Expectation setting on a virtual team.

Kelly Shalk
Aug 21 · 9 min read
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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:

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

Author: kellymcm@
Creation Date: October 2018
Status: living

Stuff to know about me.

My guiding principles

If you’re on my team — this is not in any particular order.

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?

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