One of the great things about working in technology is the flexibility to work wherever you wish. Isovera is headquartered just outside of Boston, MA, but our employees are distributed across the United States and around the world. Many of us come to the office a few times a week, some of us a few times a year, and… well, I’ve never actually met a few of my favorite colleagues.
We’re not alone in embracing remote work – 43% of US workers worked at least part of the time remotely last year, and that number is expected to increase.
Working remotely can be extremely satisfying. There’s no commute, you can wear whatever you like, you can let the dog in and out at will. But, working remotely also presents a unique set of challenges that you won’t find in a more traditional “butts in seats” workplace. Here’s how to be a star performer without ever getting out of your PJs.
The most important thing you’ll need as a remote worker is a reliable internet connection. I can’t stress this enough, as getting (and staying) online is going to be your lifeline to work. Stuff happens, though, so we recommend that all of our remote employees have a backup plan for when their connection (inevitably) goes down — this can be a cell phone tether, a coffee shop down the street with free wifi, or the local library. Being prepared with Plan B can be a lifesaver when you’re under a deadline but your internet provider has other ideas.
Being remote doesn’t have to feel remote. With video conferencing and screen sharing, you can contribute to any discussion from your home office as easily as you can in a conference room.
At Isovera, we use Slack as our primary communication channel. Conversations start out as instant messages then often jump to video conference to talk out an issue. Slack lets us share our screens with other users, and we can even hand off control of our screens to other users. This lets developers edit each others’ code; designers can annotate layouts and editors can collaborate on copy. They say a picture is worth a thousand words — a screen share might be worth a million.
Level up your conference calls with a decent set of headphones and a good mic — that will make the difference between sounding like you’re a zillion miles away and being right there. And don’t be afraid of the video conference — sure, everyone starts out staring at themselves on the screen (“is that what I really look like?”) but before you know it, it’s your new normal, and you start looking forward to seeing your colleagues’ smiling faces.
It goes without saying that you’ll need a remote workspace that’s free of distractions. That means something different to everyone — some folks find the white noise of a crowded coffee shop conducive to cranking out code, others prefer deep silence, or listening to music. No matter what, you will need to have a quiet space to conduct calls — nobody wants to hear your dog barking or the details of your espresso order during a standup. And if you have small children at home, they should have a care provider other than you. Don’t be this guy.
The most important requirement of all for a remote worker is communication skills. Being out of sight can mean being out of mind — you’ll need to be proactive about reaching out to your team and manager on a regular basis. This means you should:
Have regular check ins — meet with your team and your manager regularly. Attend standups and other required meetings, and if you have a conflict or need to miss a meeting, let the person running the meeting know ahead of time. Keep everyone in the loop if you’re running late on a deadline.
Ask questions — it’s easy to get frustrated or feel like you’re working in a vacuum when you work remotely. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re stuck on something, or need another set of eyes. Hop on a quick call or video conference with a colleague or your manager.
Be responsive — if someone messages you, get back to them in a timely manner. Keep your chat open while you’re working. Check your email multiple times a day. You should be as available to your team and manager as if you were right down the hall — you don’t need to be chained to your desk all day long, but if someone is looking for you, they should be able to find you without a lot of effort.
Don’t go dark — if you’re stepping away, let people know. Use your chat client status to say “I’m heads down on a project, only disturb me if it’s urgent.” Alert people when you’re logging off for the day or the weekend. If something comes up, say so! Don’t leave your colleagues guessing where you went for days on end.
Get to know people — we’re all human beings, not just machines cranking out code. Use video conferences to connect when you can. Socialize with your colleagues — engage in some sports talk or share pictures of your pets. Get to know your team beyond the projects you are collaborating on. And come into the office once in a while, if it’s logistically feasible — there’s no substitute for IRL interaction.