Remote Work – 5 Years Later

This month it will be my 5 year anniversary as a remote worker. During that time I have been working for different companies, some were fully remote, some were partially remote. In some cases I have worked with teams with almost no time overlap (9 hours difference), in some cases all of us were in the same time zone.

This post is an attempt to summarize my thoughts from the 5 year perspective, but also I’d like to share tips for both people who are remote members in their teams as well as for people who are working exclusively on-site while some of their peers are remote.

Remote work is here to stay

I think right now remote working is one of the biggest trends shifting the IT industry, more and more companies are open to hire people working remotely. 5 years ago the situation was very different, remote working was something a lot of people didn’t hear about and as potential hire it was nearly impossible to convince your potential employer to hire our like that.

Right now you can apply to many companies that don’t explicitly advertise that they are hiring remotely and very likely they won’t reject you right away.

Over that time we have also seen a massive amount of new tools aimed at distributed teams, for example: Slack, HipChat, Status Hero, etc; without them working remotely wouldn’t be as effective as it can be.

Communication is the key

Over the 5 years are remote worker, I have spent around 2-3 months working in the offices with people on my teams, in most cases I was invited to visit the office and meet with everyone in person.
Experience like that has helped me to adapt to remote environment, here are the most important observations I have for remote workers:

Over-communicate

Make sure that everyone is in the loop about the things you are working on, daily standups definitely help – this is a chance to synchronize whole team, but as remote worker you need to take this further.

Ideally you are using issue tracker to track your progress, I use it a lot to write down ideas or comments as I work on the related issue, this creates a sort of log of my progress through the issue – which makes your work visible to others, people who are subscribed or stumble on this in any other way can add comments while you are working on stuff.
What’s more: It’s very beneficial to setup filters in your issue tracking tool and (periodically, for example daily) go through the issues other are working on and offer your input where you think it would be beneficial

It also helps to write a more or less detailed plan of your work before starting to work on individual issues.

Be responsive to others

Make sure to periodically go through all communication tools your team uses. I usually try to check email 3 times per day (morning, lunch, before going offline), but I keep HipChat open all the time and scroll through it during short breaks when my project is compiling 🙂 . I’ll also get notified when someone mentions me or sends me direct message.

Additionally I think you should treat PR review requests with very high priority, often someone might be blocked waiting on your review.

Proactive communication

This point is especially useful when there’s little time overlap between time members or similar situations. To avoid blocking others or being blocked yourself try to be proactive when asking questions or answering them, for example:

If you are about to ask someone how you should design particular piece of code, instead of asking question right away, try to come up with few approaches you might take, write down shortly what pros and cons they have and suggest which one you think is right.

This helps to greatly reduce the need to go back and forth when communicating – remember that it might take more than 10 hours to get the response.

Advice for on-site workers

All the points above are also very relevant to on-site workers, and I think there are few additional things that on-site workers should pay more attention to.

I’m sure you are already familiar with chat tools like HipChat or Slack, what you might be missing is the opportunity to set your statuses to match your availability, for example make sure to set auto-away to 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, this way when you leave your desk, remote people will notice your status and won’t keep pinging you to reply. Also enable “away” status to set when you lock your device.

If your team has regular standup calls when everyone gathers around single person in the office and all remote people are dialing in, a good quality microphone and camera is a must. Ideally get a microphone that’s designed to pick up human speech and cancels noise.

It might be very useful to experience being a remote worker yourself, I think it’s most effective if for example your team decides on having “Remote Fridays” (or any other day of the week).

Summary

As you can see, majority of my focus was on efficient communication, I believe that this is the most important point to focus on when building or living in a remote team.

Over last 5 years I think I have made great progress with respect to my communication habits and I’m convinced that there is still a lot to learn and grow.

I’m looking forward to next 5 years as remote worker.