Tips for Working Remotely

I’ve pretty much always worked for myself, and always remotely. The last time I worked in anything that even closely resembled a “real” office was when I was 18 years old. The past 15 years of working remotely, managing teams ranging in size from 2 to over 50 people, has taught me valuable lessons on how to effectively and efficiently work from anywhere in the world.

Tips for Working Remotely

The most important things I’ve learned over the years fit into one or more of three categories:

  • 1. Good Communication
  • 2. Organization and Documentation
  • 3. Boundaries

1. Good Communication

Good communication is, by far, the most important part of working remotely. Applying the tips listed below will help you to master the art of communication.

The Communication Framework

Good communication doesn’t just happen. It has to be thought out, planned, and a Communication Framework needs to be setup. The following tips will help you setup a Communication Framework that will allow you to master good communication.

  • Points of Contact
    Have at least 3 different points of contact if possible (a primary, secondary, and emergency).
  • Communication Channel
    Use a central channel (eg.: Skype, Slack, Email) for all communication. This way you have an archive of all messages, and know exactly where to search for info you might need at a later date. If you must, you can use 2 channels, such as Skype + Email. The point is, have channels and always use them.
  • Team Calendar
    Don’t waste time sending a message to someone who’s out on vacation. Share a calendar with your team so you know who’s available and who’s not.
  • Contacts Directory
    Figure out (and keep a list of) the different people you should contact for specific things (and how to contact them). This could be people responsible for certain programs, or key decision makers, for example.
  • Task Management
    Use a single managment system for all of your tasks, and make sure that your entire team is using it. Having a task management platform in place (with open tasks) ensures that work can always be getting done, whether teammates have communicated today yet or not. I like Asana for task managment.
  • Escalation Process – Determine how to escalate a communication (eg.: Skype → Email → SMS → Call) and when to escalate a communication (is this a simple question or is a critical web server down?)

If in Doubt, Even a Tiny Bit, ASK QUESTIONS!

This is especially true when starting out with a new team or client. If you are uncertain about anything then ask questions! It may seem like you’re wasting someone’s time by asking “petty” questions, but I promise you that taking up 30 seconds of someone’s time to ask a question is better than wasting hours of your time doing the wrong job.

Know Your Role

Often times, when working remotely, some level of autonomy is expected of you. Be sure you are 100% clear about your roles, privileges, and abilities. If there’s a decision to be made that’s in your purview — and you are comfortable making it — then why waste someone else’s time about it?

Stay In Contact

You should never go more than 24 (business) hours without talking to someone; be that your direct-contact, your client, or just saying “good morning” in the group chat when you first get online.

Watch Your Language

Most of your communications will likely be through chat or email. In most cases, casual, laid back conversation is acceptable, but you should always remain professional (especially in the beginning, before you know how the person you’re speaking with normally converses). This means using “proper” language. Use full sentences and at least somewhat correct punctuation. Leave the out the LOLs, meme references, emojis, and expletives — at least until you learn what is acceptable and what’s not.

Have a Brief Meeting

Yes. Meetings suck. But believe it or not, in some rare cases, when they’re done correctly people actually benefit from meetings!

You should have one meeting — whether that’s one per week, one per day, or one per month — to discuss the progress of any projects, changes in goals or business operations, and to make sure everything and everyone is on the right track.

  • These meetings usually go best over the phone or a Skype call.
  • Meetings should include, at the least, the head or representative of each team/group/department and any key decision makers.
  • Meetings should not last more than 10 or 15 minutes. The more time that passes between your meetings the longer your meetings will likely be.

My personal preference varies based on the team size, the projects being worked on, etc., but I find that 5-minute daily meetings and 15-minute weekly meetings are usually the most beneficial.

2. Organization and Documentation

Documenting and organizing everything is the key to doing your job as efficiently as possible.

  • Setup (and actually use) a single repository for managing tasks. As mentioned earlier, I prefer Asana.
  • Document everything! Especially technical processes, or tasks that you might have to repeat in the future.
  • Use an app/tool/database (eg.: Evernote or a wiki) for the long term storage, organization, and searching of all your notes and documentation.
  • Keep a pen and notepad on your desk for quick notes (bonus points for carrying a pocket notepad too!) Be sure these notes get transferred to your long term data store!
  • If you chat with a lot of people (eg.: with Skype) from different companies, departments, vendors, etc., then make a note of who they are, what department/company/vendor they’re from, or whatever other useful info that will help you remember this person in the future. Either add this info to your Contacts Directory from your Communication Framework, or in some chat programs you can edit the user’s name to include this info.
  • ProTip – Setting up an internal wiki is an excellent way for teams to collect and share notes and documentation.

3. Boundaries

When working remotely, especially from home, setting boundaries is the hardest thing to do. You might not think twice about turning on the TV in the background, sending off a few text messages, or checking Facebook, but it’s so incredibly easy to develop bad habits when you work remotely, and don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder.

Just as important, without boundaries, it’s also very easy to neglect your personal relationships and non-work related responsibilities.

Boundaries basically come down to this: Choose a time to work and a time not to work. During your working hours do your work. And during your non-working hours, don’t do work. Sounds easy enough, but it can difficult to achieve!

During Your “Work Hours”

  • Be determined to stick to your working hours and any work-related routines that you build. On your toughest days, it will be these learned disciplines that will pull you through to the end.
  • Develop a “going to work” routine, just as you would if you didn’t work remotely. Wake up, make coffee, get dressed, and start your daily commute from the kitchen to your home office, for example.
  • ALWAYS dress for work! I’m not saying you have to wear a suit, but you should always dress appropriately for the work you do. This helps to keep you in the “I’m at work right now” mindset.
  • If at all possible, completely separate your work life from your home life. This is easiest if you have a home office, of course, but even if you just have a small corner of a room to use for your work, use it only for working.
  • Aside from occasional breaks, avoid distractions at all cost.
  • Educate your friends and family that, just because you’re home at 10am on a Tuesday, doesn’t mean you can come out and play. This is sometimes hard for friends and family to comprehend, so be nice. Try explaining it to them as if you worked a “normal” job. Something like “Would you call my cell phone, or just randomly stop by my office to talk if I worked in an office building?”

During Your “Non-Working Hours”

  • Don’t do any work! Seriously. Participate in life! Spend time with your friends and family, and actually watch your kids grow up. There truly are some things that are more important than being available to work 24/7.

I understand that sometimes things like critical issues and looming deadlines require you to work longer hours. It happens. Just don’t make a habit of it!

Do You Have a Tip for Working Remotely?

Please share any tips that you might have for working remotely in the comments below!

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