Challenges of working remotely in a Japanese IT Company

Hello. This blog article is part of the advent calendar series of blog posts for the year 2019. Click here for the links to the other blog posts.

I am not a big fan of long blog posts and neither am I good at writing long articles so I will try to keep this as short as possible. To be honest, this may probably be my first blog post in English.

Introductions first

My name is Atreya and I work as a software engineer at BBSakura Networks. I am striving to become one of those full-stack engineers (although I am still a long way off from becoming one).

The keyword here is "Remote"

All members of our engineering team work remotely, some work from home (like me), and some work at the office and we are spread out in different locations within Japan.

Being a completely remote team most of our interactions are done textually via Slack. We do have weekly teleconferences etc. but most of the day to day conversations happen almost completely within Slack.

Work Culture

To be honest, I have been using slack for only about a year. Initially, I was excited because I don't have that many emails to check on anymore.

However, it slowly dawned upon me that I couldn't get used to textual communication, especially in a foreign language. I had to read and write Japanese almost all day long to communicate with my colleagues and it was starting to become a big cognitive burden (especially because I have read Kanji all day long, my eyes hurt!)

Switching to English did not help that much because my colleagues took a longer time to respond because they had to first understand what I was talking about.

Communicating using the Japanese language is not the same as using the English language and I do not want to get into the specifics of how they are different. But it suffices to say that the English language, for example, promotes direct speech more than indirect speech which is more frequently used in Japanese. And this only complicates things.

Issues that could probably get resolved within minutes, if I just went to my colleagues' desk and had a small chat, took at least an hour to just get my point across. I am not trying to be negative here or implying that the work culture is bad. On the contrary, since everyone works remotely, all my colleagues are kind enough to answer any stupid questions that I have and I am grateful for that.

I have this habit of asking “why” all the time because I want to know the reason behind certain questions and actions. This becomes very important especially in the context of textual communication as all you have in front of you are the words and not the facial expressions or emotions to back those words. So I make it a point to add emojis to most of the messages I send to add a bit of human touch to them.

And I think it’s important to maintain this work culture where any question, regardless of whether the said question is stupid or not, can be asked freely without being berated for it or being said that the answer to such a question is fundamental knowledge and/or common sense.

The reason may be obvious to the person asking the question but of course, the person asking the question cannot assume that the person who is going to answer the question understands the meaning and purpose of the question.

My closing thoughts

Since most of what I wrote may have sounded a bit negative, I would like to end this post on a positive note.

As human beings, (regardless of whether we are Japanese, American, etc.) we all have different ways of thinking and we should to listen to others and try to understand their way of thinking. The result may be good or bad, right or wrong but we cannot know that unless we discuss it. This is not restricted to just textual communication but all forms of communication. We are not robots after all.

And most importantly, whenever we are conversing online purely through text, we should always be mindful that there is a person who is typing those words and we should be considerate and give careful thought before we send a message to someone.

That's all folks!