Effective Remote Working
I’ve been a remote worker for most of my professional life. There are many well documented benefits to working remotely, but it’s not without its downsides either. To work remotely takes a different kind of effort than working in a shared office space. Here I outline some of the strategies I use to ensure that I am an effective remote worker. Curiously most of these strategies start with the letter ‘p’.
Working remotely doesn’t suit everyone, but then neither does the kind of open-plan, activity-based workspace that we have in our head office. Personally I deeply dislike open-plan workspaces.
When I work I like to have my music on and I’m not a fan of wearing headphones while working.
I like my home-office; my big screens, my fast internet. I like that I can tax-deduct some of my rent and utility bills. I love that my cats will come and help me type (okay maybe I don’t love that).
I don’t like distractions, or too many people around me. I find that gets confusing. I have a poor memory for faces and names, and I get flustered when someone I ought to know says hello to me and I can’t remember their name. But working remotely works for me and I hope this post helps those of you who also work remotely to be more effective at it.
‘P’ is for present.
The first and most obvious thing about being a remote worker is that you are not physically present at meetings. This can lead to you being overlooked but, more subtly, even when you are not being ignored, the fact that you are not physically there in the room can lead to less value being placed on your contributions to meetings.
To be an effective remote worker you need to devise ways to appear to be present. There are a number of tools that can help you, from simply being active on Slack, or ensuring that you leave the video on during Google Hangouts, or, even better, using a telepresence robot like the Double, or the Beam. Where I work we have a few Doubles, robots that are kind of like an iPad on a stick on wheels that I, as a remote worker, can literally drive around the office, allowing me to ‘be’ at meetings. In my experience when I attend a function via the Double I am impossible to overlook.
‘P’ is for punctual.
When you work remotely punctuality is even more important than when you work in a physically proximate environment. People physically attending a meeting will be less likely to wait for you to virtually appear, and so it’s important that you always be on time for meetings, especially scrum ceremonies like standups, retros, and planning meetings.
‘P’ is for polite.
The importance of punctuality segues nicely into the area of politeness. Being late to a meeting is rude and rude people are awful. You must be extra careful to ensure that your interaction with colleagues is something that all parties enjoy and get benefit from; and that means you must be careful to remain polite, even when you may be frustrated. When your office-bound colleagues are all enjoying cake and beer, don’t moan about it. Remember, they can’t work in their undies, or with a cat in their lap, (or both!)
‘P’ is for precise.
As a remote worker a lot of your interaction with your colleagues is going to be via Slack or some other text-based medium. You and your team can ill-afford to be loose with words. Check your spelling, pay attention to grammar. There’s a huge difference between “Let’s eat Jack,” and “Let’s eat, Jack.” Use markdown formatting in Slack and use Jira’s stupid formatting system (alas they are completely different) to ensure that the things you write are nicely formatted and easy for people to understand. Read over the stuff you write and eliminate ambiguity. Your colleagues will probably not notice it if you do it consistently, but low quality documentation adds friction, and friction generates heat. And not good heat.
‘P’ is for prepared.
Make sure you have Slack running when working. Use ScreenHero to collaborate with your colleagues. Ensure your Google Hangout works. Make sure your colleagues have your mobile number. If you are travelling, as I regularly do, ensure that your colleagues know what timezone you are in, and ensure your calendar knows too. Update your Slack settings with your current timezone. If the team in Sydney has a regular standup at 10am and you happen to be in Amsterdam that week then the onus is on you to either be up and at’em at 2am or negotiate a different, mutually convenient time for the meeting.
‘P’ is for persistent.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even with all the best will in the world, as a remote worker you will be overlooked. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your input is heard, that people know you are remote, and that your contributions are valued. No one else is going to do this for you.
‘P’ is for productive.
Ultimately you get paid to add value to your company and to delight your firm’s clients with your mad skillz. If you want to work from home, or on the road, or from that AirBnB by the beach in Sardinia, it’s your responsibility to ensure you are delivering and that you are not a burden on either your colleagues or the firm’s clients.
‘P’ is for proportional.
Sometimes you ought to physically go into the office, even if your primary place of work is a yacht somewhere in the Pacific. There is no substitute for pressing the flesh, sitting down with a colleague over a coffee or a meal, or just being there in person to discuss a project. I’ve found however that I get very little ‘real’ work done when I come to the office. I just get caught up in opportunistic meetings, conversations, and so forth that I can safely avoid when working from the beach. But if you never go into the office you’ll become a ghost. Ghosts don’t actually exist, and they certainly don’t get paid.
‘P’ is for privileged.
Being able to work remotely is a privilege not afforded to most people. The firm is trusting you to remain an effective and profitable worker. Trust is a hard thing to earn and an easy thing to squander. Piss away your time, turn up late to meetings, bitch and moan about not getting beer and cake, and fail to contribute to the firm’s bottom line and you’ll burn that trust quickly. Not a day goes by when I am not grateful that I am allowed the workplace flexibility that I have, so I am careful not to abuse the trust that’s been placed in me.