When I tell people I work remotely from my home, the most common response I receive is: “I could NEVER work from home!”
This is proceeded by a very common barrage of excuses. It wouldn’t work for them with their wife at home. They couldn’t be stuck in the house all day. They aren’t disciplined enough. Too many distractions. Aren’t you lonely? You can’t be as productive or creative. The list goes on and on…
Being successful at working remote takes self discipline, focus, and a commitment to time management. You must be resilient to distractions. And I’ll be the first to admit that remote work is not a cake walk. It may not be suitable for everyone (Although it’s more likely it wouldn’t be suitable for your employer.)
Remote work success factors hinge on honesty, respect, and just getting shit done.
The freedom of working remotely can be empowering. But it’s also a lot of rope to hang yourself with. There are a ton of great articles out there on specific tools you can use to organize your team and help you work remotely, so I won’t do a deep dive on that. I’m going to cover some of the basic lessons that I’ve learned to make remote work, work for me.
No seriously. Did you read that? Communicating effectively is the backbone of a successful remote work environment. Distributed teams provide opportunities for misunderstandings to arise between team members. By confirming and redundantly stating decisions you can mitigate this.
A good example is our design team at Stack Exchange. Our team is distributed among France (1), Poland (1), and the Eastern USA (3). There is a large time gap from when our Euro friends complete work and receive the rest of the teams feedback. We may brainstorm ideas as a team, allow the lead designer to work on the project, and he would chat and email with key stakeholders while working through his initial design.
Once he completes a first round of comps, he can share it to Basecamp with annotations for the rest of the team to see the progression. At this point there is opportunity for the rest of the team to discuss it further via a video conference, chat, or voice call. The designer posts a summary of notes and next steps, and begins work on the next round of comps. In this way, team members and stakeholders can agree on next steps and key meeting notes. This type of repetition makes it super clear to the team at large what is being worked on.
Sharing early and often, and communicating next steps redundantly will help make sure everyone is on the same page.
We are still experiencing growing pains though. It has been interesting figuring out exactly at what stage designs should be shared. I opt for sharing as much as possible as early as you can. By formulating ideas, weeding out the bad, and sharing the good ones rapidly you can engage the team’s collective mind. It’s a balancing act. You want to share with your design team, not necessarily everyone in the company.
Take advantage of the shorthand you share with your professional peers. It just makes your work better. Collective thinking for really big product features, design initiatives, or marketing plans is absolutely crucial ~ so sharing early and often, and communicating next steps redundantly will help make sure everyone is on the same page.
Communication is a remote workers primary skill. Not everyone is good at it when they start, but it’s something that can be quickly learned.
Maintain your digital presence
While you may lack the ability to physically co-habitat with your team members, that does not mean you can’t maintain a high level of engagement over the course of your work day with them. Here are some rules I stick to:
• Make it predictable when others can reach you. (maintain a structured daily schedule, communicate schedule changes or AFK)
• Keep your calendar up to date and shared with others on the team.
• Make it easy to reach you. (Mobile chat clients, Skype, phone)
• Create a digital water-cooler. Hang out there, discuss, and share things. (A team group chat, Google Hangout or equivalent)
Recently I’ve been firing up our Design Team Hangout, and will keep the hangout session active the majority of the work day. That way anytime someone wants to chat with me, they can pop in and get feedback, discuss, or just chill. So far it’s been going pretty well (except for when you are blasting music, which has a tendency to startle your team members.)
Have a home office. Leave it often.
It’s been very important for me to have a home office. Somewhere I can setup all my gear, and just hunker down and get things done. Make it a place you genuinely like to be. I prefer to have a good view out the front windows of my home, which allows a lot of natural light into the room. It’s very different decor wise from any other room in our house, which is a good thing!
It’s also good though to take advantage of the freedom you have to get out of the house every once and a while. Go to your favorite bar, maybe a co-working space, or even the local gun range. Okay, maybe not everyone wants to work at a gun range. But that’t the beauty, you can literally work from wherever you can get wifi. I am guilty of probably not leaving the house enough.
Be sure to set aside time for just hanging out with your team members.
If you’re working with clients who have different locations around the country, it’s a great opportunity to get out and see the world! Our Stack Exchange office is located in New York ~ and meeting up with the team for design summits is a seriously good time. Our most recent team gathering allowed us to do work that’s harder to do over the internet: brainstorm on a whiteboard and longer-term thinking that we don’t make time for in our day-to-day. And be sure to set aside time for just hanging out. Long casual conversations over meals are good, and allow you to learn more about your team.
It’s true. Pants are optional, but I encourage them.
Yes I work from home. And yes I always wear pants. I’ve made it a habit to get up in the mornings, go to the gym, and get fully dressed for the day like I am going into the office. Maintaining a morning ritual (gym, breakfast, dress) allows me to get my day off right and motivates me to tackle the rest of my day. It’s also a good way to avoid sleeping in, or staying up too late.
So, set a morning routine to maintain consistency to your work day.
Don’t Fuck Up
Remote work success factors hinge on honesty, respect, and just getting shit done. If you’re a dishonest, disrespectful, and lazy person then of course remote work will fail for you.
If you require micro-management, tasks spoon fed your way, and an un-willingness to communicate daily with team members – then you will fail. It takes a special type of person to be an effective remote employee. Being proactive, efficient, and collaborative is rewarded when you are a remote worker.
You can work remotely. It just depends on if you’re willing to work for it.