How to rock remote

Over-communicate

Remote work compresses your emotions, your subtle hinting, your non-verbal social cues down by a lot.

The question "should I add this to clarify" should almost always be answered with a "yes". There is tremendous value in being terse, but since humans tend to read a lot faster than they write, you can help your team and your clients a lot by providing additional signal. Write, write, write.

Listen

Rather than blindly ascribing malintent, it's often more effective to ask specific "why?" questions to get behind people's beliefs and motivations. Listen to what they are saying. And even if what they are saying makes no sense and you feel that urge to interrupt and correct them, don't.

People want to be heard, it makes them feel good. Be that person for others.

Hold your tongue

There will be moments when you feel slighted. Treated unfairly or misunderstood. You'll feel shame and anger.

Especially in the realm of ASCII-communications, sitting in your room with little emotional outlet, this can quickly lead to

 

dra·ma
ˈdrämə/

an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances
 

Here are a few of the tricks I use whenever I feel negative emotions coming up:

  1. Walk away. Simply going for walk gives you a nice temporal and physical buffer from saying things you might regret.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes. This as one of the most powerful, there's almost always good reasons why people do the things they do.
  3. Type it and delete it. Type out an email detailing all the ways you think you're being treated unfairly and how everything and everyone sucks, and then delete it.
  4. Make light of the situation. This is one of the heavier ones, but it is tremendously powerful: I assume a nasal voice and say to myself: "Aww, poor little Dominik, he gets to work for an awesome startup with the tech he loves to use and from wherever he wants. And now he has to put up with a little bit of negative emotions.... Aww, what a poor little Dominik". This almost always causes me to crack up.
  5. See the bigger picture. Whenever I navigate a tricky situation like this, I pat myself on the back. Change comes slowly but every positive interaction puts me further on track to becoming the person I want to be.

Turn up the volume

Hey, this article is about rocking remote right?

No more having to be sensitive towards the people in your office!

So turn up the speakers, blast some music, do a little dance after your tests pass and scream out the window Flogsta-style for the sheer joy of it:

Trick yourself

Working in an office can make starting tasks easier: There is a cost associated with being seen bumming around on reddit.

In order to create the same social pressure for myself I've used livecoding.tv in the past. Even 3 people watching you code makes it all that more important.

Another trick is to pick a tiny part, i.e. just throwing up the markup with no functionality. Once you're in flow, doing the actual work will seem like the most natural thing.

Have one on the back-burner

Since asynchronous communication sometimes means having to wait, I always try to have a small, independent task stored away. This might be filling out a test suite, improving documentation, or investigating an edge-case bug.

A great way to handle this is to never run into it. When taking on a new task, explore in your mind the tree of eventualities and bring them up before starting. Asking even the improbable will give you a better understanding of what your client / boss, has in mind.

Be like water

Look around you, your monitor, your laptop, your desk, your shoes. All are products of collaboration between thousands of people.

Producing the cleanest, highest-quality code is a great goal. I strive for it every day.

But coming into a new project I try to leave my preconceived notions about how things "should be done" at the door. Especially in terms of coding style, there a lot of arguments every which way. What matters more is to assimilate to the current way of things, in order to reduce friction and so you can all pull into one direction.

Your work area matters

I use a standing desk with a standing mat to reduce strain, a Kinesis Advantage, a 2560x1440 monitor lifted to just below eye level, and all this next to a large window so I get as much sunlight as possible. I clear stuff off my desk as quickly as I can.

Working out of coffee shops, or while traveling is certainly possible. But every little decision, every distraction takes away from willpower that I could dedicate to the project I'm working on.

Keep a schedule

I probably have the best ideas in the shower, yet, despite the drive to work on a project 24/7 I've found the best results when I work a normal day's schedule. Get up early, make coffee, put on nice clothes, make the bed. Go for a walk to get those 20 minutes of direct sunlight exposure. End the day at a reasonable time.

Hacking away at 2am is fun, but every minute spent in that twilight zone removes you a bit further from normal people working a 9-5 and makes socializing harder than it already is. Grabbing a beer with friends at 6pm when you've starting working at 12? Preposterous.

Schedule one-on-ones

Goals, priorities, targets can change quickly, especially in startups. Make sure to schedule regular 1-on-1s with your boss (really push for them). You are helping them by relieving them of the burden of herding all their developers.

But isn’t one of the signs of a well-working team that they require little communication?

If you're absolutely sure that there's nothing to talk about, go ahead. But if you aren't, talk anyway, you would be surprised the little things that come up, and the nuances in communication you can convey via tone of voice.

No faking

Whereas in an office environment you can come to work hung-over and spend 8 hours chair-bound and you're unlikely to be caught out for it.

That quickly stops working with remote work. You are your results, especially as a freelancer. If you feel you aren't doing your best work, it's a good idea to bill fewer hours (e.g. bill 6 for 8 worked). Under-promise, over-deliver.

Have fun

Share as much as you can with your co-workers. Funny stories, stupid mistakes, lessons learnt, interesting articles. This attitude of personal vulnerability (not everyone's perfect) and extroversion (positive, but maybe shallow connection) creates an open & trusting space that others want to be in.