MyQ yourA: Working remotely

It's Day 2 of my working remotely, and I'd gladly accept tips on how to stay in the loop with the people in the home office while you're a satellite. Part of what I love about my job is working with smart, hilarious, engaged people, and I don't want to end up feleing isolated. Today's glut of conference calls kept me on track, but I can see this becomeing an issue.

How do I stay in the loop without being on Skype with them all day long?

32 thoughts on “MyQ yourA: Working remotely”

  1. Does your workplace have/use an IM tool? I’ve found it to be invaluable for both work-related and non-work-related conversations with coworkers, without the formality of email or having to logon to Skype.It’s very cultural though, my current group doesn’t embrace it.

  2. I second IM. Our teams here that get everybody on board with IM are a lot more close knit that then ones that don’t.Sadly, I’m on one of the teams that is not IM heavy.
    Are you the only remote employee?

  3. I work from home and IME, you will be a little out of the loop and feel isolated. That’s just the way it ends up! But you can do things to mitigate, like being available on IM all the time, asking people to copy you on emails even if they might not have before (because you aren’t there to hear hallway discussions), and demonstrating through your actions that you’re interested in staying connected and being productive (volunteer for stuff, ask questions when you miss something, etc). I also make an effort to do a little “socializing” with co-workers whenever possible. If I have to call someone about something work-related, I take a few minutes at the start to chit chat about personal stuff. Sounds silly but you have to remind them that you’re still their nice, friendly co-worker. I find that when you’re not there people tend to sort of forget that and start imagining something bad, like you don’t like them, you’re not working, you don’t care about the group, etc. And share what you’re up to, to a level appropriate for your org, because again people tend to invent stories when you’re not around–not necessarily malicious stories but you know, “out of sight out of mind”.But it does get a little lonely, and you will sometimes feel removed. For me the trade off was worth it, but it’s definitely not for everyone!

  4. Oof, good question. I work for an entirely virtual organization – twelve employees scattered throughout the continental US. Staying in good touch is always a challenge — no leaning-over-the-cubicle-wall chats, or lunchtime/cocktail hour venting. We try to tackle it with frequent emails, phone/conf calls, Skype chats and video conferences…And scheduled, group conference calls are very different from one-on-one chats, so we encourage each other to just pick up the phone and call when needed. We also all work within a common database which has a social networking feature, so we can chat there as well.
    We meet together at least three times a year for full-day staff and board meetings. We’ve found these to be a really important piece of keeping that team feeling. The travel can be tough sometimes as a parent, but it’s also a nice break from the home routine. Hopefully having your family near will allow you to travel back to the mother ship occasionally?

  5. Yes, yes, yes to some sort of IM. Just make sure your company is OK with whatever you use. If you just IM on an open network (Google, Yahoo, etc), that can be construed as not protecting trade secrets. I work in a paranoid industry, so we tend to have internal chat networks. My favorite of the ones I’ve looked at is Spark- but you’d need your IT department to set it up.

  6. Third, fourth, fifth using IM. My company uses Microsoft Office Communicator, but there are lots of others.I use IM to be social.
    You’ll get a feel, pretty shortly, for which people like/appreciate that sort of interaction, and which don’t. I have a handful of people who do, one of whom also works at home with his kids sorta semi underfoot, so I know he’s receptive to guess-what-crazy-thing-just-happened here and I know he won’t be thinking I’m playing with my kids when I’m supposed to be working.
    I also use IM as the virtual equivalent of poking my head over somebody’s cubicle wall. Rather than just jump right in with a phone call, I use IM to ask first if they’ve got a minute for a phone call.
    For more important, or time-intensive, conversations, I use Outlook to schedule a half-hour phone call with people if I know I’m going to need more than 5-10 minutes. I’ll use IM to propose setting something like this up.
    Speak up more in meeting than you’re accustomed to doing — you don’t want people to forget you’re there. And it’s OK to share a bit of personal stuff in a staff meeting, for example, especially if the agenda’s not crammed. If you want these people to continue to feel like friends, you’ve got to share a little of your life with them, even though it can feel kind of awkward.
    Do you best to make your IM status reflect reality. If you go to lunch, set it to Away. If you’re on the phone, set it to Busy or On A Call. Setting it to Urgent Interruptions Only is the virtual equivalent of putting your headphones in your ears in your cube.
    Don’t be afraid to speak up if you need something. If you can’t hear what’s being said in a meeting, say so. You *will* have to work harder to be perceived as being engaged, and this *will* be something of an inconvenience to your co-workers. Try not to apologize for your setup.
    If you manager can do something to make your job easier as a remote employee, say so. If your manager is doing everything he/she can do, *thank him/her*. It’s extra work for a manager to manage you remotely, too.
    It can be isolating to sit alone at home all day every day, so I recommend planning something social at least every couple of days. I go out to lunch once a month with co-workers from my last job, but I also make it a point to walk to the bus stop with my neighbor a couple of days a week if I can. I’m not a person that needs a lot of social stimulation, but I think everybody needs some.
    Good luck!

  7. I work at Mozilla, our company was founded on people volunteering from all over the world. So we use IRC, Vidyo, Skype, phone calls, whatever it takes to keep in touch. Heck we’ll fly people in when F2F is important – but that’s a culture thing too. You can’t just ask everyone to be on IRC, if they have no idea what it is or aren’t in the habit of being on it all the time.Good luck with this – I’m curious to find out how you work remotely at a company that’s not used to it.

  8. I’ve been working 100% remotely for the past couple of months now and my entire company is remote too. What works best for us (because I feel it’s a very communication/team oriented environment): Skype IS great. We have a daily video chat check-in call with the entire team. Only 30 minutes, just to check in on what we’re all working on. I always reach out to my boss and peers periodically on Skype thorough the day with small questions, just like I would if we were in an office. We also have a web based chatroom that everyone’s just in all day, where issues can be posted and questions asked. IM through Skype is great too for super quick questions. Works for us, and I feel very “in touch” with everyone.

  9. I’ll join the IM chorus – works great, with “let’s hop on skype” when a voice convo needs to happen. Conceivably the new Google Hangout might work even better…

  10. I’m also in an entirely virtual organization, and I feel like phone/Skype chats are super important – especially the ones in which we talk for 5 minutes about work and then spend the next 15 discussing the latest Gillian Welch album, and whether the Old 97s’ new stuff even remotely resembles their early tunes. You know, just as a hypothetical example. (I suspect your band names would be different – just adjust that dialogue as necessary.)More seriously, email is great (my peeps don’t use IM much at all), but there is really no replacement for an actual conversation.
    Several years ago I was a company’s first-ever telecommuting employee, and they made me participate in all meetings via webcam… when everyone else was there in person. It was a mite awkward – and they required me to come there in person (a 90+ minute drive – a big deal for New England) once a week. It sucked, frankly, but a big part of the problem was that I’d never been in-house. I think you’ve got a big advantage in that you’re maintaining, rather than establishing, relationships w/ coworkers who already think you’re the bee’s knees.

  11. I work from home at least two days a week, sometimes three. Instant message is crucial, as is the cc on email, as is picking up the phone occasionally to gossip or noodle over something. I find I am infinitely more productive at home.

  12. A bit OT and I don’t mean to hijack but how do you get a job where you can work from home? I hate my commute but work in an industry that in theory embraces it but in reality frowns upon it. What sort of industry/jobs? Thanks.

  13. +20 on IM, keeping your status current, and being responsive to emails and phone calls. IE, you don’t want to be the person who takes a long time answer when someone’s trying to ask you a question because it makes them wonder what you’re doing.I also make it a point to speak up (ask questions, contribute to the discussion, etc) if I’m the only one dialing into a meeting that everyone else is attending in person. You may also have to remind people to add a call-in number for meetings, if no one else is remote – eventually they’ll get used to it, but it’s easy for folks to forget.
    Also see if the in-person meetings can be videoconferences, at least occasionally, so you can see everyone and they can see you.
    Google Hangout is very cool – we’ve played around with it a bit, but tech companies may not be ok with you using an open network like that. (Though I guess Skype is open, right?)
    I think as a remote employee you need to “remind” your manager and co-workers a little more often that you’re around, and what you’re contributing. And I think there’s higher pressure on you to be punctual for meetings (even if it’s a 5 min late kind of culture) and available when people need you.
    I think it’s also important to declare what your work hours are and let your mgr know what your child care arrangements are, etc. (or let them know when your kids are home you’re not really working, etc.)
    I’m somewhat suspicious of people who are home alone with their young kids and think they can put in a full day of work with no outside child care. A manager I used to work with explicitly asks her remote employees to detail their childcare arrangements for that reason. Sounds nosy, but I think there are a lot of ppl who take advantage of telecommuting and give it a bad name.
    I think it also helps to have a home office, IE a specific place where you do work, rather than just dragging your laptop around to the couch or whatever. I’m much less likely to get distracted by stuff that way. Good lucK!

  14. Amen to what @ARC said: “I’m somewhat suspicious of people who are home alone with their young kids and think they can put in a full day of work with no outside child care. A manager I used to work with explicitly asks her remote employees to detail their childcare arrangements for that reason. Sounds nosy, but I think there are a lot of ppl who take advantage of telecommuting and give it a bad name.” Yep. I work from home and have a regular babysitter for exactly these reasons.Yes, there’s that old adage “out of sight, out of mind” but there’s also the competing adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” πŸ˜‰

  15. @ARC, that’s a good point about child care. My company has a specific policy that says that working at home may not be used as a substitute for finding child care. I am, however, able to be home with my school-age child in the morning before she leaves for the bus. She requires a little of my time, but I adjust my hours accordingly (I work 7 to 4:30 with an hour break, plus I figure a half hour of extra time that she requires of me). But boy is it nice that on snow days, or a-kid-is-sick days, I can cobble together a combination of play-doh and PBS Sprout and not have to take the day off!@Minty: I’m only one data point, but I got a work-remotely job by honestly being unwilling to take one any other way. I was called about interviewing at my current company several times before I talked to someone who was still interested once I said I wasn’t moving to take a job. People were interested in me for the usual reason — a friend and past colleague had recommended me.
    In addition to being willing to walk away, I was able to show 2 things: A commitment to excellent communication (in my dealings with the hiring folks, responsiveness, ability to use tools like IM and Email/CC and conference calling) and Experience working remotely. In my case I had had a remote manager for a time, and had also done like Moxie is doing and simply kept a regular in-office job when I made a move, continuing it remotely.
    So if you’d like to have a job where you work remotely, try to get some experience working remotely. See if you can arrange to work from home one day a week on a regular basis. Learn what the challenges are and how you can address them. I have my experience as a remote worker listed as a bullet point on my resume. If your team is distributed, become the go-to problem solver for remote folks. When you hear about network issues, check in with them and help them troubleshoot.

  16. I’ve worked almost exclusively from home since my second daughter was born almost 4 years ago, and I completely agree with ARC, hush and Jen that it is impossible to work from home without a regular babysitter. I technically work part time, but in my particular (and admittedly unusual) case, I’m available pretty much anytime, but if it’s not during the times when my babysitter is here, then whoever I’m talking to has to be prepared to be interrupted by whatever craziness is going on around me. It’s wildly unprofessional, but it works (as I said, it’s an unusual situation).Also, as Jen said, I work from home because that’s what I was willing to do. I took a substantial pay cut when my first daughter was born (and I went to a part time schedule), but I handle some essential and confidential functions for the owner of the company and so we were able to work out something that mostly works for both of us.
    As far as working remotely goes, I think you’ll just be more out of touch than you’ll like. In my situation, I keep tabs on what’s going on in the office, but that’s mainly because I have to address it if there’s a personnel problem (navigating the heating and cooling debates amongst the women in my office qualifies me to negotiate peace in the Middle East, I swear).
    All that said, our company doesn’t have an IM culture, so I do try to check in by phone on a one on one basis with everyone pretty regularly (my boss calls it “flock tending” and doesn’t ever want to have to do it himself!).
    Transitions are hard, even when it’s a much wanted change (leaving the city, in your case, Moxie). Give yourself room to work through the change and to find the new balance in your relationships with your coworkers. Good luck!

  17. My company has 4 other full-timers who work remotely, so I’m not the only one. But all of them were hired to work remotely. So I guess I feel like they never had the same “make each other laugh while on a conference call” experience to feel like they’ve lost it now. Maybe this is more about feeling loss than about working remotely…ARC, yes! I know I can get a day’s work done with my kids home if it’s an emergency and I shove them in front of the Wii all day. But my boys are also 6 and 9 and don’t need me every second. I can’t imagine them being home all day all the time, and I certainly can’t see how anyone could get anything done with little ones at home.
    Minty, I can’t add anything to what Jan said, really. I think it’s all about the company and their expectations and how you can meet them in a way that working remotely doesn’t scare them.

  18. Moxie, didn’t suggest this before, but skype chat/IM during conference calls can be a great subversive way to blow off steam/try to make each other crack-up. Just keep your volume down – those “you’ve got a msg” chimes are loud!

  19. I work with a company where everyone is remote and, honestly, it’s always going to be a little hard to keep in touch. But that’s got its pros, too: we have so much less of the interoffice gossip and other crap that can be an issue in a “brick and mortar” workplace. And, for me, I’m OK with the difficulties of connection because we’re all in the same place (I don’t have to worry about “keeping up” with people there in person) and because then it’s just … work. This is a little easier for me because my workday is flexible because I am a contractor and I work part-time. So I seek my social interaction elsewhere, with friends–especially SAHM and part-time moms–and a few side interests. I’m kind of an introvert to start, so this is a good place for me.I think my workplace is a little peculiar in that they’ve worked this way for a long time, it’s extremely small, most of us operate as contractors [that’s a whole other topic], and we don’t have great IT infrastructure in place because of those other characteristics. So we mostly operate using email and phone calls; not so much with IM or Skype. I’m just as glad for no video so I don’t have to change out of my scrubby clothes or put on makeup πŸ™‚
    We are exploring more collaborative cloud-based systems, though, and I think those could be really useful for bridging the gap.
    For me, the hardest thing about being at home is keeping on task, and not letting mess or other home-based distractions get in the way. It takes practice, and reminding myself of how much better this is than an office πŸ™‚
    My kids go to daycare when I work. They are 2 and 4 and there is no way I can work when even one is home–unless that one is asleep. Just part of the cost of doing business. I can imagine that, when they are older, it might be possible to work when they’re here, but not in the near future.

  20. @Minty: Kinda hard to say, IMO. I think that tech or start-up companies are more likely to have remote work situations. I found mine randomly-I was on my current company’s newsletter list through my old job, saw they were hiring and went “oooh.” I used to search Craigslist and check the “telecommute” button, in regions other than where I lived too. I also of one huge national non-profit that has everyone working remotely. Just keep your eyes and ears peeled, and as someone else noted, be ready to negotiate for that even in jobs that aren’t listed as remote working.

  21. I started working remotely from home about 18 months ago. My company also has an internal IM system which is invaluable. And I have a 30 minute 1 on 1 call with my manager every 2 weeks or so. A lot time that is just catching up on the rest of the group, issues,etc. Also since you will be in a different time zone than your co-workers..take that into account. Try to flex your time if you can so you are generally in the office the same times that they are and don’t schedule conference calls at lunchtime/end of the day. If you are going to be unavailable or have to alter your schedule, give folks a heads up. Like if you have to run out to pick up a sick kid or whatever, just send a quick IM (or e-mail if that’s not an option) to let folks on your time know that you will be out but back by whenever. I found that helps A LOT!I sort of lucked into this position. I had a long commute and had just had a new baby. My division was given short notice that the 7 people would need to be laid off. My super awesome company (giant commercial bank) wanted all of us to stay with the company so my previous manager found my current position. Granted I took a pretty big cut in pay (I make 2/3 of what I used to) and frankly I am WAY overqualified for this position but it allows for a very awesome work/life balance.
    And yes, childcare is a MUST. Maybe it doesn’t have to be full-time but you need childcare just like if you were going into the office.
    Personally I think a whole post about working from home/remotely would be awesome. It is great in so many ways but it is a lot harder than I expected in others.

  22. ITA with what everyone else has said. IM is crucial, as is just picking up the phone and calling.In my current project, there are certain things I have to be on the intranet for, so I have to VPN in when I work from home. So be sure your VPN is set up and ready to go if you need to do the same. Unfortunately for me, I regularly get kicked off the VPN and therefore the internal IM.
    If you have a similar situation or if your group doesn’t embrace IMs, don’t be afraid to treat emails as IMs! I’ve had some good, quick conversations via email.
    Another recommendation is to use something like Adobe Connect. We have a regular space (room) set up and can go in any time. I don’t know if Skype allows you to see the same documents and other people’s desktops (we don’t use Skype), but Adobe Connect has been great to make sure we are all looking at the same page of a presentation or viewing the developing code that’s only available on the developer’s computer.
    Good luck, Moxie! I’m sure it will be a transition, and it’s definitely not the same as being there in person, but I’ll bet you can totally make it work!

  23. I really think it’s a case of not being able to have your cake and eat it, too.I quit work after S was born (well, I took my year off, asked for an additional 6 months, and decided not to go back). I freelance now, a few hours a week, and I’m still in touch with the office and a lot of the people I worked with before.
    But it’s not the same. The face-to-face is what turns colleagues into work friends. That interaction is irreplaceable. When I head down to the office every few month, I chat and catch up and I don’t feel like a stranger. But I’m not part of the team anymore. I don’t know the inside jokes, the new people, the changing dynamic. It’s different.
    I don’t think we can have it both ways. You can stay in touch and head down for face time now and then, but you can’t both not physically be there and feel like you are.
    I think we just have to keep remembering why we chose to work away from the office and be happy with that.

  24. And for the comments about working from home with young kids, I hear you! I only work nights and weekends, when baby’s asleep or hubby can take over. Barring a conference call or two, or a quick turnaround (like a translated headline or a quick ad blurb), I simply do not have the time, mindset or ability to work with S around… and she’s 21 months and can play alone for a good half hour at a time.I tell all clients that, and sometimes they like the hours (I work when the regulars go home, so I can help meet tight deadlines) and other times they don’t (when they need something before 5). I’m less busy than I’d like to be, but so it goes.
    I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they can work from home with young kids. You simply can’t give 100% to 2 things at a time.

  25. It’s true you can’t give 100% your time if you have young kids. But I guess it depends on the agreement regarding your working hours.If you are honest to your real situation for sure they will understand.Your lucky if you have a considerate client.

  26. IM, Twitter, FB (special restricted list that doesn’t see most of what I post), Skype.I make a point of calling people at least a couple of times a week for things that I would ordinarily email, just to get voice-time with them.
    Remember and acknowledge special events, even if (especially if) you’re not there for them.
    Schedule semi-work/semi-social time with folks when you’re in town – I always book lunches in advance so I’ll get more time to catch up.

  27. What a timely thread! I just started a new job with a one-way commute (when traffic is smooth) of 1 hour, 40 minutes. But when I was offered the job it was with the understanding that I could work at home a few days a week. I understood that in the beginning while I was getting to know everyone, I’d probably commute every day, but quickly work towards making that less and less until it’s once or twice a week (depending on what’s going on, client meetings, and especially weather).Last week I commuted every day (4 days). This week I commuted 3 days, and worked at home 2 days. I’m still getting things set up (figuring out how to access the network, getting a stand for the laptop and configuring ergonomics…). The company is getting me a blackberry (never had one of those before — we dropped our land line and my personal cell is a “bare bones” model), so that I don’t have to limit phone calls.
    I haven’t been able to login to the network to access files on the server, but can remotely access e-mail, and had all the files I would need on the company-issued laptop (a loaner, they’re ordering me a newer, faster one). I thought we had that problem worked out, but it’s still a bit of trial and error (since it hasn’t been critical, I don’t consider it a drawback yet).
    At this point I don’t have any advice because I’ve only worked remotely 2 days, and I expect to have enough of a regular presence in the office if I’m there 1-2 days a week. We have weekly conference calls with the other offices in our (environmental consulting) company and work as a regional/national team, and I’m liking the degree of communication compared to my last job — where I went every day, but the others in my department hardly spoke to me because they weren’t working on projects with me.
    I don’t believe we do IM or SKYPE — although I asked my boss about it recently and he liked the idea of SKYPE, so maybe it will happen eventually.
    I’ll come back and check to see if any more responses are posted; this is so relevant to me (kids are college-aged, so childcare isn’t an issue — but I DO want to eventually be able to meed friends and former colleagues for lunch, just as I did before).

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