Pragmatic articles on software development and management

People love remote working but only few really fit in this model

Published on by fakiolinho

In 2019 even more and more companies are willing to hire remote employees in order to attract the best possible talent and reduce office costs. On the other hand people seek for new career opportunities worldwide because of this option. That said remote working flourishes and everyone wants to take advantage of this.

So where is the pitfall? Is there any tricky part in this model? According to my own experience, there is definitely one big problem and people tend to ignore it. Few people can really work and be productive while working remotely. This includes both remote and in-house employees who belong in the same team and eventually should cooperate and make things work.

Think about it. Can everyone work remotely? Can everyone co-work with a remote colleague? Given that they have the technical and business skills. Do you believe that they have the proper mentality, mindset and personality to support this relationship?

I have worked remotely for quite a few years and I can definitely declare that too many people cannot support this. Most tend to overwork themselves heavily and reach to burnout. Burnouts hurt people and their firms even more. Unfortunately, there is also a small amount of people who tend to take advantage of remote working by taking shortcuts, skipping procedures and eventually letting their colleagues down.

So how can we describe the ideal remote workers? What skills should they possess?

Strong communication skills

Every employee should have great communication skills but remote ones should be really awesome at it. Since they are working remotely the communication obstacle is the most difficult one they should tackle. If they manage to communicate effectively with their colleagues, this relationship is meant to become successful.

Furthermore in cross-country teams all employees should be able to use English fluently. That’s definitely a key factor. I ‘ve seen people who wanted to get hired for a remote opening despite their mediocre English. This is a skill every remote worker should have mastered first else they cannot really communicate effectively with other people on the other side of the line.

Legendary writers

Obviously all remote workers communicate with their colleagues mostly through writing and not through speaking. This involves exchanging written messages through emails, slack, skype, jira, github, gitlab, code reviews etc throughout the day. Believe it or not, every little word or emoji matters in these messages. Don’t be too strict and try to be more explanatory. Words can confuse and definitely hurt people so become super-picky.

You can write sth like “Ok…” and the person on the other side can interpret this in a various ways. What do these dots really mean? Do they mean the same for you two? Hmmm, they probably do not, so stick with a simple “Ok”. Don’t send ambiguous messages. They can be really harmful.

Always take the extra step to explain something as detailed as possible. Share your thoughts with specific examples, provide snippets, make proposals, create wireframes and mockups and don’t hesitate to arrange a call to make things even more clear.

Enjoy personal interactions

We tend to overlook it but remote workers have little to none visual interactions with their colleagues. This means that we should better pay real attention to these few occasions. This can be a scrum call, a meeting, a sprint’s retrospective or a 1–1 catch up. Dress well and open the camera. Smile to the people on the other side of the screen.

They need to see your face more than you realise since they barely see you. Yes they know your avatar or your username but they are not familiar with your real image as much as you may think. This affects people so don’t hide yourself and don’t avoid wearing your favourite sweater. Show them that you are a friendly person and they can count on you. If you want them to take you seriously, you have to make it easier to them by paying attention to all these tiny details.

Friendly persons

Let’s face it. A remote colleague is a totally unknown person, so everyone may feel a little awkward at first. It is in our nature to be defensive. No matter how professional we are, we don’t really want to get exposed so we try to be cautious till we feel comfortable enough. This is a long process and takes more than a day or a month. How can we speed things up? By being super-friendly right from the very start.

Being polite and say “Thank you” a lot can help a ton. It is cheap. Showing gratitude to your colleagues for making great things together will prove your friendliness. They will love it and foremost they will start relying on you. Remember how difficult is to trust someone especially when we are talking about a person we barely know.

Self-motivated

There are many people out there who need to get managed or coached regularly in order to be productive. A nod from their manager or a nice word from a colleague can give them a boost. People are social beings so thats totally normal.

Remote employees work mostly alone so there is no-one there to give them a push. They need to stay focused and push themselves on their own to get shit done. This is really difficult to achieve and can cause great frustration in the long run.

Disciplined

Given that many remote employees work from home, using their living room’s sofa or whatever, do you think that all these people are mentally mature enough to stay focused and follow a daily schedule? Definitely not.

Above every employee lies the team itself, so everyone who belongs in it, including the remote employees, should follow their teams schedule religiously. This probably means that they have to be online in a specific time-slot on a daily basis, attend scrums and planning meetings and communicate with their colleagues constantly. Going offline for 1 hour out of a sudden doesn’t really help this professional relationship to be successful.

I ‘ve seen people coming up with all kind of crazy excuses just to skip a standup or a call. No-one cares why a remote employee missed a meeting as long as they weren’t there. The team definitely required his presence but he wanted to skip it for his own reasons. This looks pretty disrespectful. So the 1 million dollars question here is “Does he really feel part of the team”?

Strong team players

Remote worker should definitely be strong team players. They should strive to prove themselves valuable by sharing their experience and knowledge and affecting the rest of team members in a positive way. They should be persons who care a lot about it.

By definition they work alone in their own space far away from other team members or even company’s headquarters. This doesn’t mean that they should not be part of teams decisions and procedures.

Remote employees are equal members of a team so they should be active and energetic. I ‘ve seen people setting low standards for their contribution in teams decisions and planning because they think that doing so it’s ok since they are physically far away from team’s core. That’s so wrong.

Don’t be mistaken, no-one said that working remotely means you have less responsibilities or you are the weakest member of the team. On the contrary, people working remote are mostly hired for their exceptional talents.

Conclusion

Remote employees should be team-players with high communication skills and awesome writing ones. They should understand that in order to build a tight bond with their colleagues they should really work hard for it and prove themselves valuable to them by sharing knowledge, ideas and experiences. They should take part in all team’s procedures and decisions and never avoid doing so by taking advantage of their remoteness.

Working remotely doesn’t mean that they should follow their own schedule instead of their team’s. The cost of having brilliant jerks is humongous and can really ruin a team’s spirit. That’s why remote employees should get hired really carefully.

A remote worker is a person with some great advantages but even more responsibilities and this is something we should not overlook. Cheers!!


If you found this interesting, you can follow me on Twitter at @fakiolinho. Check out some of my other articles below: