As developers, we have the luxury of being able to find competitive jobs that allow us to work remotely. If you want to really be successful as a remote employee though, you shouldn’t assume that simply putting in the hours and checking your code in is enough. Here are six simple steps you can take to really make yourself an invaluable member of your team.
1. Be Available
- Be responsive: I know this seems obvious, but there is nothing more irritating than trying to get a status update from someone and just getting...silence. Find out what IM client your employer uses, and USE IT. Participate in conversations, get to know people, and be responsive. If you need to hunker down and concentrate for an hour or so without interruption, set your status to ‘busy’ and let your supervisor know that you need some quiet time.
- Use their tools: If you are contracting for multiple different companies, you may need to have multiple IM clients running simultaneously. Annoying, maybe, but it’s the trade-off you should accept if you’re going to be a successful remote employee.
- Be ready to videoconference: Your remote co-workers will trust you more as they get to know you. Nothing better than getting to know someone than actually seeing what they look like. Simply being a disembodied voice on the other end of the daily scrum isn’t enough. So at a minimum put on a shirt and make sure whatever is behind you when you turn on your camera doesn’t look like total crap.
2. Become a Documentation Wizard
Since you won’t be seeing people face-to-face, you won’t be available for those casual water-cooler conversations or coffee breaks where people can touch base and chat about what you’re doing. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to add a page to their wiki or put together a Google Doc; proactively document your work and share it with your coworkers. They will appreciate it.
3. Log Your Hours
EVERY DAY, make sure to enter the time you spent into your employer’s time tracking/invoicing software. And be descriptive - ‘Worked on Project X’ really isn’t helping anyone understand what you did. If there is a ticket associated with your work, add the ticket ID and just a couple of words describing what specifically you did.
4. Visit In Person
This may not be an option for everyone, but if your employer asks if you’d like to come work in their office in person, DO IT. Or proactively ask them if there are any opportunities for you to come meet them in person. It’s important to get to know your team members to build trust and a community around your projects. You may be hesitant to leave your comfy home and put on nice clothes and speak to human beings in person, but it is important. You may even make some new friends.
5. Work in their Time Zone
While this may not be possible if you live in New Zealand and your employer is in New York City, try to maximize the amount of time that you are working when your employer is working. This may mean you have to get up a little earlier or work a little later than you would normally, but again, this is the trade-off you should accept if you’re going to be a successful remote employee.
6. Take Care of Yourself
This one is a little bit of a grab-bag, but here are some tips to keep yourself happy and healthy.
- Set boundaries: While you need to be responsive and flexible, you also need to not go insane from overwork. Once you are really done working for the day, try not to carry your laptop around the house with you. You won’t be efficient if you’re trying to cook dinner and code at the same time, so don’t bother.
- Set up an ergonomic work environment: Don’t spend all of your time hunched over your laptop at your kitchen table. Your back, wrists, and eyes will slowly die if you do this. Get a good chair, a good computer monitor, and a stand-up-desk (they don’t have to be expensive).
- Take breaks: As they say, sitting is the new smoking. Find a tool like Awareness to make sure you don’t sit, immobile, for hours at a time. Every 30-60 minutes walk around your house for 5 minutes, do some sun salutes, or run through a 7 minute workout.
- Leave the house: Ever have one of those weeks where you realize you haven’t been outside in like three days? Make a point of running some errands, working in a coffee shop for an hour, or getting outside for lunch. You may not realize it, but you are really isolated if you’re working from home without any human contact.