6 Months of Working Remotely Taught Me a Thing or Ten

Peter Anglea on August 28, 2017

Six months ago, I started as a Senior Front-End Developer for Helix Education. Most of what I do now is identical to what I did for my past employe... [Read Full]
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Something else that is almost necessary to ensure success is for your company to help facilitate remote employees.

Things like:

  • Keeping conversations that involve remote employees in Slack instead of in-person.
  • Regular video calls. We have a daily developers meeting, and a weekly team meeting. I've been surprised how much you can pick up a person's mannerisms over video call. It means I've gone a couple years without meeting coworkers in person without realizing it, because I already feel like I know them.
  • Schedule time to get to know each other. Our weekly team meeting involves each person sharing three personal wins from the last week, something that was learned, and status on a habit you're working to develop. The meeting is also a chance to get updates on things happening in the company.
  • Regularly bringing all remote employees into the office for an event.
  • Encourage pair-programming with screen sharing. Since those of us remote can't just walk up to another employee to ask a question, we regularly hop on Zoom to do a screen share and talk through a problem.
  • A shared calendar for everyone to post when they will be out of the office.

I'm sure there's more, but these are a few things our company does that I feel really help me to feel involved.

 

Oh, and I also have the same problem of being in a different time zone. I have trained my coworkers to always add a timezone when they write a date

 
 

I use a Text Expander snippet so I never forget to add the Time Zone. My snippet even knows when PSD changes to PST.

 

I have been remote for a little over 4 years and I can say without hesitation that getting ready for the day -- ie. putting your pants on -- is probably the most important part of this list. I personally dress for work every day. When my day is over and I "go home," I change into other clothes just like I would coming in from the office. It definitely helps to separate your home and work life.

 

This is something that I started doing to work on personal projects at home. The process of getting ready also gives me time to wake up. Works pretty well for me, and it's nice to hear that it's a legitimate strategy.

 

This is really great Peter. We're aspiring to be a remote organization and I'm going to pass this post around.

 

Great! A good remote experience doesn't happen by default. It takes active effort to reap the benefits. That's the TL;DR version. :)

 

Do you have any technical suggestions? Software, hardware, anything that makes things go more smoothly?

I'm not sure we use any software that you haven't heard of before. Having solid communication and project management tools are an imperative. We use HipChat (but Slack is great, too - probably better, IMO), GitHub, Zoom, Hangouts, etc. Been a while since I used Slack (my old job used it) but HipChat's integrated video call button is great. As a general rule, I opt for video call over audio only whenever possible. Being able to see who's currently online is also a must-have feature. Our PM tool is Workamajig, but for the purposes of being remote, any tool that can let you see the current status of any project, who's currently working on it, and any conversation threads surrounding it is a huge plus.

In short, any tool that enables and facilitates transparency, openness, and communication is worth your investment.

There are gimmicky tools/gadgets out there, too. Our office has one of those remote controlled robot-iPad-on-wheels things... but it doesn't get much use.

Yeah I don't think we plan on getting the iPad on wheels any time soon but I do want to put some effort into the little things that can make audio/video/connectivity better. We use Slack and are happy with the calling features. Slack also acquired Screenhero so I'm excited for some of those features to get more integrated.

The "robot-iPad-on-wheels" was actually a lifesaver for our company - we didn't have the discipline to avoid the water cooler conversations or instantaneous whiteboard sessions, so having the robot be able to 'overhear' the conversation was actually immensely helpful for the remote person.

We just switch from Slack to Discord. The voice channels add an "office environment" feeling to just speak when you have a question. And it also has all the chat features of Slack/HipChat. The only downside is no integrations so if you need that then Slack is your best bet.

 

There is any article about how dev.to team is currently organized?

 

I've been working from home for a little north of 12 years as a PSE at Red Hat and now a PE at Cisco (which is different from principal at Red Hat - PEs at Cisco are technical directors).

Out of all the things on the list, the put your pants on - that is to maintain your appearance and not slip into the "don't shave, don't shower, don't wear shoes" is #1*9000. Don't even think about working remote without instilling this as your #1 priority. Get monthly hair cuts. You know, all that hygiene stuff that is mandatory when working in an office? That goes fast in the first 3 months of working from home. Hold on to those habits - they take time to rebuild if you drop them.

Second priority is physical exercise. A membership at an indoor gym is 10 bucks a month, triggers the release of endorphins during exercise, and keeps you physically in shape and mentally healthy by reducing stress. It also gives you a chance 3-5 days a week to force yourself out of the home.

Third priority is not to isolate. Hang out with your friends. Spend time with family.

Forth priority is learn to unplug from work. Should be obvious but it is not.

If you are lucky enough to have an office to commute to 1 or 2 days a week, even if filled with sales people, I'd highly recommend it. I go into an office every Wednesday even though its a remote office (when I'm not traveling) to get out of the house, see what the traffic is like, and get away from the racket in my household. I don't get the benefit of having water-cooler with my coworkers, but at least there are other folks that i can speak with.

To all those building remote organizations, I'd recommend quarterly or bi-yearly 3 day events where you bring the staff together to plan the business / meet each other / boondongle / etc :) It is worth the budget. There are lots of risks if these 4 priorities are not enforced. Your employer won't enforce them, you have to do so.

 
 

I've been working remotely for 4 years now and you summed it up perfectly. Every point you've made really does define what it takes to be a successful remote employee. It should go without saying, but putting pride into how you go about doing your work, communication, humanization, and professionalism are a must.

 

One simple rule that I recommend people starting to work remotely is - "Build your routines". It will be easier to preserve your discipline when you know how you start your day, when you're taking lunch break etc. Also remember to communicate when you're leaving or you won't be available. It is really annoying when you see on chat that somebody is available but he doesn't respond.

 

Peter, all great points. I've been working full-time remote for 25 years at this point...it was called 'telecommuting' back in the day.  :)

A few other points I'd like to add...

  1. Working remotely requires ACTIVE LISTENING for important meeting, especially one involving multiple people.  That involves asking clarifying questions to make sure you're picking up on the speaker's intent ("So, what I'm hearing you say is....").  Video chat has actually help with communication, but even with video, it is easy to miss something in a remote meeting.

  2. No side conversations in meetings.  When you have a meeting where some folks are remote and some folks are together in a room, the 'side conversations' that go on in the room are incredibly difficult to focus on for the remotes.  In these hybrid situations, it is really important to have just one person speaking at a time in the room.

  3. Leave home every day. (psychologically, not physically)  When you're at work, be at work.  Separate physical space - even a corner in a room - really makes a difference.  If you're partner/spouse also works from home, you each need separate work space (from 'home space' and from each other)

  4. Leave work every day.  Sometimes when you work remote, there is a tendency to be on call 24/7 and never (mentally) 'leave work'.  This is more insidious that you might think.  It totally screws up your work/life balance and messes with your relationships in a negative way.  And it can be hard to do when you're passionate about what you're working on or the people you're working with - but it is vitally important if you're doing this long term.

  5. Actively look for ways to foster team spirit and knock down barriers to efficiency.  Sometimes folks are just toodling along doing what they do without looking at they what and why of it.  If something bugs you or strikes you as not optimal, bring it up.  It is amazing how small improvements to common issues can help bind a team together.

 

Thanks for the post.
I work at Elastic which is primarily a remote company.
These points are constantly reinforced at our company and part of our values.
Just because you are remote doesn't mean that you are alone.
All of us contribute to company values, culture and "hands-on-keyboard" work.

We value this privilege that our CEO has fostered and that's what makes us a Great company.

 

If you let you lead into the trap of being available as possible and on cam people will use it to bind you.

Synchronous communication is an issue of process.

Tools like Slack and Hangouts are the wrong way.

 

We use Slack but still guard against the synchronous expectation trap. We try to make most things async, but sync when it's convenient. We primarily treat GitHub issues as asynchronous. Tools-wise, what's your general alternative to Slack?

I will note that I am 100% off Slack, etc. in non-team settings like these big open source projects. I've found it wholly useless.

 

I think chats are nice sometimes.

I'm in the Reason and React-Native Discord channels and it's sometimes nice to get stuff explained so I can ask additional questions on the fly.

But my experience with chats at work was always that people went batshit crazy with them. Suddenly you had 20 messages in Slack, WhatsApp and SMS.

Often the problem was process based, like, when you have no process at all. Stuff getting tested in-production, customers getting mad, ops and PMs shitting their pants and calling for a dev to save their butt and getting angry because no-one is online.

I try to get most things done via email or issue trackers, people expect them to be slower than chats or messengers.

I heard that Automattic uses nice async tools, but I never investigated which, I just met an employee who told me about it.

 

The synchronous expectation trap is hard to get around especially in places that are new to remote working. Of course open communication about expected hours of availability can go a long way to alleviate this but everyone has to be open to compromise on that. The fact that your home is also your "work" should not lead to your supervisor/manager/lead/whatever assuming that you are available whenever they feel like it.

 

Yes it sucks if people call you at weekends or at night, but it also sucks if they want face-time in working hours, independent of the fact that I'm in office or not.

I mean I don't have a problem with 1-2h a week or a 1-2 day workshop every few months, but some people are just always behind your back :D

 

All good points and I see people have hit on the top 2 for me (I've been remote/freelance for a decade) - have a separate space if you possibly can which is your office and dress for work. I'll add another that, if it was mentioned, I missed. Set office hours.

it's incredibly easy to never really stop working, even if you move from your home office to your personal space and change from 'work' clothes into sweats, etc. Don't do that as a habit. Just as physical boundaries and appearances are import, so are temporal ones. Keep a regular work schedule that fits with your needs and those of your colleagues and the company. That might be 8-5 or not, but whatever it is, set those hours and try to keep them consistently. Do the same thing for days. If your regular work days are Mon-Fri, then work those days and NOT on the weekend.

Sure, make exceptions here and there if a project is in crunch time and really needs the extra push. But don't fall into the trap of working 24/7.

That said, working remotely has a big advantage that being in an office does not. Work permitting, you can take a couple of hours on a random day to have a long lunch with a friend you've not seen and make those hours up in the evening.... so don't straitjacket yourself. Occasionally, it makes sense to break the schedule and if you can do it without letting people down and you want to... do that.

 

My dad worked remote for a while and the getting dressed for work thing was definitely one of the biggest for him. It helped him get into the work mode and get stuff done, like you said. Thanks for the tips!

Also. I expect pictures of your kitten with a future post. :)

 

Thanks, Ryan. I'll try to work in your request. ;)

 

Great post! As expected everyone has personal preferences. For me a coffeeshop is my number one productivity boost as opposed to being at home.
My brain now knows that when I just paid $5 and setup my gear (macbook + keyboard + mouse = + Roost stand) on the table that I better make use of this time whereas at home it can be more tempting to procrastinate.
This could change if I had the luxury of a real home office of course. Keep experimenting and see what works for you would be my advice.

 

I have been working from home for approximately 6 months now too. After we decided to move further from the office I managed to convince my employer that it would be a viable and effective option. I struck a deal with my employer that allows me to work from home 2 days a week and I currently do the 100mile commute and stay with family for the other 3 days. This allows for communication in the office and means that I still feel part of the team.

It is very easy to get forgotten/to forget about others when you're working from home. If you have previously been in the office you will notice that at times you feel you miss out. For example, office lunches...since I have moved away we haven't had a single lunch when I have been in the office. On the other hand everyone else has been there for 3 lunches on a Friday. I guess my bonus is that I am at home. Hard to deal with sometimes though.

Isolation is a huge thing and I am not the most outgoing of people so I truly need to force myself to go out at lunch. Most days I forget and just continue working and on a few occasions I work late, sometimes very late.

It is all part of the learning process and it is getting easier/better for the most part. Hopefully I can swap the days so I am home 3 days a week. The hardest part for me is being away from my SO.

Slack helps, although we haven't used video chat. I am 10x more productive when at home as there are fewer distractions thanks to being the only one home during the day, no office chit-chat and a dedicated office at home.

My advice in summary would the following:

  • Look after yourself, appearance and health
  • Don't shy away from the world, enjoy the outside
  • Speak with your co-workers. Ensure you ask for feedback to ensure you are meeting their expectations
  • Inline with point 3 - Give feedback, if someone isn't accommodating you or making your life harder for no reason, offer feedback to improve the workflow.
  • Enjoy it! Plenty of benefits to make the most of this opportunity!
 

Good points, except that I don't agree that remote work is a privilege. It's not a right either, it's just a part of a deal between you and your employer, the same way you might negotiate a better salary or the use of company car or something else. You save some money (and more importantly time) on commuting, but the company also saves tones of money for not having to provide you a workplace and all that goes with it. Also you spend a lot of money that otherwise you wouldn't (you use your own computer, office equipment, Internet, pay for heating all day, you need to cook/buy lunch, coffee, etc.). So it's just another way to cut a deal with your employer, and each one of us pushes for what he/she finds important. To me it's working remotely, so that I can live where I want. But my colleagues at the office also get their share of benefits, so I don't see myself as being in privileged position at all.

 

Great article! Unfortunately I just found it now, and couldn't read ALL the comments, but there's a point I haven't see: schedule regular 1:1 meetings with everyone (or almost) in the team, just to get to know each other. Like, personally!

Obviously some work/tech stuff should come up, but try not to talk only about them. This works greatly towards team building. It's invaluable to me.

 

I agree with pretty much all you said and I think it sums up remote work relatively well. I'd just add that off-home workspaces (coffee shop/co-work/libraries/etc) are also a very viable option.
Personally I can't work at home, even if I had a dedicated office, something to do with a clear mental barrier I put up a long time ago (I'm actually grateful for it). As you mentioned, working home can really mess you up if you're not careful. Having a very diminished commute to a workplace that's not your home can help you tremendously if you have the same problem as I have. Not saying you can't work at home, just saying that there are alternatives.

One more thing, about being always available, I think one should be careful about it, otherwise the only thing you'll be doing is replying to slack/email/chat messages and not being able to get any work done. When in doubt, iterate and learn. :)

 
 

Thank for your post, I will start my remote job next month and this really useful. Just a question, do you think the remote worker needs the higher standard than the office worker? e.g., more experience, more senior...

 

My first remote job was with a startup where the team members were all over the map. We had lots of difference in our timezone and couldn't communicate unless some of us sacrifice their sleeping time to join a meeting or collaborate on a lunch of a product. It was very nice to work with them but I couldn't keep it for a long time, because of the chaos.
The current company is better in their timezone and management. We have like a range of 6 timezone (like from 1 to 6) and we have our 4 hours intersection where all the team can meet and discuss stuff. It is alright for me to wake up earlier then the rest of my family but it is manageable and perfect for me to say the least.
The problem that you a remote employee can face, is when the company or his client doesn't have an idea or experience with remote working. That would be a problem for both sides and one of them will sacrifice something to keep things going.
But for most cases, if the employee prepare himself to work remotely by reading others experiences and discipline himself to be more comfortable with it. Lots of problems can be avoided.

 

The one thing I struggle most with after around 10 years of working at home, is solitude. I enjoy being alone but sometimes it's too much. You have to take measures like programmed walks for errands or leisure and getting out with friends.

 

I agree with pretty much every single point. The one I often wind up stressing the most, though, odd though it may sound, is "put your pants on!"

I often get teased about being able to work in my PJs/underwear/bathrobe. I know it's meant in fun, but I still always stop them and correct them. "Actually? I always dress the same way I would for the office--admittedly, I'd wear my silly T-shirts to the office, too, but point is, I put on pants. I shower, I brush my hair and teeth, and I go to my office (which just happens to be in my house)."

"But...but...you could work from bed!"

The last thing I want to associate with my bed is work!

 

I just started working remotely for this very website and I find all of this invaluable.

I am really introverted and really socially awkward, so turning on my webcam is something I try not to do. I know this is bad practice and will surely rectify it, as the dev.to team are great people.

Small talk is super hard for me. I am not the best communicator when I just meet a team. But your tips here are a lifesaver for someone as awkward as I am.

Thanks and cheers.

 

Great article. I agree 100%.

Ah, and one more team. Trust your team. Without them earning it first. You want to be trusted from the very start, right?

The funny thing regarding no. 6 - I feel that a lot of people see us - remoties unkempt, disheveled and wearing pajamas. Oh, so not true ;)

And if it's true, you'll go insane soon so please, put your pants on ;)

I worked remotely for 3 years and it took me some time to shape right habits. It's important to keep yourself in check not to become a total hermit. And building relationship with a remote team is much more challenging. But it's great when you get it right.

Also, work when you're most productive since you probably can (though I once interviewed for the remote job when they required me to still work more or less 9-5) ;) And travel if you want. And can. (I did. And I recommend.)

 

I totally agree, about the pants as well. In my job, I work remotely around 6 days every 15 of work in the office, so it doesn't apply 100%. But when I do, it's sometimes difficult to be always available or separating time for yourself (so many people pinging you or wanting something immediately). So I try for some time (i.e. for preparing lunch) to be with some away status that people can recognize. And I totally agree in going out from home, it helps, although sometimes in winter you just don't really want to.

 

Nice man. Thanks to my hermano Skatox (Miguel Useche) I got your article. Nice read. I am working since this year from "the road", but based in Amsterdam... I got a team of 9 people around the globe, so I know what you mean, with waking up and getting ready and not being the guy looking like coming out of the bed. If it´s morning here I call in Tokyo, to catch my copywriter (martinahollweck.com - just amazing person) and if its midday, Mariela wakes up in Argentinia... inbetween I do a lot of short videos through skype, not video calls - real videos. To make jokes or to tell them a story from my honeymoon trip (alealife.tumblr.com) - the most important is COMMUNICATION.

That is why I give each Friday a story via Video for 5 minutes about my world trip (bike4peace.eu)

What I like in your article is the fact, that you describe a daily workflow and I agree with you... there are benefits and there are also things, that are really different from an office day.

But I am honest, I am deep inside a very free and creative person and no office and no management ever could give me the space to work, like I wanted to work. So I keep going and if you want to connect, please add me on Facbeook: Alexandros Tsachouridis Mondon

Peace and all the best from Amsterdam and thanks for your energy and the time to write this article. Very nice from your, dear Peter.

Peace
Alexandros

 

I switched to working remotely 8 months back for the same company for which I used to work from their office. Can't agree more to all the points. I wish I came across this article 8 months back. I've setup my office at home. Working everyday from home got boring. Occasionally going out and working from a co-working space has been very refreshing.

 

In my experience over the past 4 years of remote work, the "list of tips to help with remote work" should just be the "list of tips to help with remote work". If everyone not remote on the team followed the same tips then it makes the remote work a lot more productive and beneficial. Great article.

 

Great suggestions! Solid communication when you're working remotely is so important. If the communication is poor, everything else just becomes a hassle.

 

I'm not sure if I agree with #6, but since I do agree with #7 I guess I have to agree with #6 as well. :O

 

Amazing post Peter. I've been working remotely for a little over 2 years now, you've covered this topic perfect with some brilliant tips.

 

This is the most "human" article covering this subject I have ever seen.

 

Amazing writeup Peter. I've been considering working remotely for a while and this gives me a better idea of what it's like and what's important to do. Thanks a lot.

 

Old thread so hopefully I'm not too late to the party...

Slack and HipChat get a lot of attention. Is the call quality better than Skype?

Our main tools for the past 7 years have been Skype for real-time communication, JIRA for questions/discussions/task management/feature requests/bug reporting, Confluence for documents, and SVN for source control.

I'm based in the Tokyo office. We also have a Toronto office and dev partners in India. It's definitely been a challenge and, in my own experience, I would say there is no upside to it at all.

 

Good post Peter, thank you !

What about some resources to find remote work ?

 
 
 

Very well written Peter. Can connect to all of your points.

 

I imagine working in an entirely remote team with 100% co workers remote will be a lot more fun :) I haven't used this yet but I'd try out sneek.io/ if anyone is looking for video chats.

 
 

The last paragraph in 5 is lazyness with extra steps, just go to the gym people... or get out to do some running, or meet with friends to play soccer, or any other sport.

 

i got an offer for a remote job and this, nicely written, article will very likely influence my decision.
one question though.
how big was the team?

 

My immediate team is 5-6 people. They're all located on-site. But our company has offices in three major cities and several remote employees scattered across the US, so working collaboratively with people who are not in the same space as you is kind of part of the company culture. That said, parts of what I wrote could also apply to people who work with remote employees.

 

I've been very seriously looking into remote roles lately and this was a great primer for how to be most effective with that privilege. Great read, thank you!

 

Might also interest you:

Lessons learned from a year working as a Remote worker

medium.com/@Kapoor/lessons-learned...

 

Great write up Peter. As someone who eventually would like to work remotely, I'll have to keep this post close by for reference :D

 

I think the hardest part about remote work is the separation of space. Definitely second the idea that it helps so much to have the physical workspace different than home/not-work space.

 
 

Hooray Peter, this is Such a great read full of insights, is there some kind of advice you would give to a remote job seeker and where to start

 
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