Ryan Irelan of Happy Cog recently posted about the challenges of working remotely as part of a team in the web development industry. I’ve got some experience with that; before moving back to Vermont I spent about a year working from an apartment in Florida, 1400 miles away from the rest of my team. A lot of what Ryan said resonates with my own experience. He touched on keeping a strict schedule for certain tasks and emphasizing certain types of communication to minimize interruptions and protect your time. He also talked about techniques he uses to avoid breakdowns in communication that can occur when you’re never face to face with anyone. He has some great tips that are probably almost as valuable if you do work with your team in an office.
I’ve got a few other tips that I’ll throw out, just for kicks:
Ryan touched on this. Use as many methods of communication as you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. Then take it a little farther. Know what everyone on the team is up to and let them know what you’re up to. Check in about non-work stuff, too (but only when it’s not going to be an interruption.) It’s tough to keep a good working relationship going via single-sentence emails.
You may be working 6 feet from your comfy bed. You may be tempted to oversleep. You may have lots of great stuff to play with at home. You may have cool games on your computer that call to you. You may have friends asking you to hang out (you don’t really work, anyway. Right?) Ignore it all. Don’t fall into these traps. Don’t tell yourself “I can sleep in 10 extra minutes and no one will know.” It’s a slippery slope. You’re a professional and you should act exactly as you would in an office with other professionals. Arrange schedules to keep yourself on task. Always be available at the same time every day. Communicate often. Stay focused. Discipline is absolutely the key to working successfully when separated from your team by geography.
For me, keeping rigid discipline in my workday was the way to make sure I didn’t inadvertently abuse my employer’s trust or let down my team members. And it paid off. I was the most productive I had ever been.
Seriously. I don’t remember where I read this tip originally, but it always helped me. Something about wearing shoes always made it feel like I was out of the house and into the office, even though I was working from my bedroom desk. If you’re struggling for focus, slap on a pair of shoes and tie them, tightly. This is not a joke.