How to be Effective at Working Remotely
If you have ever attempted a long distance relationship, you know it can be as trying as it sounds. As the topic comes up, people’s commiserative facial expressions are as blatantly obvious as a creeky wood floor in a noiseless room. And just like most loving relationships, the largest contributing factor to failed working relationships is basic communication — or the lack thereof.
I have been working in a remote office at Facebook as a Product Designer for almost five years now, and as a result, I’ve experienced both successes and failures while collaborating with teams. Whether you’re the one living away from headquarters or if your entire team is strewn across the globe, this can be a great perk for people if the housing costs aren’t affordable or the top talent resides elsewhere.
Although a lovely perk, working remotely can be very difficult. Teams often times fall apart while letting the distance come between them. Let’s face it, it’s easy to blame failure on the fact that you’re not physically present enough to grow the relationship beyond what becomes that routine, nightly phone call echoed by those three magic words your significant other loves to hear so much.
I love you.
It’s also important to note that people aren’t always empathetic towards others for being remote in the first place. Sometimes people will–albeit unintentionally–signal that it’s an inconvenience you’re not actually there with them. Your absence can quickly make you become out of sight, and out of mind. You need to make it your responsibility to accommodate others more than you typically would in day-to-day work life.
To do that, you need to be proactive. In person, it’s easy to get together to talk so you can move on from the situation. But, in a long distance relationship, there are many speed bumps to overcome just so you can even start the conversation, such as: time coordination, method of communication, dropped calls, poor data connection, calling back to a busy signal, phone is almost dead, transmission latency, and so on. This is why it’s best for you to avoid these sticky situations altogether.
But what can you do to be more proactive? Well, here are eight helpful ways to push you to the next level:
It’s always safe to assume people don’t know what you’re thinking. You’ll find the more you communicate with others, the more they will reciprocate. If you don’t tell them, they will simply just never have known. Ask them questions, tell them what you’re doing, be responsive, and get over that you think you’re bugging them too much. The more you communicate, the shorter the physical distance between you appears. One single five minute conversation over Messenger can equate to a two hour email thread.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #1: Please don’t go out all night and avoid messaging them. It’s just not going to end well.
Share Frequently and Get Feedback More Often
Constantly send screenshots and ideas. People like this. Give them a glimpse into your head throughout the day so they can see your creative process. Make it known that you should share your unfinished work in progress. A single reply from a teammate can steer your entire project in a better direction. Get feedback on your work early on so you can evolve sooner.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #2: Surprise them with gifts. They might tell you they don’t want anything, but trust me, they do. You’ll thank me later.
Having a quicker turn around time constantly reminds people you’re on top of the task and they have nothing to worry about. When people can’t physically see something happening around them, they don’t know whether it’s getting done or not. Burn through the ideas quickly to show your progress, get feedback, then continue refining from there.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #3: When you’re asked to please take out the garbage, that doesn’t mean three hours from now when you’re finally done saving the world on your Xbox.
Being remote doesn’t mean you can’t build a strong rapport. Build trust in your team by constantly reminding them how dependable you are. You can do this by being the first one to respond in threads, providing your feedback, leading initiatives, and not just delivering your work on time, but delivering it early.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #4: Be dependable and follow through with your promises. You’ll at least get an “A” for effort.
Openly Voicing Your Opinion
Be the first to respond. People have short term memories, so keep hammering it in that you’re here and you have an opinion. Provide feedback on other people’s work and be convicted, without ego. Be understanding and find that balance in the difference of opinions without ending in a dreadful compromise.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #5: Show that you really do have a sensitive side.
Be a Leader
One of the qualities a leader has is that you actively know what to do next, without being told to do so. You need to take the initiative to drive the team. Do things like having something exciting for everyone to see when they look at their phones as they wake up in the morning. Set their tone for the rest of the day.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #6: You know what they do and don’t like, so just avoid the argument and do it before they even have to ask.
Although you need to take more responsibility on yourself, this is a two way street. It’s up to you to make sure your team knows how to work best with you, as well. If they aren’t regularly sharing progress with you, bug them. Ask them questions every day. Make it known that your awareness matters a lot, and affects the outcome of the project.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #7: When you say you’re going to be home at 10:30 P.M., don’t show up at 1 A.M. in a drunken stupor.
Get Physical Face Time
In the end, working with people face-to-face is the most ideal experience. People will learn to appreciate it when you are there. Sometimes seeing people less makes the time that you do have together much more effective. Distance really can make the heart grow fonder. If you can’t physically be present, have your closest teammate be the eyes on the ground for you so they can keep you informed of hearsay.
Unsolicited piece of relationship advice #8: The most important thing they want is to spend time with you. So put in the extra effort and put on a nice shirt.
Remember, working remotely isn’t a get out of jail free card. It means that you need to be more vigilant and proactive. Just like in your long distance relationship, sometimes a simple message will make you a much better team.
Product Designer, Facebook