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Successfully navigate remote work in a primarily on-site company by being present, fostering communication, and nurturing relationships. Prioritize work-life balance and streamline administrative tasks for a productive remote experience.
For the past two years, I have worked entirely remotely, and during COVID, I had several periods of full remote. In both those cases, I was alone or in a small group of fully remote people. Despite that, I managed to:
Leave a good impression on the companies I worked at (I think).
Be efficient, and effective while making meaningful contributions.
Create meaningful relationships, both personal and professional, with my colleagues.
Understand the businesses I was working in.
To help you achieve similar success, I'll share my insights and strategies in the following sections.
This might seem counter-intuitive to you, dear reader, but I believe the most important thing you can do to thrive at a company while being the only remote person is to be present. This, in my opinion, takes several forms.
Go to the office at meaningful intervals.
In my last company, we settled nominally in a rhythm of a week every three months (although I did spend one month on-site at the beginning to meet my colleagues). The fact that I was spending long-ish periods on-site allowed me to create the seeds for good relationships with my colleagues.
I believe it is best to spend more extended periods that are further apart than shorter, closer periods, as you can then take the time to have non-formal moments with your colleagues. I fondly remember bonding with a colleague about our love of junk food and the fact that the team eats too late for us. That inside joke lasted a while and helped create a strong connection.
Remember that those periods in the office will probably be your least productive; the goal here is not really to work hard but more to cultivate and grow your relationship with your colleagues, after all... Relationships are essential in any company, and knowing who to talk to when encountering a roadblock is critical.
Another important aspect of being present is fostering a collaborative environment.
Help and ask for help from colleagues.
This might sound very transactional (and it is not really how I think), but nothing creates a professional relationship as helping and being helped. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you are stuck, and in the same way, do not hesitate to help when someone is stuck, even if it is to serve as a rubber duck.
Attend or animate (virtual) events.
Be it experience sharing, mob programming, or online games, be there at all of them that you can be.
Creating Virtual Water Cooler Moments
As a remote worker, water cooler moments are not an option, at least organic ones. But that does not impede manufacturing those moments.
Coffee is your friend.
In every role, you must have a working relationship with a handful of people. This will typically include the following:
Your direct supervisor
Their direct supervisor
People from other departments you might regularly work with.
My suggestion is to create one or several rotations of virtual coffees. In my last company, I had a rotation for my team (one coffee with a member per week), one with the leadership (one coffee with a leadership member every week) and one with people from other departments (one coffee per week with someone from another department). Of course, ad-hoc virtual coffees occasionally happen (new person in the company or special occasion).
How to conduct a virtual coffee?
First, you must remember that the goal of the virtual coffee is to have the informal conversations you are missing due to the distance. To do so, it must be understood that although some work stuff might be discussed, the goal is not to talk about work but rather anything else.
First coffees might be awkward both for you and the other participant. You might have to take a prominent role in leading the discussion on those first coffees to alleviate the awkwardness.
In those first coffees, remember that you are the oddity, so people, in general, will know some things about you, so the goal is to discover the other person. What are their hobbies, what do they do, etc.?
This will allow you to create a relationship with them that is not only based on work.
In my opinion, a good virtual coffee should last around 20-30 minutes, enough to have some interesting conversations, but not too long so that your work rhythm is not too affected.
Remember that although this is not 'pure' work time, it is still part of your job, as it will facilitate and speed up your future tasks.
Pick up the phone.
A lot of interactions might happen via asynchronous channels. And that can be a good thing. But do remember that sometimes you can unlock a situation in 5 minutes of 'real' conversation.
In an in-person setting, those conversations will happen organically. As the sole (or one of the few) remote workers, you must be trigger-happy with those quick calls, as they will allow you to remove roadblocks for you and others swiftly.
The Importance of Communication
Communicate early and often.
As you don't have the advantage of proximity, the onus is on you to communicate early and often about a wide range of issues:
Things are going well
Things are not going well
You are advancing quicker than expected in an assignment
You are blocked and will deliver late
Remember that it is good for you and the company to resolve matters and have a working relationship. So do not hesitate to talk to the relevant people about the issues or things that work well in your situation.
Be transparent on your off days.
This was going to be a whole section, but I believe it has a better place as a sub-section. We all have off days, be it in person or remotely. It is normal, and although you might be tempted to disguise it since no one can see it as you work from home, you should avoid that temptation. Talk transparently about struggling to advance or concentrate some days. People will understand that and will trust implicitly that you are actually 'working well' most days.
Make things easy.
You will probably be a particular case when being the only remote person. Being easygoing and flexible with the many administrative things that must happen around you will only help everything move smoothly.
Know when to stop working.
This one is important. A risk you run is to work too much. Do try to keep a separate working state and to close at least mentally the space when the time to stop working comes.
In summary, excelling as a remote worker in a primarily on-site company can be challenging, but by implementing the right strategies, you can overcome these challenges and make valuable contributions. Focus on being present, maintaining open communication, and nurturing relationships with your colleagues through virtual water cooler moments. Keep work-life balance in check by knowing when to stop working and ensure a seamless experience by streamlining administrative tasks.
By following these guidelines, you can create a positive impression on your colleagues, work efficiently and effectively, and develop meaningful personal and professional relationships. Navigating remote work successfully in a non-remote company is possible with the right mindset and a proactive approach.