When I started working at Amazon Web Services, I moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Seattle, WA. But six months later, I relocated in San Francisco, CA and continued to work remotely with my team located in Seattle, WA.

Working remotely can be challenging. It works for me but not without change. A recent tweet motivated me to to share this experience and what works/doesn’t work for me (and might work/don’t work for you - don’t try this at home work).

Pro-active communication and documentation

By nature, you no longer have the regular chat about this new cool project over lunch or in the corridor. People are not stopping at your desk to just discuss an idea while having coffee. You are off these discussions and you need to find other ways to be up to date and informed about what is going on in your team/company.

This definitively change the way you communicate and document your work and you need be proactive. The informal chat in the corridor is now a wiki page or an e-mail that describes the idea with references. It not only facilitates communication between with the team, but increases the quality of the documentation overall.

Take Away: document as much as you can (on a wiki, markdown files, etc.) and make your team/manager aware of what you are working on. Avoid to take e-mail as a way to document your work: people delete e-mails, use wiki (good) or markdown documents on a git repository (better).

Take Away 2: be proactive when communicating with your manager. Send weekly report to keep him up-to-date so that he knows on what you are working. Do not assume anything, document explicitly everything.

Avoid work from home

Working from home sounds very appealing but it can in fact be a terrible idea. When working from home, it is easy to spend 10 minutes every hour doing something totally unrelated to work. Or to assume that you can do this chore during the day while working (for example, between two code reviews).

It just doesn’t work. When doing the chore, you are thinking about work. Or while working, you are obsess with the chore and you want to get it done right now. In short: staying at home does not help to focus.

You also end up with the feeling you are always at home (and think you do nothing) or at work (and you keep working all the time). Having a physical separation between home and work help to allocate time and know your limits.

Working From Home

Lastly, work is also a way to socialize (engage with colleagues, discuss points of view and perspectives). While working remotely, it is important to keep this aspect, by having a desk in another location, sharing a co-working space or just going in a working area in a coffee shop!

Take Away: separate work from life physically and mentally. Going to an office not only helps to focus and also socialize with other people in your company (happy hour anyone?).

Schedule your day and stick to it

One major benefit of working remotely: no unwanted interruption from your manager/co-workers (except if they page you, which does not happen very often). You are more effective because you can focus on something and nobody will come and interrupt you (downside - as discussed earlier: less social interaction). Also, people invites you only to important meeting and you can easily refuse the ones you feel you do not bring value.

Consequence: you have more time and can focus on whatever you want. Downside: you can work on the same thing for hours while you need to make progress on others project too. This happens when being in an office but is amplified when working remotely.

To avoid this, the solution is to clearly schedule the day, cut it into time slots (1 to 2 hours) and allocate a task for each. It helps to stay focus on what you are going to work through the day and make progress on all the projects you are working on.

Take Away: write down your schedule (every day, every week, whatever period works for you) and stick to it. Review it after a while to see how you can adapt/be more efficient.

Keep an open-chat policy

Your co-workers and team-members might be reluctant to engage via e-mail and/or chat. After all, it is sometimes easier to come to your desk, ask to go for coffee and discuss.

This is important to make it clear to the people you help/mentor that they can ping/page you anytime. Anytime. Even after “work hours”. For any (work-related) question.

The rationale is simple: if one team member doesn’t know what to do after receiving a page in the middle of the night, that is your responsibility to help them and make them feel safe. It is always better to be interrupted for and make sure the person makes progress rather than letting them in the unknown and feeling they cannot do anything. After all, this is your job to mentor people and make them feel safe.

Take Away : make it clear than you are available through chat and try to make people feel safe about discussing anything, even if they feel this is a stupid/silly question (no question is stupid).

Make sure your organization is ready

If you are going to be be remote, make sure the rest of the organization is ready. That means there is the necessary infrastructure to work remotely (video conference system, messenger/chat (Slack or Chime), etc).

Your organization must be ready for day 1. If people are scheduling meeting and you cannot join, this is not going to work. If your manager doesn’t use the video conference system when having a conversation with other teams, you will not be included in them. Make sure your team/company has the tools and infrastructure (Skype, teamwork tools, etc.) so that you can communicate with your team/company.

Take Away: make sure the company you are working for has the necessary infrastructure to be part of the team and share information while working remotely.

Visit periodically

If your team is physically located somewhere (after all, some company have 100% remote workers!), visit periodically. Take the opportunity to have face to face discussions with other teams about new projects. Go for a beer with your colleagues and socialize. You will probably learn a lot about other projects and people are sometimes more open to discuss while having a face to face conversation.

Take Away: if possible, come back sometimes, have meetings to discuss new projects (use a whiteboard!). Go for a beer with your team (and offer the first round).

And to finish …

This list represents what has been important to me while working remotely. Every person and company is different and what worked for me might not be working for you!