This year, due to the state of this f’d up world and 99.9% of 2020 spent at home, I’ve reworked my goals and plan to write more. I figured I’d start with sharing something I’ve used that helped me adjust to fully remote work a few years ago, as many of you have been doing the same. Like many other pandemic parents, I’m finding it challenging to find any time for myself, let alone time to write. However, I’m committing to make the time and posting here, so y’all can hold me accountable. I don’t know about you, but I’m going crazy with this new normal of Groundhog day, every day.
This post may be helpful to those of you transitioning to remote work and/or in setting better work/life boundaries.
I’ll be sharing a very simple approach (or tool, rather) that has helped me in working on a distributed team these past 2 years. In returning from maternity leave to work in this Covid-19 era, I’m revisiting it with new perspective and clearer boundaries. Note — this is from the point of view of a manager with a remote and widely distributed team. This “tool” can easily work for any role.
But first, who am I, and why listen to me?
A little bit about me: I’m mom of 2 boys: my pandemic baby Parker born in Marin 1 month pre-lockdown, and William born in Boulder, Colorado 2.5 years ago. I’m wife to Phil McMichael and Dog Mom to a massive Falkor lookalike golden-doodle, Bubba. I’m a native bay-arean who’s deeply passionate about building and fostering a strong community — both at work and in my personal life. I love to be outdoors hiking, yoga-ing, camping, swimming, running, traveling, <insert pretty much any outdoor activity>ing. My family and friends mean the world to me.
My background spans from community development to engineering recruitment + programs & marketing, to developer relations (What’s DevRel — for the curious.) It’s a bit jungle gymy as I love to try new things and stretch myself in different and new ways. What’s most important to me is that I’m helping others succeed and learning. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have helped build two hypergrowth startups through their IPOs — first @Groupon in Palo Alto then @Twitter in SF. I’ve been at Microsoft for the last 2+ years having built Advocacy Programs, and am inspired day in and out by the incredible humans I’m fortunate enough to work for. The constant pull for me throughout my career has been the opportunity to build — whether it be teams, programs, processes. I’m a total nerd when it comes to creating clarity amidst ambiguity, and find deep satisfaction and gratitude in helping others — whether it be in finding new roles (recruitment), in enabling our technical communities to do great work (DevRel), and/or in helping colleagues grow and fulfill their career goals (management.) I’m also deeply passionate about fostering (as well as being part of) collaborative and inclusive work cultures.
Imitate those you admire + pay it forward
When I was @Twitter my manager shared with me his “Working with me” doc. To be clear, this doc was not a Manager README about his style; it rather detailed his expectations, boundaries, and values. I found this simple act incredibly helpful, especially as he was my 4th boss that year due to layoffs and reorgs. My role had also changed several times, so it was important to establish a strong partnership and to communicate effectively so as to better understand the new landscape and communicate what I do as a skeleton global Developer Relations team of 2 (Andy Piper — remember those days? Small, but mighty!) Communication styles vary of course from person to person. The advantage to my manager providing this information upfront was that I was able to quickly learn about his preferences so as to save time and adjust mine in order to get through to him effectively. One major caveat about creating a “working with me” doc is that it does not replace forming relationships organically 1:1 with colleagues and talking through various communication styles upfront, as it’s a continuous learning process that goes both ways — we are humans, not computers. I just found this doc helped to jumpstart the process. He also inspired me to then create my own “working with me” doc and to define my personal work/life boundaries, which frankly has always been a struggle for me. This challenge was only exacerbated when I joined Microsoft, in supporting and leading a distributed PM team across 15 countries — accounting for different cultures, languages, and time zones. With the added stress and responsibility of keeping my family safe and cared for in the Covid-19 era, it’s become even more apparent how critical it is to set boundaries (and encourage others to as well), in returning from leave.
“Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” — Oscar Wilde
Never be ashamed of using something that works. I essentially copied elements of my “working with Kelly” doc from a former and current colleague of mine at Microsoft, Isaac Hepworth. A lot of my leadership style also comes from incredible mentors and leaders I’ve been fortunate to work for, especially that of Prashant S and janet van huysse. I get asked often to share this simple doc as current/past colleagues have found it helpful in creating their own for colleagues and/or teams. If you do plan to write one (which I suggest you do, regardless if you plan to use it), remember that nothing is set in stone.
This “working with me” doc is meant to be evolving and ever-changing, as are you!
The goal of creating this doc is two-fold:
- Communicate boundaries (and do your damnedest to uphold them!)
- Share work expectations in order to strengthen working relationships.
Doing this also helps contribute to personal accountability — that you are responsible for your own actions and consequences. Putting your values and personal “rules” out in the universe helps you to work at upholding them. You don’t have to be a manager or work in any particular industry to create your own “working with me” guide AND you don’t have to share personal aspects of your life in it as well, I’m just a very open person.
So, here’s my simple (yet exhaustive) doc. Feel free to copy any sections that may ring true to you, too.
Working with Kelly
Creation Date: October 2018
Stuff to know about me.
- I generally work ~8:30am–~4.30pm PST, and sometimes later in the evening when absolutely needed. On Tuesday evenings I’ll take calls. The time in between I aim to reserve for me and family. That’s me. You do you.
- My family? Husband Phil; a son William (2 yr), son Parker (6 months) and dog Bubba (3 yr).
- I hold myself strictly to the principle that one’s Docs/Sheets/Slides/Calendars should be open for sharing/commenting across MSFT unless there’s a really good reason.
- Amongst other things I value honesty, humility, kindness, agility and accountability. Call me out if I miss the mark on these!
My guiding principles
- Assume good intent. This becomes harder to do when on a remote team across time zones.
- You do you.
- Be kind and respectful.
- Emphasis on output, not hours of input/ # of activities.
If you’re on my team — this is not in any particular order.
- If you’re new to our team, please check out our Onboarding notebook. I also strongly suggest you spend some time in our PM start plan. This is an evolving doc. Please feel free to comment with questions.
- Late-night email isn’t in general expected or desired.
- If you receive an email from me at night then the right interpretation is “because Kelly is doing work on her schedule” rather than “Kelly wants an answer right now.”
- Same goes with Teams/ Slack.
- I don’t care if your email processing schedule aligns with mine or not (especially given the distributed nature of our team.)
- If I need your attention on something with tremendous urgency, I’ll message/email you with “urgent” (I.e. it would be obvious.)
- “Clean” downtime is important, as in: time off where you go firmly offline work-wise. Make sure you spend enough of your vacation days this way; it’s valuable, healthy, and important. If you plan to declare email bankruptcy on your return, make sure to let people know via your OOO message.
- Artifacts with URLs (aka.ms/) are good. Aim to create shared artifacts. This is especially important as we are a new team. It’s super important we “PM” and document our work and iterate on it as we scale globally.
- Living docs are a great inclusive way for our team to collaborate across multiple time zones. Before you schedule meetings at inconvenient hours for yourself or other folks on the call, ask: Can I kick off collaboration here differently?
- I prefer not to accept a meeting without an agenda unless it’s a 1:1 (possibly there’s a private reason I just don’t know about.) I recommend always having an agenda for meetings and if possible, pre-reads. This helps with attendance and also makes the meeting time more productive and uses time more wisely of the person/s you’re meeting.
- We hired you because you’re impactful and you can do your job exceptionally well. I trust you to manage your time wisely. No need to check in with me should you have a doctors appt etc. — just make sure your calendar is up to date and you’re “away” on messaging and email when you’re unavailable during traditional working hours. The beauty of being on a remote first team is that you have flexibility. I care more about output and impact vs you being glued to your desk 9–5pm.
- The Impact/Effort matrix also offers great guidance. Resist the lure of low-effort but low-impact work.
- Aim to make your work reusable and repeatable — This is especially important to help new hires and stakeholders as we scale. As is continuing to evolve our start plan.
- The more activities you take on does not mean you are producing greater impact. Related article: https://www.forumone.com/ideas/measuring-impact-not-just-activities/,
- It’s important to meet every now and then with the people you work with (virtually for now ) — especially as our team is all about being the “glue” and creating partnerships with the community. Aim to meet with colleagues both within and outside our team you don’t work with regularly. Strong partnership in your role both within and outside of Developer Relations contributes to your impact.
- If you’re overloaded, please holler and we’ll together work out what to prioritize and what stuff can’t get done. If you need my help with anything, similarly, please ask and don’t assume I know. I’m invested in your success and may not always know when you do/don’t need my support. Please be direct and clear with me as far as how I can help as well, I welcome suggestions.
- I’m always learning and encourage you to share feedback with me in areas I can improve.
- I encourage you to also find a mentor and sponsor (either internal or external to MSFT) and for you to meet with other members of the team for your own career growth. Feel free to meet with my manager as well. We are always available to help.
- Remember that unless you’re given a deadline most things asked of you should be treated as input into your prioritization and decision process. At times we are stretched between knowing when to say yes or no. Loop in your manager when unsure.
- Workback plans (or project plans — whatever you call them) I find incredibly helpful for keeping stakeholders abreast on status, deadlines, prioritization, as well as myself accountable to deadlines and progress on projects. You’ll find the more you create these and share for projects you are leading/ managing, the more autonomy you will have and responsiveness you’ll get from stakeholders involved.
- I’ll be aiming to talk with you about your career every now and then. If there’s areas you’re looking to grow/ be more involved in, especially as opportunities surface, please share.
- Unless you aren’t feeling well or are traveling I encourage you to use video chat often. There’s so much body language involved in working together and this establishes a more “in person” connection and positive collaboration with our remote and international team.
- 1:1 time is your time — I’m flexible in re: to how you want to set these up. I find having a shared agenda that we add to throughout the week is helpful so that I can prep for any questions/ concerns you may have in advance, but up to you.
Ask me anything!
I’m a constant work in progress, as are the approaches I use to work remotely.
What approaches have worked for you in setting boundaries and expectations on a distributed team?