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Topic Tuesday: Remote Workers Matter!

Mary Ramirez Community Leader Nov 27, 2018


Many of us have the opportunity to work remote or work with others who are remote. Sometimes there can be a feeling of disconnect or miscommunication. So I pose these questions to the group:

If you work remote or work with someone who is remote, what are some tips and tricks to doing it effectively? How can you make the remote person feels included? 


Here's my trick: I turn my camera on during video conferences. This sometimes gets others to turn the camera on and I get to see everyone's face. This usually prompts a conversation about new wall paint or a bad hair day. 


I think the main thing is to take time to build connection. It's easy to go heads down on work and I used to be very strict with boundaries to protect my focus time with no disruptions when I worked on site. When working remote, I find that taking breaks from pure focus time to chat with my coworkers, or better yet -- to work with one of them on an issue or problem we are facing, really builds bonds and makes the remote worker feel more connected. It is hard to emulate the in-person perks that come with being onsite, but taking time to get to know your coworker helps a ton! Helping your coworkers and asking for help also aids in this.

One caveat to this is that some of these folks you are trying to build connection with may be trying to have one of those focus moments and may not have the same needs as you because they are on-site (they are already inherently building those connections). You need to also respect their boundaries and feel out whether they are super busy and don't take it too personally if they are brief with you. A huge adjustment for me was reading into "texts" or "digital chats" -- if someone only responds with an "Okay." I had to teach myself that this does not mean they hate my guts (okay, sometimes I still struggle with this...). Additionally, since you don't have the in-person opportunities to get to know coworkers, it is important you always try (although, everyone has their moments) to put your best self forward. They only have minimal opportunities to really get to know you (75% of conversations will likely be about work), so be authentic and your best self with all of these interactions so they can get a flavor for who you really are!

Tip: Don't be a loner, have a video chat to work through a problem or split up a large task with a coworker to build connection. Don't take things personally and stay true to yourself.

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Mary Ramirez Community Leader Nov 27, 2018

Great tip! I also struggle with taking things personally especially via slack. I then have to remember that they may be on another call or busy working, and a short response is their way of acknowledging me and continuing to do their work. 

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Jack Brickey Community Leader Nov 27, 2018

I have a good bit of experience w/ telecommuting both managing others who work remotely and working remotely myself for the past 3 years. Here are my thoughts:

  1. It isn't for everyone. Some people are good at staying focused and managing their time.
  2. You need to create a work environment that is separate from your home environment. "Don't bring work home." This is especially true if others are at home when you are working.
  3. If you are managing someone working remotely, especially just starting out, you need to have clear expectations, 1:1 calls and F2F meetings to discuss how it is going and how to make things better if needed. If it isn't working with an individual recognize this and if it can't be remedied then pull the plug.
  4. Regular face to face time. You simply can't replace F2F and it is important in almost all scenarios to check-in at HQ or other venue.
  5. Solid collaboration tools: video/audio conferencing, integrated chat tool (Slack, Teams, etc), screen-sharing, collaborative document editing (Confluence, Word, etc). Video is great if you can get folks to use it but many are not comfortable with this.
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Mary Ramirez Community Leader Nov 27, 2018

I think setting expectations is so important. Especially for those who are new to remote working and may not be sure what to do when there's "free time."

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My two cents to add to this blog would be : get their mobile number to build a better 1on1 relationship outside of the main work stream. 
From personal experience it has worked wonders with colleagues based in the US and India every time I did it!

The communication was never about work but a more personal angle ! No invasion of privacy neither. Just getting to know them like I would a normal colleague in the same office as me. 

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Mary Ramirez Community Leader Nov 28, 2018

Hi @Andy B - PTC,

I've always wondered if exchanging phone numbers and texting was mixing business and personal lives? But I guess that's the only way to really know someone beyond their job title. 

Linette Atlassian Team Nov 28, 2018

Love a lot of the suggestions above. 2 things I've found really helpful to add to the list:

  1. When doing a video conference, if one person is remote, and if it's practical, all dial in from your own machines. That gives a better view of everyones face, and avoids the person remote being forgotton, or chat happening around the table at the local site that can't be heard well.
  2. Have some kind of off-topic silly/fun channel. I've had this with stride rooms and whatsapp chats, allsorts. Having a place that is explicitly for "oh wow, look at this picture", "what did people have for lunch today?" etc, allows people to have the social fun interactions that can be the missing glue for remote workers to feel like part of the team.
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Mary Ramirez Community Leader Nov 28, 2018

@Linette, great pointers! My organization has a #random channel on slack. I find that to be our outlet and things get pretty funny.

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@Linette: Nice cultural activities.

Been in many calls where I'm the remote and there's loads of people in a room together.... trying to product manage in groups like that was a nightmare.

Despite sitting in the same office (we're a small company) there's a WhatsApp group for everyone to just chat sh^^

It's very fun :oD

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carolyn french Community Leader Dec 11, 2018

I agree with the previous posts about lightening up a bit to get to know your coworkers' personalities and although it may seem more forced online, it encourages better teamwork.

Another tip I would like to add has to do with the fact that usually when you are working in a remote team, the time zones are different. This is where Jira and Confluence tasks are awesome to get everyone on the same page before one person's work day is finished and everyone else must carry on. Document who is working on what and the day will go smoothly (not guaranteed, but at least you have set each other up to be productive).

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I worked remotely for years and I had to address 3 things to make it successful:

  • Explaining to people that just like when I am in the office, I sometimes get a cup of tea or use the bathroom. In neither case do I take a telephone with me. I always call back immediately, so please don't assume I'm not working.
  • I established normal working hours, just like when I am in the office. If I have an appointment or some other reason I am not available, I use Out of Office email.
  • I made sure to get out at least once a week to meet with other people so I didn't get weird.

As much as possible, I used video conference software. However, I worked for the Dayton Daily News for 14 years without ever going into the office. I only had a relationship with my editor via phone, who I spoke with at least once a week. I finally met him one day in a yoga class--when I realized where I had heard his voice. I said "Sol?" and he said "Karen?" That was the one and only time we saw each other in person!


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