had so many conferences, I couldn’t take more time to be in Boston. It’s a long, rather stressful drive to get there and back. Going forward, I will plan for more time when I go.

    And I’ll definitely seek Alister’s advice!

    Thanks again!

  5. Thanks, Rob. It makes sense that this is difficult for many of us. I do want to make it work, because I think I can do a lot of good not only for my employer but for our community. I appreciate your support!

  6. Hi Karlo,
    Thanks, I’ve also had good results with both Slack and Zoom. The team is fairly responsive on Slack, but sometimes they’re busy with something urgent and not looking at it, which is understandable. I’m going to see if I can get people to agree to pair on Zoom or Hangouts for just 30 minutes at a time. It’s so hard to ask, but, I need to get over my shyness. I appreciate you sharing your experience!
    — Lisa

  7. This resonates with me. I work with remote teams, and it is difficult to engage in a way that is familiar to me – reaching over the cube and sharing a computer. Collaboration and communication tools help – but the network issues with video make it less than perfect. Meeting people in person and working together with them for a brief period helps me bridge the gap. And oh, the pain of no feedback from a blog post – I feel your pain!

    Fantastic post! You, rock! I learn so much from you!

  8. Thanks, RayeAnne! You’ve made me wonder about the experience my teammates in the office have of me as being remote. I need to have more empathy for them and how having a remote teammate impacts their own work.

  9. Hi Lisa!

    I can’t work from home because I test manually with many devices, so I’m not in that predicament, but every now and then I think “It would be so nice to work from home every once in a while” and then I remember I’d be missing out on laughs at the office and I really need to be there, because I can’t do much in isolation. As you said, I need the confirmation that I’m working on the right thing at the right time.

    We have 2 people on our team that have to work remotely on fridays though and it’s always hard. We write in slack, but they miss out on things happening at the office. We might be frantically working on a live-bug and they’re wondering why noone responds to their questions in chat. (Their ticket by now is very low prio, but they missed that, because we are too frantic to fix things instead of explaining that them OR explaining in general whats happening at that moment.) I often feel bad for “forgetting” them, but it’s what tends to happen. We are asynchronous and I think that’s whats bothering me the most. Like when a friend misses another friend being upset – even though you usually have rapport. It feels like you were on the same page as a team, and now they’re working on something else, because somehow they missed the prio shift.

    What helped a little is screensharing and calling rather than typing. I feel it’s more valuable to talk for 5 mins and showing them rather than trying to explain by text – no matter how accurately I try to explain things. We still miss out on the “atmosphere” in the other room so to speak, but calling works somewhat.

    Not sure if that helps, but good luck!
    (Also, totally random: visit the shelburne museum if you haven’t yet! We were on vacation in the US some weeks ago, and we loved that one :D)

  10. Thanks for your ideas, Frances, I will sure try those.

    We haven’t been to the Shelburne Museum yet, I am prioritizing that now for this weekend, thanks!

  11. Dear Lisa,

    Your new location is beautiful!

    I work remotely for a small SaaS company and began in a satellite office with a few co-workers. For some time now, due to personnel moves and career changes, I primarily work from home. While I can’t beat the convenience, there are days that are too quiet for me too.

    First of all, you’re so highly regarded in the software community, that I imagine you would have a mile-long list of volunteers if you simply ask for feedback. I think the self-doubts just mean you’re human. (I question myself and seek affirmation all the time.) Some of the feedback void probably comes with the use of social media and instant feedback. While it can be lightning fast, people usually have some additional tasks and life to carry on with. Now, what to do…

    Ask! Since you obviously enjoy the process and benefits of collaboration, I’m thinking others do to. So, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s really not a favor to you, but an opportunity for all parties involved. Here are some thoughts on getting those video chats going:

    1. For me, spreading meetings/chats/face-to-face conversations out over my calendar rather than bunching them all up in one week helps me feel more connected. (If you’re working with a deadline on something it may not be practical.)
    2. Know your teammates or collaborators.
    a. Be respectful of time zones and personal schedules of remote workers. For example: I know when my co-workers are going to be picking up kids from school.
    b. Be respectful of work routines. For example: I have a co-worker who likes to dig in really deep, but ends the day taking care of communications and loose ends. I chat with them or schedule time with them toward the end of the day.
    c. Some people strongly prefer scheduled time. Back to the calendar.
    d. Many people prefer some time to ‘mull something over’ before talking about it. If your discussion has to do with a model or sketch you’ve put together, send it in advance of a scheduled meeting time so your teammates have the opportunity to really think about it. This can lead to a much more productive meeting.
    3. If you’d like to collaborate with some people who aren’t used to video chats, help those people get all set up and do a demo meeting while you’re in Boston. Then get your calendars out.
    4. Our current primary communication tool of choice in house is Slack. Letting the other party decide which tool we’ll use is another option. I’m not opposed to using whatever tool is preferred and/or available.
    5. There are conversations that flow much so better when you’re voice-to-voice. So, when all the tools are acting up, I still have my phone. (It’s not about the tools – it’s all about the communication.)
    6. For a test related concept (not strictly related to your company), why not reach out to the testing community. We really like hearing from you! As the only person in my company who works with automated tests, I have so many to thank and would still be stuck if it were not for help from the various testing chat rooms I frequent.
    7. The other thing I do because I just need live face-to-face interaction at times is schedule a coffee with someone to discuss (fill in the blank). This just makes me happy and possibly sane. Some might call this a lean coffee.

    That’s all I have for now and no doubt you’ve already worked through most of these. I hope there’s something in there that sparked an idea for you or others.

    All the Best,
    Penny

  12. Thank you, Penny, for so many ideas that sound extremely useful and practical! I’ll try them and let you know how I get on.
    — Lisa

  13. Hi Lisa,

    Here are my tips for coping with the conference call.
    1. Insist on being on video. You probably won’t be able to see everyone, but you have a much better chance of reading body language and using your own body language to communicate.
    2. Assuming number 1 is all set, grab a pack of the Collaboration Supercards from Collaboration Superpowers. https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/supercards/ They’ll let you communicate things that “I can’t hear you” without feeling like you’re interrupting the person who is talking.

  14. Hi Scott, thanks so much for the tip on those Collaboration Supercards, I had not heard of them! Will try them out!
    — Lisa

  15. If you’re in the Boston area and have some extra time, I’d love to give you a tour of SmartPak!

    We’re about 35 minutes south of the city 🙂

  16. Hi Jen, I’ll be in Boston Dec. 11-14, but not sure if I’ll have time. Would sure be fun to meet up! My employer, mabl, is headquartered downtown.

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