Tips for Remote Workers in Remote-Unfriendly Environments

Laurent Parenteau
Nov 16 · 5 min read

There’s a world of difference between a 100% remote business and a business where remote work is the exception. If you work remotely and are in that 2nd group, here are 7 tips to help you succeed in that situation.

Because that’s everyone’s remote setup.

Look for a 100% remote environment, or at least a remote friendly place

Might seem obvious, but isn’t. You have many reasons to work where you’re working. So think about this, be honest with yourself, and verify if it is really worth it. 100% remote and remote friendly workplaces are way better from a remote work environment point of view (of course). You aren’t an outlier there. You don’t start with 2 strikes against you. You don’t have to worry about hallway conversation you’re missing.

A workplace that view and value remote work will be aligned with your own situation, understand your needs, and know how to make remote works a stunning success for everyone.

Again, you may have other reasons to still want to stay in that remote-unfriendly place (greater learning opportunities, significantly better compensation, really care about the company’s vision, etc.). And that’s all fine if you decide it’s better for you to stay there. But at least have that be a conscious decision. Take the time to think about this and make that call. Don’t be afraid to leave if nothing holds you there.

Don’t stress out

A major concern and cause of stress for remote workers is about how others (and specifically their manager) views their performance. There’s a flaw where many people equate physical presence in office with being productive. That’s obviously false. Measuring performance is not as simple (which I’ve discussed in a Remote Work Problems Aren’t Related to Remote at All).

The first step here is to try to not stress about this. You are likely judging yourself much harder, and minimizing your own performance (because you only see yourself). Keep in mind that remote workers are more performing anyway.

But even with that knowledge, you might still stress about this. I know I did. To help with that, I use some simple guidelines :

  • Do my best, all the time (ie. no procrastination)
  • I allocate myself a set amount of working hours per week, and stick to that as much as possible (yes, startups needs flexibility).

If that isn’t good enough, then I should find another place to work as this isn’t a fit.

Fortunately, that was never needed. Which would prove that I was stressing about this for no good reason. I know I do my best work, and that I “put in” a reasonable amount of time. So if everything else is a match, those guidelines should ensure my performance all good.

Try to over communicate

When you work remotely, it is impossible to over communicate. Impossible. So your goal is to communicate as much as possible, trying to achieve that impossible goal. It is the only way you can end up communicating just the right amount. You might feel you communicate too much, but trust me, you are likely communicating just enough.

This is true even in 100% remote environment, but much more important when you are one of the few working remotely. In that scenario, other people won’t be communicating enough. By overcompensating, you will trigger those moments when others reply with “Oh yes, sorry we forgot to tell you about this change”. If you don’t make it happens, you will be left behind and either let go or you’ll leave on your own.

So whatever communication channel you have, whether it is Slack or email or Google Meet, use and abuse them. You want to be heard, you want others to understand where you stand, you want to get feedback if you are on the wrong path. So spam away!

Don’t use remote as an excuse

That one may be obvious, but it is worth mentioning. If everyone in your team is working from the office and you’re the only one working remotely, the worst thing you can do is use that as an excuse. It is never constructive to use excuses anyway. But if you are the only one with that privilege, you really don’t want to bring attention to this. If remote causes you some unique challenges, then you have to figure a way to fix that.

Asking others for help would be fine in an environment that is supportive of remote work. But if you are the only remote worker in your team, it took you lots of efforts to convince them to allow you to work remotely (or join the team as the first remote employee), they might be waiting to see how this experiment will fail. It is harsh, yes (that’s why you’d be better working somewhere that remote work is welcomed), but that’s the reality.

Interpret communication in good faith

Remote work use a lot more of written communication. But it is easier to misunderstand tones and intents in written form. As such, you should interpret everything assuming the other person is in good faith. Don’t take anything personally, don’t assume bad intention or any other negative / aggressive stance from others.

That’s basically the Robustness Principle, applied to human-to-human communication.

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others. — Jon Postel

Even if that isn’t always easy for everyone all the time, since you aren’t face-to-face with the other person, you can take the time to pause, breath, and make sure you’re calm before replying back. This goes a long way toward allowing you to interpret communication in good faith.

Don’t use sarcasm or irony; be factual and well intended

This is actually the 1st part of the Robustness Principle : “Be conservative in what you do”. Sarcasm and irony, when used in written communication, are hard to distinguish as such. You want the other person to really understand the message you are writing, so have it clear, concise, and well intended. Especially when others aren’t used to remote work, they might not know about “be liberal in what you accept from others”, so the risk of them understanding bad intent in what you wrote is hire.

That’s also a good reason to keep hard conversion for video chat as much as possible. When you have video support, it greatly reduces the risk of misunderstanding, as you have the full body language to help you understand the other person’s feelings and reactions, so you can adjust your message as you go along, and clarify what isn’t understood correctly immediately.

Be proactive and willing to do the extra work

Finally, keep in mind that if your remote situation works against you AND you want to keep this job, you will have to constantly prove you are worth it. You need to be a top achiever. Being proactive, keeping an eye on which area you can help and provide value will go a long way toward that.

If you are the only remote worker, odds are that productivity will be (at least partially) judged by how much time you spend in the office. Which is an obvious problem for you. By being proactive and more productive than others, you can make sure you stay top of mind. That even if you aren’t seen, people will notice you anyway.

Laurent Parenteau

Written by

A curious mind that got swallowed by the Grim Software Engineering monster. Learning how to tame the beast ever since, I have a few scars and reached level 18.

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