Working from home is nothing new, especially for those of us in the technology business. Since the COVID pandemic, however, many companies were forced to jump into the deep end of remote work. Thankfully, it seems to have been a positive experience for most.
Employers realised that their employees’ productivity isn’t reliant on their managers lurking around them and peering over their shoulders to make sure they could see a text editor rather than Facebook on the screen. Employees realised that it’s quite nice to be able to fully control your physical working environment and interruptions. It’s not everyone’s preference, however, and that’s fine too. Some people need more in-person contact with their colleagues in order to do their best work.
The whole arrangement isn’t without its quirks.
Being a remote teammate comes with special responsibilities. Even if being a remote worker means you’re not in the minority anymore, I believe there are still aspects we should all be aware of. There are things we should all do to ensure that our immediate team, and the company at large, is comfortable with the arrangement and confident that we can deliver at the same, if not better, pace as being in the office.
I have a lot of experience working fully remotely (and in hybrid setups) since long before COVID and, as far as I can tell, my teammates have always been happy for me to be out of the office, and I’m at least 90% sure that’s not because I smell bad. I haven’t had a single complaint about my availability or productivity while working remotely, and in this article I’ll share ways of keeping your teammates and manager happy and ensuring you will always be able to keep your remote privileges.
I’m going to make a few assumptions, like you have at least a text chat system (e.g. Slack) where you have a private space for your team.
This is the big, obvious one. When people can’t see you, they don’t know whether you’re around. The onus is on you to make sure that you’re available when you need to be, and that everyone knows it.
First of all, don’t feel like you need to be more available when you’re working from home. Keep the same hours you would if you were in the office. This is extremely important for your mental health. Don’t feel like you have to take your phone to the bathroom or kitchen with you (I mean, unless you would in the office anyway). If you were in the office and someone was looking for you and you weren’t at your desk, what would they do? If they saw you at some point earlier in the day, they’d know you were around, so chances are they’d assume you were just temporarily away and come back later. No big deal.
Greet your team when you start. A quick “Morning, team :wave:” message in your team’s chat channel tells them that you’ve “arrived”. If you were in the office, they could see you turn up even if you didn’t verbally greet them, and people don’t all start at exactly the same minute. Don’t rely on your chat system’s automatic presence feature. Most people don’t pay attention to that.
If you’re going to be away from your desk for more than 10-15 minutes, let your team know.
When you’re at your desk, respond to direct messages as quickly as you can. This includes non-direct messages where your name is explicitly mentioned. You don’t have to give a complete answer, and you don’t even have to act on the request immediately. Just do something to acknowledge the message. Sometimes, even a little :eyes: emoji response (if you use Slack) on the message will suffice. If your colleague starts to wonder whether you’re there or, even worse, has to start asking around, then you’ve dropped the ball. Obviously this excludes emergency situations.
Use availability status when you need focus time. Update your chat system status with a type of “Do not disturb” message when you need intensive concentration time, and preferably an icon too if your chat system allows it. Word it nicely, something like “Concentrating; replies delayed”. Your teammates will understand that there are times when you’ll need this. Make sure you silence notifications while using this so that you really can focus. Put an automatic timeout on the status too if your system allows it.
Have the mobile version of your chat system on your phone. Again, I want to emphasise that you shouldn’t try to be more available from home than if you were in the office. Having the chat facility on your phone is more of a convenience for yourself. For example, if my apartment building’s fire alarm goes off then I can just leave with my phone and keep the team updated from outside.
Enjoy small talk in your team channel as you normally would. Don’t be afraid to make small talk in your team’s channel. Particularly if the majority of the team is remote, people appreciate having the channel feel lively, and there’s no time pressure in responding to non-work-related chat.
Make sure you can be heard clearly. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you can be heard clearly on calls. Get yourself a decent headset, or headphones with a separate microphone. If you have a good employer, they’ll even pay for this. There’s nothing more annoying or distracting for your colleagues on a call than if they can’t hear you clearly. It’s important to always use headphones, because not all mics can effectively cancel out audio from your speakers, in which case you’ll produce echo.
Be punctual. This is obviously a good thing to do in any case, but your colleagues will generally have an even greater expectation of punctuality since you don’t have to actually travel to a meeting room. Don’t be afraid to leave a prior meeting that runs over time if you need to dial into another one. That’s not your problem. Conversely, if you’re the one running a meeting with remote attendees, don’t assume they can just run over time because they don’t have to exit the meeting room. Generally being respectful of people’s time is a good practice anyway!
Video matters. I must admit that for a long time I didn’t think this was all that important. I worked remotely for several companies before I joined one that actually specifically encouraged people to keep their cameras on. I try to always have my camera on, unless I’m attending a presentation where there are too many people to fit on the screen anyway, and I likely won’t be speaking. It is useful to be able to see people’s physical reactions to what you’re saying, and it also helps people in the office to feel like you’re present.
Mute your mic when you’re not talking. This makes sure you don’t inadvertently add distracting background noise to the call. Use the meeting software’s facility to do this wherever possible, instead of a physical mute button. That way it’s much easier for you to see whether you’re still muted, and your colleagues will also be able to see that you’re muted, as opposed to wondering why they can’t hear you when (not if) you forget to unmute yourself.
You might be surprised to know that there’s not much you need to specifically do to “prove” your productivity. Produce whatever output you normally would if you were in the office. People are more concerned about your actual “visible” availability because the only real difference in working from home should be that they can’t physically see you.
If, like me, you’re a developer then always make sure you attend your team’s daily stand-up as usual. If you miss stand-up for some reason, write in the channel afterwards whatever you’d have said if you had attended. Keep your tickets / stories up to date and in the correct status as I’m sure you would do anyway.
Making a habit of good remote teamwork practices and embracing the tips I’ve mentioned here will help you become a happier and more productive remote teammate, and will keep your colleagues and manager happy for you to keep doing so. Now just enjoy all the benefits that come with working from home :)