Remote work is a fantastic way to lead a more flexible lifestyle when it comes to your career. By eliminating the commute, packed lunches, and other logistical burdens, remote workers can focus more on the work that matters most.
While many companies opt for brick-and-mortar offices, more and more companies are transitioning to remote teams to expand their talent pool. Companies like Zapier and Aha! are remote-friendly landing spots for technical professionals looking to continue their careers without the commute.
Even traditional companies are beginning to reassess their remote work policies due to unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19 and its impact on the conventional workplace. The attitude towards remote work will most likely shift as more companies offer flexible work options.
Traditionally, technology workers are in-office people. They’re expected to be able to lead whiteboard sessions, present product demos to leadership, and talk shop with the engineering manager two desks over. It’s important to remember what makes a good in-office worker and replicate those qualities as a remote worker.
If you’re interested in remote work, the following tips will help you become an excellent remote worker:
Relationships and Rapport
It’s no secret that being a great colleague can sometimes require you to master working cross-functionally with all kinds of people. Whether it’s talking through product specs with engineers, digging into user research with customers, or triaging bugs with QA, it’s critically important to intimately know the people you’re working with. You want your teammates to tell you the truth, put effort into working with you, and help you further improve your product—all things that are accomplished by building a strong relationship with great rapport.
Of course, building rapport can be a bit more difficult as a remote worker. You don’t get the same luxuries of body language, face-to-face conversations, or chatting about pleasantries during lunch.
However, you can still build great relationships with people you connect with remotely. Try scheduling virtual happy hours, playing online games, or connecting with your co-workers in other social ways. You’ll find yourself relating to your team in no time.
Building trust is all about reliability. Your teammates should always be able to count on you to behave in a certain way or act in a certain manner. As a remote worker, it can be difficult for your teammates to trust what they can’t see, so you’ll have to be more transparent than most in creating trust.
Trust should be treated as a currency. You can build trust just as you can spend trust, and it’s important to do more of the former than the latter. Make sure to establish a reputation for being reliable, consistent, and for keeping your promises. You may find yourself needing to use some of that trust when you disagree or challenge a teammate’s opinion.
Roles and Responsibilities
Similar to building relationships and trust, understanding what others expect of you will help alleviate confusion and build cohesion with your teammates. Do designers expect you to be in every design review? Are you expected to write and groom JIRA tickets? Do you know if you’re leading the product demo this week or next? Making sure you’re clear on your exact roles and responsibilities will help eliminate confusion or redundancy in your work.
You should know the roles and responsibilities of all your colleagues as well. Whenever a problem or question arises, knowing who covers specific topics can be greatly beneficial. Don’t be afraid to ask “What do you do?”, “What are your goals?”, and “What metrics are you measured against?”. If you can help your teammates with their goals, it’ll go a long way towards rapport and trust as well!
Communication is another critical skill and the need for communication is emphasized as a remote worker.
As a remote worker, you may not have the same opportunities to communicate as you would in-person. For example, you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk to discuss the tradeoffs of a proposed feature or the design of a user workflow. Because of these roadblocks, it’s critical to nail down your communication habits to better facilitate collaboration.
One tip is to get in the habit of documenting everything. Whether it’s a project management tool, a shared drive, or even an email thread—try and continuously note down what you’re doing, the decisions you’re making, and any blockers or unanswered questions you’re facing. Ask yourself the question, if you leave the company tomorrow, can someone pick up where you left off? Clear documentation will make your life and others a hundred times easier as a remote worker.
The next tip is to utilize clear and concise verbiage in your communication style. You don’t need to explain every detail or rehash every decision in your communication. Make sure people understand the main points you’re trying to get across, but don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Try to use the 80/20 rule here. For example, if everyone who reads your last email keeps asking you the same questions, maybe you should include the answer in a centralized FAQ. You can also supplement your words with pictures and videos—both of which can be much more effective at getting your point across than text.
In a regular office, it’s easy for others to hop over to your desk and strike up a conversation. As a remote worker, you’ll need to find different wants to achieve the same effect.
Being highly available as a remote worker can help you make sure you aren’t blocking anyone. Come online every day at the same time, respond to messages promptly, and broadcast to teammates that you have a virtual “open-door” policy. These things will help teammates know when you’re available to collaborate even without seeing you in person.
You can also conduct regular check-ins with people on your team. These check-ins can be in the form of virtual coffee, weekly 1:1’s, or post-mortems. Give yourself and others on your team a dedicated forum for them to raise questions or communicate with you directly so that they don’t have trouble seeking you out.
The last tip for availability is to set dedicated alone time. It sounds counterintuitive at first, but focus time allows you to collect your thoughts, problem-solve, and get real work done without fear of interruption. Have a way for people to reach you if there’s an emergency, but be sure to block out some time for yourself on your calendar.
Lastly, the following are some of my favorite tools that I like to utilize to help me with my remote work:
- Zoom - Video meeting software.
- Slack - Channel-based messaging platform. For something more casual, try Discord.
- Asana - Project management tool. Use Jira to track software development. For something more generic (e.g., Kanban boards), check out Trello.
- Figma - Design and prototyping tool. Use Balsamiq for lower fidelity mockups
- Miro - Online whiteboard.
- Google Drive/Dropbox/Box - Cloud file storage.
- Pomodoro Timer - Time management technique.
Guest post by Jeff Lee.