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Ask HN: First time working remote, what do I need to know?
74 points by meesles on Sept 20, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments
I'll be the second remote worker I think. I've worked there before in person a bit, so I know everyone and I'm excited to go back! I'm curious to see if I'll face any new challenges while remote.

Do you guys have any tips for how to manage myself well? Are there any good tools you've found success with? Anything you wish someone would have told you earlier? Thanks!

I worked remotely for 20 years, as developer, team lead and manager.

The number one advice - communicate. It's better to overcommunicate than undercommunicate. A mediocre developer beats a genius if the mediocre one communicates and genius gets his task and goes under water for weeks and then suddenly delivers the masterpiece. I've seen so many such masterpieces not needed anymore after weeks of silence. If you ever question yourself: "should I comment on this JIRA ticket before I complete it, or not?", don't hesitate, comment. Don't even think about it. If miracle will happen and you'll actually overcommunicate - they will tell you.

Number two: if you have a family, establish a comfortable working environment, define comfortable working hours and "go to the office". You're away, you can't "hey, could you please pick up some groceries, if you're at home anyway?". You're not at home, you're at work. It's hard for family, could be hard for you too. Especially if you have small children, your wife is very tired dealing with them, it would be very tempting for her to go out with girls while you babysit. The next thing which will happen is your production goes down, you're called to the meeting with all the brass, your ass is on fire, because it seems your commit caused the outage, you spend 3 hours on webex and phone and computer, your baby shits her pants couple of times, paints the whole room with shit, and then sits in the middle of this horrible mess crying because you forgot to feed her on schedule. And you do not hear her, because you're in the headphones where 20 people talk at once. (true story, btw).

Totally agree.

On working from home, a physical barrier for 'work' and 'home' may help. For example, a physically separate attic or basement space with door that does feel separate, and can be reassuring for a child, as it is seen as 'mommy/daddy work time/space' rather than feeling neglected (assuming someone else is at home to look after the child).

I get your point on number two - but you know, people who work in offices sometimes have to run errands and help with child care.

Yes, they usually leave the office then and/or take time off (for babysit). That's what I suggest - develop a mental discipline to "enter the office" and "leave the office". It's just the commute that gets shorter (instead of 30min in the car it's 30ft from the bed to the table) and you can ignore the dress code even more :-)

And clean up other people's shit

(figuratively, usually)

adult shit. weapon grade, so to say.

I know some folks have worked well with different opinions but this is what works for me:

1) you need a designated distraction-free room 2) always dress as if you were heading into the office 3) respect the time you are working for your employer, 9AM I have coffee and I'm logging in, 5PM and I'm walking away from the desk 4) sometimes you have to over-communicate to get through the technology barriers 5) pull in as much technology as you need, Google Docs, join.me, Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack, whatever 6) for video-conference, position the window of the people your talking to right next to your camera for that sense you are looking them in the eye 7) as engineers you want to get off voice or video as soon as possible, get over that, embrace it 8) be honest with your team and boss when you need to be away from your desk, hard to gain trust, easy to lose trust 9) try to get on-site regularly, make the most of these trips to re-connect 10) take advantage of the time you get back by working out, spending time with family, preparing good meals

I worked remotely for 3 years, and found it way more productive and efficient for my overall work and family life than being onsite. A few thoughts:

- setup a productive working space and use it most of the time. This means a quiet, distraction free zone, with a very good chair/desk. If you're going to spend long hours at the keyboard don't let it take a toll on your body. If your company won't pay for an ergonomic setup (can cost a couple grand), consider making the investment for yourself. Consider a desk that can be easily raised to a standing desk. Long hours sitting in the same position can be killer.

- find out what the typical working hours are for the colleagues you'll be collaborating with the most and try to maximize your overlap with them. If you're in very different time zones, consider working some odd hours to get more overlap.

- be wary of being "out of sight, out of mind". There may be a danger that others in your organization don't fully appreciate your contributions, simply because they don't see you around everyday. Those you work with directly should have a good appreciation of your value, but consider taking some additional steps to raise your profile: a) volunteer for or request higher-profile tasks that get more visibility outside your immediate group. b) if possible make trips to be onsite, even if there isn't too much of a need for face-to-face collaboration.

Hopefully since you're not the only remote person that means there will be more of an acceptance and culture that is supportive of remote colleagues.

I worked from home off and on for around 7 years (with sporadic office visits).

The hardest part is making sure you keep focused on work during work hours. I found myself often going stir crazy and ended up spending lots of time in coffee shops/mcdonald's/panera/library/whatever in order to just have human contact.

I remember after a 3 month stint working virtually alone I found myself going to the grocery store to buy something I didn't need just so I could interact with the cashiers.

What I found helps is to schedule a place you'll be (like a coffee shop) and what you'll be doing there and for how long (usually a couple of hours) and stick to that schedule. Go there, work and leave on schedule. And when you're there interact with every human you can -- don't take the automated checkout kiosk route.

Also, it's easy to end up working outside of normal office hours simply because there's no "break" from work to home. Don't give in to this temptation.

Also, communicate your pants off. Spend more time than is necessary communicating in triplicate on everything, using every means at your disposal. It's very easy for people to dismiss you because you aren't there. By being a constant squeaky wheel in their inboxes/vm-box/etc. you make yourself known and it means that they have to consider you when making decisions. This also means it might be necessary to drop by every so often for surprise and impromptu office visits just so people know you are alive.

I wonder if you'll have this experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co_DNpTMKXk

(It's a sketch from a comedy show called That Mitchell and Webb Look.)

I may or may not have...

Lots of good advice here about establishing a healthy routine and communicating. I've only been working remotely for a few months, but here are some things I've learned so far:

1. Assuming you'll be calling in to a lot of meetings, a good pair of headphones with a microphone is invaluable. I have and am very happy with the AKG 551, but there are lots of good options out there.

2. For calling in to those meetings, I love using Google Voice from the Hangouts app. Using wifi instead of cellular service is the difference between a land-line quality connection and a noisy one that drops out far too frequently. This gives you the added bonus of being able to call in to a US number for free while travelling abroad if that is something you wish to do.

3. For a while I felt like my employer was doing me such a favor by letting me be remote, that I owed it to them to be glued to the computer in case a chat or email message came in. Taking breaks is important. Personally, I like cooking real meals for breakfast and lunch. I find the 30-40ish minutes it takes to make something tasty are the perfect amount of time to be away from the computer and on my feet.

3a. Being remote isn't a favor and it isn't special treatment. It is simply a different negotiated work arrangment. It has the potential for enormous productivity gains but it also has the potential for less team cohesion. Personally, I think the pros outweigh the cons, but it depends on the team.

4. Not being in an office environment means you can pace and think aloud without annoying anyone. When I'm not actively reading or typing something, I try to walk around as much as possible.

Good luck!

Hah, I can't use VoIP when working remotely due to echo and latency. I really recommend upgrading your home internet connection to some kind of business plan - at least for the SLA and tech support advantages.

Know when to stop. When I started remote I worked the whole day without realizing it. Started to hate it.

It is easy to fall into this trap. In the office when it is time to go, the place will be empty. At home, you don't know when is time to go home :-(.

1) Ensure the company is ready for remote workers

- Do they have clear processes, decision paths, goals and minimize communications.

Communication is expensive in distributed teams - you want as little of it - clear processes help here. When communication is needed async is your friend

2) Make sure the company respects your time(-difference).

If the time difference is several hours you might need to keep several evenings blocked for meetings. Make sure that those are arranged in planned manner and not on the spot and heretic.

3) Work from an office / coworking space

Personally i prefer offices because there are less distractions. I would not recommend working from home

4) Communicate very clear and very explicit

See title.

Hope that helps

Working remote - if the company is right - is awesome. Have fun!

Two major things that help:

1. Keep a routine (wake up on time, shower, eat breakfast, dress in work clothes, start on time, eat lunch, finish on time)

2. Communicate well with your manager and peers

I agree with everything on your list except "dress in work clothes". I actually did that for the first few weeks, but eventually it became lounge pants, and in the summer it became boxer shorts (t-shirt optional). It was nice at the beginning to remind me I was still expected to get work done, but honestly one of the biggest perks of working from home for me was not having to dress up. My office had been five minutes from home, my boss didn't check in on me ever, I was home for lunch every day and home on time every night. The big perk was working in my underwear.

Although the big downside to that is, it takes a lot of willpower to leave the house during the day because I have to get dressed to go out and get the mail.

I can attest to the "dress in work clothes" part helping with the routine. You don't have to be in a suit and tie, but putting on a polo shirt does help with deliniating work time and personal time

Also, going for a walk during breaks is great, because you're probably going to be getting less exercise otherwise.

My personal rule is waist-up, wear something you'd generally be OK with wearing in public. Other than that, all bets are off (unless you have a standing desk).

Let's not forget that your team needs to manage itself differently for the remote worker to be a success. Here's stuff that we (Sauce Labs Mobile Team) have found to work:

- Slack everything all the time even if you are in the same room. If you're not using Slack get on it; it's by far the best tool for remotes. If you have a discussion in person, copy the conclusions to the channel.

- Use video hangouts for meetings whenever possible.

- During such meetings, everyone must be "equal" in how they are present. Our solution is to have everyone log into the meeting at their own desk. (Audio and video will be delayed by a second, so you all need headphones for this to work.) So everyone appears as a talking head, equally taking turns. Another solution might be to do videoconferencing in a meeting room with a very large screen, so all the remote workers appear to be as present as people in the room.

- Make sure that team members socialize with the remote worker. We have semi-randomly-assigned sessions we call "coffee" where you both get a beverage and just hang out for an hour on a video chat. I know it sounds silly but it has a HUGE benefit.

A coffee session is a great idea. Thanks!

i've been working mostly remotely for about 10 years... interning, managing remote teams, freelance, full time etc. i'm not sure i'll ever have it figured out, i'll be looking for advice here too...

working remotely, the biggest risk is loss of information.

1. communication is key

2. consistency using project management and communication systems is also key (basecamp, email, meetings, whatever your team chooses). i'm talking about advanced consistency. fix these systems if they're not working.

these may sound cliche, but they have been the most defining factors for failure/success in my experience.

Point number 2 applies equally-well to a non-remote position. Incorrect (or lack of) use of management/communication tools can be a very big productivity loss for an entire team.

I am manager to a coworker who is remote. It's been said in this thread a few times but I would re-iterate:

- Have a routine, this way your manager doesn't have to guess when you're around. I know not to ping him before 9am, unless it's an emergency.

- If something comes up or your day is going to be different, it's fine -- just communicate it.

- Over-communicate. Share ideas, questions, comment on things, participate in the teams chat channel.

- Feel free to suggest voice chat for tough problems. Usually find quickly chatting about it that way leads to a more refined solution in due time.

If you wind up voice chatting about it, stick it in your text chat with a full summary. You can't CTRL-F a conversation. One of the keys to success as a remote worker is being able to figure out as much as possible w/out requiring other people to respond, because undoubtedly they will not when you really need them. The best way to do that is knowing where to search for the information.

Cowork! I'd go nuts if I were just sitting alone in my apartment all day, and bouncing around coffee shops isn't really my thing.

I'm in Denver and happy to make specific recommendations (I'm not officially affiliated anywhere but am a happy renter of a reserved desk); otherwise, check out http://www.deskmag.com/, Impact Hub, or if you're in SF, NYC, or Boston, throw a rock and check out whatever place you hit first (there's TONS of options).

Agreed, 100%. Any shared space takes care of so many challenges that come with remote work: socializing, a unique non-relaxation oriented place to "be on", as well as the expectation to be seen. Depending on your personality, it can be super easy to disappear and fall into work avoidance rather than proactiveness when there's no face time/expectation.

If you start getting concerns about or a vibe about "are they working"?, and you have an internal IM system or other designated IM system, try staying signed in and visible. (Although... this can impact productivity depending upon your culture and how much people feel free to ping you for every detail.)

Seeing you "green" or whatever can cut off or ameliorate nascent resentment. Particularly when people occasionally see you green in the evening or off-hours.

Hopefully, that's not a component in your particular culture, though.

I wasn't remote, but half my team was. I didn't care about such things as who's doing what when and how much and "putting in the (excessive) hours". Nonetheless, IM was a nice avenue for feeling a bit of social contact without serious distraction or interruption. Some of us with similar or at least compatible personalities would even share offhand quips occasionally throughout the day. We were busy, so this wasn't a major distraction, but it left the feeling of a bit of "presence" and ongoing, daily community. (I.e. like having someone "over the wall" to make a comment to, but without having to tune out all their other noise that didn't involve you (cube meetings -- shudder!))

(worked remotely in the past and now manage a few remote workers at my startup) To add to the other great suggestions, keep in mind that the company might have more to learn than you do. Be sure to communicate...but also expect that the rest of the team will communicate as well, and speak up when this isn't the case (i.e. it's not just your responsibility to communicate).

Make sure you learn to organize your time well. Do not get distracted. Make your environment as close to an office environment as possible. Take any breaks that you would normally take in an office environment. Also, keep great communication between you and your team. You can use slack/hipchat for communication.

I wrote some thoughts about it, after doing it for a two year stint: http://jeremyraines.com/2014/01/18/remote-retrospective.html

The most important thing is to be self-aware and vigilant. Every person will find their own tricks and techniques to making it work, and you certainly have a large collection of comments here to get you going.

But ultimately, you are your own person, in your own role, in your own organization, with your own culture. Try things, have honest evaluations of what works and what does not, and figure out your own best practices.

My company has no office - we all work remotely, no matter what our role is. We have a few tools we use for communication, but everybody does it differently, and every new hire takes a while to find their own rhythm. Give yourself that time, and treat the process of finding what works for you as an important part of your job.

Don't be afraid to change up the environment every now and then. Routines are great, but sometimes they get quite monotonous. I sometimes found it nice to go work out of a coffeeshop for a few hours of the day to get a change of environment.

The hard part is communication. I feel I am very good at online communication. Most people are not.

Make sure you have a remote-oriented process using Slack or a chat-room with history, and people pay attention to and actually read/respond github issues etc.

Phone/Skype call often (daily) is much higher bandwidth and unless they are very pro at text chatting may be 100% necessary to do on a daily basis. And in those cases make sure everyone necessary is in the call.

Another thing you could try is a virtual reality workplace built on Second Life or something similar. Or a Teamspeak/Mumble type thing at least for a portion of the day that everyone gets on at that time.

I ended up hating it. I would quit a job before doing it again. Some hints, most of which I arrived at the hard way.

1. Set some limits - have work hours, and if you can "go to work" even if that's just going into the office or other room.

Outside those hours don't be tempted to just go fix that thing when you have a flash of inspiration. Make a note, forget it until tomorrow.

2. If possible meet regularly with people in the business / team. It's very easy to end up feeling isolated and out of the loop. skype or hangouts don't cut it.

3. Make more time in your life for people and actual IRL time with them.

I've spent the last two years working remotely. Everything that's been said here is great. I'd especially +1 the comments advising to keep up a daily routine (shower, get dressed, etc); there were days I forgot to brush my teeth because it was so easy to sit down, start coding...8 hours later and you get it.

Also, make sure you deduct the working space. Whether its in your own residence or pay for something like a co-working space, it's tax-deductible.

I wrote about this a couple of years ago on my blog and it's still relevant. Rather than re-post it here, have a look if you don't mind. You won't even need an ad blocker, and this is not blog spam. http://www.tidbitsfortechs.com/2013/08/experiences-and-reali...

1) Say no to multitasking 2) Morning ritual 3) Don’t work all the time 4) Eliminate distractions

Key points taken from https://techblog.livingsocial.com/blog/2014/04/02/working-fr...

I just wrote an article about my first year of working remotely, you can read it here: http://danmunro.com/blog/2015/09/17/working-remotely/. There's a lot of good advice in the comments here too.

A general point for someone physically in a different location to their boss: Make sure to give a weekly status update not just on 'work' but on all of the other things, small side projects, etc.

It's so easy to assume someone knows what you're doing, then to get hit by finding out they don't. Give yourself exposure in HQ if you're not in HQ.

get some standing lunch "dates" with friends. Helps to get you out of the house and keep up relationships. If you're single and not that social by nature its easy to get into hermit mode.

If you are social, prepare for dining out budget to increase. I found when I did it by the time I was closing down the laptop more often than not I was ready to get out of the house and have dinner out with wife. It added up doing that 3-4 weeknights.

Core hours are everyones friends. Have at least a handful of hours that overlap with everyone on your team.

Some people like the set boundaries, I actually found I liked the opposite. Granted I didn't have a kid yet, but I like always working and always not working. Long lunch or afternoon movie was fine, I'd be working late that night. Visit family/friends for a few days no problem I have internet. I enjoyed the flow and flux of it, and I did good work and great life during it. But know yourself.

My teammates wrote a guide to remote work that might be useful, lots of gems: https://zapier.com/learn/the-ultimate-guide-to-remote-workin...

Some really good thoughts on this, here they are: http://staxmanade.com/2014/12/thoughts-on-working-remotely-f...

Communication is key. Follow up every real-time conversation in email. Log everything in an issue tracker, link it with version control, comments, comments, comments.

Keep a well-organized note-taking and to-do list system.

Take a well-deserved break somewhere quiet. Take a walk.

I've worked from home since I was 16 years old.. find your most productive hours during the day and join a co-working shared space in your City.

I've been working remotely for The last 10 years. Today, pain is everywhere. My tip is: exercise regularly, many times during the day.

It's really easy to get into a habit of working all the time. Set yourself boundaries and stick to them.

Routine and self-control and the biggest things.

Set aside certain hours that are going to be working hours. Wake up at the same time, start at the same time, eat at the same time, finish at the same time, etc. If you have the space, I've found it helpful to set aside a space, however small, specifically for working. I never work on the couch, for instance; I always sit at my desk. Try to find a routine that works for you and stick to it as best as possible each day. It's very easy to slip because no one is there to tell you not to except yourself.

Sometimes a change of scenery is nice, so you can go someplace else. Many people like coffee shops, though I'd rather go to the park and sit at a picnic table. Coffee shops are too noisy and the wifi is usually nearly useless. Better to just go sit in a park, tether up, and enjoy the sunshine and peace.

Equally as important as routine is self control. It's very easy to say "I'll just fix one more bug," and suddenly it's 9pm and you've been working for 13 hours. Sometimes things happen, stuff breaks and you need to roll with that, but on normal days learn to prioritize what needs to be fixed now vs. what can wait until tomorrow. And when you log out, be done for the day. Go and enjoy life and resist that temptation to log in later that night and fix "one more thing." :)

Take breaks. Take a walk around the block. Go out to grab a sandwich. Again, it's easy to get sucked in when you don't have normal workplace distractions. But sometimes those distractions are useful. Yeah, it sucks when someone interrupts you at your desk, but how often do you then decide it's a good time for a bathroom break, or to grab a soda or snack or something? Make those things happen at home. I find a variation on pomodoro[0] to be a benefit here.

After work, go do something else. If possible, go out, even if it's just to the store. Get outside and get some fresh air.

Do you have family? If you do here are a couple of additional points:

Be sure you don't neglect your family duties. This seems counter-intuitive (because you're at home, right!) but I've seen several friends relationships suffer after they started working from home (and it's usually related to the self-control issues above - they can't stop when it's time to switch into family mode). Be sure your family is on board with you working from home and know what to expect.

But on the other hand, if your family is at home while you are home, be sure they realize that you are working and that they should _try_ not to disturb you and give you space to work. I work with a wife and 3 year old in the house and, while distractions do happen, they're both pretty good about allowing me space and quiet to get things done. I have the fortune of having a separate space to work and, while my door is usually open for them to come and go, they know that if I've closed the door that means I'm trying to focus on something and to try not to disturb me.

Oh yeah. And keep up with your personal hygiene. There is a level of truth to this Oatmeal comic [1]. :)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

[1] http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home

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