When remote colleagues become close friends.
Can this happen?
People who work together in a physical environment easily cultivate friendships during their coffee breaks or when sharing lunch together. But what about remote workers where hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of kilometers separate them? Imagine you are working with people living in New Zealand, Russia, Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Spain and as far west as Argentina. How can you possibly become close friends?
Mohamed Khafaja has discovered the secret!
Tell us about yourself, Mohamed.
My name is Mohamed Hesham Khafaja. I was born in Egypt. My family moved to Saudi Arabia when I was 2 years old. I was raised in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. I loved playing basketball. My father was my coach in school and I used to practice at least 3 times a week. I have a brother and a sister who also were raised to love the game! Both of them play for local teams in Egypt now. My father and mother used to play basketball for the same club. And that is how they met!
When I was 18, we moved to Cairo, Egypt, as it was time for me to start college. As I was tech-savvy, I decided to join the Faculty of Computers and Information, Cairo University. There I met Ahmed Mohamed, Ahmed Ibrahim, and Mohamed Eisa. This was in 2007. We have been friends for 11 years and I am happy to say that my long-time friends are also my colleagues now!
Tell us how you began working here at OnTheGosystems?
Before joining OTGS, I was doing my obligatory military service. Before that, I worked as a customer service senior for an eCommerce company in Egypt which was a startup back then. My responsibilities included documenting the customer service workflows and returns as well as training new staff members. It was my friend Ahmed Mohammed who referred me to join the Compatibility Team as a technical writer. I was invited to join the company in January 2016. Ahmed introduced me to the other members of the team who come from Spain, Serbia, Poland and as far away as Argentina. How did my new colleagues become my friends?
Once a week we meet together in an online chat room to talk about our work plans. Of course, I can meet with any member of the team at any time to discuss some urgent matters. We see each other face to face on our screens and often have a few minutes before and after the meeting to mention some personal news and exchange pleasantries. We are genuinely concerned for one another, for example, if one of us is sick or if there is a family emergency. At the same time, we are delighted when there is a wedding or a new baby in the family! I believe we have created a warm atmosphere and we feel very comfortable with one another. Of course, being friends doesn’t mean I ask for special privileges at work.
What does your work with the Compatibility team involve?
I work as a technical writer specializing in documenting the process of translating the textual elements of different themes and plugins using WPML. Besides good technical writing skills, my job requires exploring new themes and plugins and how they work with WPML. Before writing any compatibility documentation, I need to make sure that everything works exactly as our clients would expect. In case I encounter any issues, I report them to the compatibility/development team.
Recently, I have been working on adding video tutorials to our WPML YouTube channel to explain to our clients how to use popular themes and plugins with WPML. Dare I say that I am now a video production expert? I even surprised myself by learning so much about audio and video editing in such a short time.
In addition, I am also a part of the Marketing team. Again my team members live in distant New Zealand, Poland and Slovenia. The friendships we have cultivated help us to have an excellent working experience together. My role is to prepare marketing campaigns related to the compatibility work such as announcing new compatibility integrations (writing a blog post, sending a newsletter, announcing on social media channels, etc.).
In short, I am working closely with 3 teams – Compatibility, Documentation, and Marketing.
What qualifications would you say are needed for your roles?
These for me are the basic ones. As I gain more experience and my scope of work broadens, I will, of course, need to increase my knowledge and enhance my skills.
- WordPress knowledge (implementer)
- Technical writing skills
- Marketing skills (writing blog posts, crafting newsletters, etc.)
- Being super organized
What are some of the challenges and advantages you find in working remotely?
The main challenge of working remotely is being able to stay focused. Many of us work from home where there might be many distractions throughout the day. This is why I need a dedicated room for my home office. This really helps to separate my work from my home life.
Sometimes, when we have a lot of work, I need to be super organized and able to prioritize the different projects that I’m are working on.
The main advantage of working remotely is having the flexibility to work from any place I choose. I am currently working from a nice apartment that has a beautiful sea view in Alexandria.
Normally, I live in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, which is a busy, crowded city. Cairo traffic is unbelievable! The fact that I am working from home really saves a lot of the traveling time to and from work.
What is it like to spend a working day with you?
Well, first I wake up at 8 am, make myself some sandwiches and a cup of coffee. Sometimes I go for a walk around the block. I start the working day with checking emails and preparing a list of the tasks that I want to work on. Once a week, I look forward to joining my teammates in our team meeting. It is great to see their faces and I don’t feel so remote! Then, I start working on the tasks that I have organized for the day.
On my lunch break I have lunch with my family and after we finish eating, I love playing with my 6-month-old son Aamen! In the last 2-3 hours of my shift, I try to ensure that none of the major tasks scheduled for that day are left incomplete. When the work day is over, I spend some time with my family. We might go out for a walk or run some errands. I also dedicate some time every day to learn something new, but not necessarily related to work.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
I look forward to attending the upcoming WordCamp Europe in Berlin, Germany this year. It will be a great opportunity to spend time in person with my friends, not only to share knowledge and experiences but to enjoy a few days relaxing with them and having fun too!
I really love video production even before I started working on producing video tutorials for WPML. I am a big fan of Casey Neistat (a famous YouTuber). I admire the way he tells a story! I hope that someday I would be as good a storyteller as he is. I really recommend watching his videos!
OTGS encourages friendships amongst its employees by creating conditions in which we thrive. Here at OTGS we live in 70 different cities and come from 40 countries. Yes, my close friends from university are my colleagues too, but I have made many new friends too from all over the world.
So, how about you? What do you think about remote working? Would you like to change jobs? OnTheGoSystems is always looking for conscientious and proactive individuals.