Working remotely can be pretty difficult. We’re big fans around here at Trello, but also acknowledge the amount of work it takes to, well, make it work.
Some aspects of remote work may not be up to you (company policies, etc.), but that doesn’t mean making it successful is completely out of your control. After working at home for over five years, I’ve picked up a few things along the way. These four habits in particular make a big difference to my remote workday.
By doing these four things, I...
- Cultivate better relationships with my teammates and others around the company.
- Have more effective working relationships. Specifically, I can give and receive honest feedback when there’s more trust in the relationship.
- Feel less socially isolated. While I’m am very introverted and don't need much social interaction, I do enjoy some!
So with that in mind, let’s get into the good stuff: My four quick tips for successfully working remotely day in, day out.
1. Talk To Someone Everyday, But Not About Work
The ol' water cooler talk. The stop-and-chat in the hallway. Catching up over coffee in the kitchen.
This may come as a complete shock, but when you work remotely you miss out on all of these natural, in-person interactions.
Ok, it’s not actually that shocking. But what may be is the fact that you don’t actually have to miss out on casual, relationship-building conversations. Instead of relying on these moments to just happen, you now have to make them happen.
I make it a point to reach out to someone everyday.
The next part is important: I don’t talk about work. The key is to just be thoughtful and deliberate here.
Here are a few examples of random conversations I’ve had with different coworkers:
- I was sharing some WiFi woes (my router died) in a public channel. A colleague dropped a comment to let me know how my research goes as I find some new equipment. I reached out once I made my decision and we had a great chat about mesh networks.
- One colleague asked for music recommendations (he wanted something fresh to listen to). He ended up loving one of the suggestions and we later bonded over our love for a shared artist.
- After I made some homemade dog treats, I thought of one of my dog-owning colleagues. I sent over the recipe and we had an awesome back-and-forth chat about homemade, tasty dog treats.
All of these conversation topics are natural things that could come up if you’re working in an office. The difference is, you need to initiate these types of interactions when you’re working remotely. Just because you aren’t co-located, doesn’t mean you can’t get to know your colleagues.
Which leads me to the next point…
2. Squeeze Social Time Into Your Meetings
Since we make abundant use of video calls as a remote team, this tactic is the perfect way to get in bonus face-to-face time. The idea is to leverage extra time to just chat before/after a meeting.
Here are two ways to approach this one:
- If you have a 30 minute meeting that wraps up early, don’t just dip and head back to work. Transition the conversation towards something else in order to build up that rapport and seize the opportunity to socialize.
- Conversely, if you’re scheduling a meeting and you only think it’ll be 15 minutes, schedule 30 minutes anyway. Ease into the “work part” of the meeting with plenty of social chit-chat at the start.
By doing this, you’ll be amazed at the relationships you can build.
For example, I finally met several team members in person after five months of regular video calls. We didn’t miss a beat the first time we met. I felt like we had been working side-by-side the whole time.
While you can't (and probably shouldn’t) force people to spend time with you, I've never had an issue doing this one. Most folks usually enjoy the bonus social chatter (as long as you don't have something extremely pressing to address).
✨Pro Tip: If you’re concerned about potentially wasting someone’s time, you can always preface a social transition with, “Hey, if you gotta run that’s cool but otherwise I’d love to hear about your weekend!”
3. Have Good, Reliable Internet
This one probably isn’t as convenient as the others to do (decent networking equipment can be expensive), but a fast, reliable internet connection is something I put a lot of emphasis on.
One of the fastest ways to get a poor reputation as a remote worker is having constant internet problems. If every video call is blurry and choppy or you’re constantly having issues getting work done, no one is going to have a good time. Reliable internet is essential!
Plus, those cute animal videos will only load so fast.
It’s impossible to maintain 100% uptime with your internet, but it’s not hard to avoid having a consistently poor signal in your house.
If you have one of those cheap, ISP-provided gateways at one end of your house and you work at the other end, you’re probably going to have an unreliable connection.
Put the time and effort into having a good home connection in order to make that coworker connection—it makes a big difference!
4. Learn How To Clearly And Effectively Over-Communicate
When you’re working asynchronously across who knows how many time zones, you can’t afford to have excessive back-and-forth. The tips below are easier not to follow (because they take effort!), but without them you’ll be setting yourself up for classic remote communication woes.
Here are some basic rules I follow when I communicate asynchronously:
- Use clear and specific language. Minimize the use of vague words like “it, that, or he/she.” Maybe the context is enough to clarify what you’re referring to, but maybe not. Rather than saying, “He needs to make an update to it” instead try, “Chris needs to update the venue in the Trello Meetup email.” BAM! Crystal clear.
- Give a little more information than you think is necessary. You don’t have to write a novel for every status update, but err on the side of giving too much information and the worst-case scenario is the reader spends a few extra seconds reading, rather than wasting an entire day missing critical information.
- Be transparent when you communicate. Put everything out there. Regularly over-communicate using a good centralized tool (*cough* Trello *cough*). Everyone wins this way: Someone from another timezone working different hours than you is more likely to have the relevant information and you’re less likely to be contacted when you’re not working. Win-win.
- Always communicate with positive intent and assume others are too. Don’t read between the lines or try to glean some deeper meaning. We’re all on the same team here, so start with the positive approach.
- Don’t use acronyms. I know everyone loves saving those keystrokes, but acronyms are actually really confusing. They require specific knowledge about something and require equal cultural exposure. It’s hard, but keep it to a minimum. This falls under communicating clearly, but still worthy of its own point. ITCR? (Is that clear, reader?)
Work Is Better, Together
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently found that when I know my remote colleagues better (enough to be on a friend level), it’s just better working with them. Here’s to cultivating friends at work—no matter where you live!