How to Make Remote Working Work

(in a non-remote company)

Congrats, you finally convinced your boss(es) to let you work remotely! That was the easy part — now comes the tough part. Your company undoubtedly has an extreme lack of process for remote work, and your boss likely has never had a remote employee before — and maybe even a sour taste in her/his mouth towards remote working. This makes things a little difficult.. This was exactly my situation when I started working remotely, and boy oh boy did I learn a thing or two along the way. Below, I dive into the key problem areas that you’ll run into and how to prevent them.

*Note: This is from the standpoint of an engineer but this is applicable for everyone! :)

TRUST & COMMUNICATION

The sad, horrible, and inaccurate truth about the way managers gauge an employee’s success, effort, and commitment is by what I call the AIS (Ass In Seat) number. The total number of hours you’re sitting at your desk in front of them. As we all know, every second you’re in front of your computer at your desk means that you’re working hard with your brain focused and output at 100%. But wait, now you’re remote and they can’t see your ass in the seat. Whether you’re producing half or 2x the output, it doesn’t matter because they think that you’re sleeping, playing video games, or out doing errands.

Action Items:

Be more vocal

  • Communicate exactly what you’re working on and what you’ve accomplished at minimum every couple hours. If you’re an engineer, it doesn’t matter if you’ve dragged 10 items to ‘completed’ and there’s a trace of everything that you’ve done. It doesn’t count until you slack message your manager directly and tell him that you’ve completed X, X, and X, and that you’re working on X next. If you’ve been stuck on the same bug for 8 hours, give him updates when you’ve uncovered a possible solution and are working towards that. Over-communicate everything, be annoying.

Be available

  • Let your team know regularly that you’re always available through at least a few mediums like Slack, phone, or appear.in. This helps to show your team that you’re working and ready to solve any challenges or work together whenever they arise — just like when you were in the office.
  • If your team has a ‘stand-up’, let your manager know that you’ll be calling him/her at the very start of the meeting daily. This not only helps your teammates to hear you and feel like you’re still part of the team, but also makes you feel more ‘part of the team’ as well.

OUTPUT

When you don’t have face-time with the boss daily, you’re going to be even more-so under the microscope. You’d think that this would be great for you because then your manager is finally going to look into all the tasks you’ve been working on and see how much you’ve accomplished…. WRONG! (S)he isn’t going to look at anything, so you’re automatically seen as under-performing and like you’re not completing anything. The microscope isn’t going to point itself, so here’s how you can get your work noticed and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success.

Action Items:

Spend (more) time accurately estimating your tasks

  • I know, I know, we all hate estimating our work. When you’re in the office, it doesn’t matter as much if you mis-point a task. However, if you’re mis-pointing in the wrong direction now it can really hurt you. You need to make sure you’re able to hit the goals you set out for yourself. Easier said than done, but take the extra time to dig deeper into your tasks, find the areas that could give you trouble or take extra time, and point them accurately.

Detail out what you’ve accomplished

  • Communicating everything directly to your manager is important, but you have to make sure that you’re also putting a paper trail within each task as well. If you’re using Jira, detail out all the minor and major points of each task that you completed within the story card. Maybe you want to also keep tab of these for an end-of-sprint message to your team to cover everything you accomplished, but at the very least keep them in each story so that you can reference back to them.

Set up a Slack-Github integration

  • Set up the Slack-Github, or Slack-Bitbucket integration and create a separate channel that your manager and teammates are part of. This integration will send a message to that channel every time you (or a team member) makes a ‘push’, ‘pull request’, or comment on a PR. This helps your teammates and manager to get more visibility into some of the things you’re working on. Let’s be honest though — your manager is NOT going to read through these so the only thing (s)he sees is your name. This brings me to my next point below.

Commit often

  • Here’s a scenario: you have two developers completing the same exact amount of work. Developer #1 makes a commit and push after every few lines or minor sub-task (s)he completes. Developer #2 makes a commit and push after (s)he completes a task/story, or at the end of each day. Who’s accomplishing more? Developer #1 of course — or at least that’s what your manager thinks. Commit and push to your branch as often as possible.

All of these are things I wish I would have done when I started working remotely, so I hope you can learn from my failures :)

If you enjoyed the article and learned from it, please give me a clap (or 50) below! :) You can read more of my articles at initjs.org, or find me here or on Twitter at @mike_mitrakos