Making Remote Work. For Everyone

If you’re a software engineer, you do remote work. Yes: you.

Even if you come into your office everyday, you still do remote work! Chances are, one of your colleagues works remote on a given day. You might have someone working from home for the day, someone who works every day from their home, or someone stuck in traffic during the morning standup. Sound familiar?

Traditional thought says this is not ideal, but there are lot of good reasons for folks to be remote. Above all, it gives employers the freedom to find the very-most talented team members. It also grants employees the ability to manage a family-priority that could be otherwise difficult on a given weekday.

Having remote colleagues is an opportunity for everyone on the team to try and fix the

Five years ago, I would think, “I never could do remote work.” At the time, I was working with a local team that had a few members working from their homes. I subconsciously felt like those teammates were less available to me, but it was my own flawed thinking. I later was forced to be a remote employee myself. I learned from my original perception, and I dove head-first into good-practices of remote work. Let me share that learning with you.

First, I’ll share three practical steps for everyone involved, even if you typically work from the main-office. Then I’ll share four tips for those that typically work from a remote location.

Turn on your camera!

According to research, a small portion of our communication is the actual words we use. Much more of what we communicate is the immeasurable, non-verbal stuff like our gestures and our tone of voice. In our meetings, we have a responsibility to be fully present with our colleagues.

Modern conferencing software use video cameras that are built into our laptops. We need to ensure we’re always using this. If we don’t, the others in our meeting cannot see our eyes or our hand-gestures. If we don’t, they hear much less of what we’re trying to communicate.

Even if you’re the one at your office and the other person is remote, you also need to be seen. Both of you need your camera on.

Your team needs to see you.

Screen Sharing

The best conferencing software has the ability to share screen and even offer others control of our screen. In effect, this is the same as being able to point to our monitor or hand someone else the mouse. These are basic opportunities that should not be lost.

For the record, my favorite-conferencing-software award goes to Zoom. It works on all kinds of devices, including Windows/Mac/Linux/Phone, and it does the screen sharing well. It even allows paid users to “Record to Cloud,” which prevents complicated video-file sharing from our desktop.

Your team needs to see what you’re working on your screen.

Record software demos

Demonstrating our software is imperative. It is part of the best practices of any software team.

Recording demos of our work makes it easy to communicate changes. Those changes not only impact our team, but they also impact users (new users and users that need support). Recorded demos can also help create user-documentation and training materials.

Though this is a good practice generally, it is a specific help when the team is not co-located. Those recordings can be seen any time they are needed.

When you complete a piece of work, make a recorded demo and share it with your team.

Travel. Be there.

For a team member that remotes everyday, it’s important to actually be in person as much as possible. In particular, the first week (or two), it is imperative to be in person. This is a time of trust-building and learning-the-ropes with the new team. It’s also the right time to get hardware, get a security badge, do training, or attend orientation.

I remember my first week at my remote position. Being in the office, I was able to attend brainstorming sessions. My team had a problem testing our Linux-based library. I got to listen to the problem. I have lots of Linux experience, and the team didn’t know it yet. I offered specific solutions to the current problem. An hour later, the whole team got an email from my new colleague that was praising my help with the team that I hadn’t even met yet! I was a little bit embarrassed, but in general, it built a ton of trust. This experience would’ve been impossible from a distance.

Trust can only be built in person. Be present, in the flesh.

Lunch while in person

I noticed that no one scheduled meetings during the lunch hour, because everyone was expected to be eating at that time. Meanwhile, I would often go out to eat while traveling. What a great opportunity to invite someone to join me!

This gave me the opportunity to build connection with individual members, connection that I would rely on all the other days of my work from my remote location.

The key to this, would be to schedule that time before I arrived to my office’s city. The week before, I make appointments with those colleagues. So far, they always accepted, and the time was always well spent!

Build community, especially breaking bread together.

Eliminate distraction

Teammates in the office are surrounded by their teammates. For remote employees, we might be surrounded by family, by pets, and possibly by work-chores that need to be done. Take notice!

It can be most helpful to get a dedicated office space in our home. This should be off-limits to our family. I’m all for a dog keeping us company, but children or spouses can easily become a distraction. Our teammates deserve our focus.

I take the approach of renting a dedicated office space in my town. I found a very affordable office, preventing those kinds of distractions I’d have at home. I cannot wash my dishes. I cannot fold laundry that just finished in the dryer. My cat will never jump up in front of my laptop to seek attention.

In my town, there is a great community workspaces that are for rent called 1Q1. Spaces like this are full of other work professionals with laptops. These might be good option for a short term rental (or even a long term one).

Set up your space to ensure you are focused on your team’s work.

Make your connectedness a priority

It can be easy to take our remote-ness for granted. It’s easy to dismiss being remote as normal-life. If we forget that we’re remote, we can too easily not notice when our team needs us.

During a daily standup, it’s important to notice that our colleagues might need specific help. We need to be deliberate to start conversations the rest of the day. Starting conversations while in person is very human-nature, but starting conversations while remote is deliberate! As a remote employee, we ought check in on our teammates. These conversations that we start with our colleagues can be instrumental in helping them have a productive day.

My manager has taken pride in how I handle my remote-ness. He knew I didn’t take it for granted. When he announced my work-anniversary to my team, he wrote:

Tyler’s ability to remotely connect and collaborate across different teams is amazing. He can be working from Mars and folks who work with him would not feel the difference given his ability, willingness and flexibility to connect as needed.

Listen carefully to your team, and start conversations.

It’s a good mission, that even though have remote employees, we can still be 100% engaged and 100% part of our team. Mission accomplished.