Challenges Of Remote Work And How To Beat Them
The way that we work has been changed forever. You don't have to go to an office, punch in 8+ hours every day, and then do it all again the next day. In today’s workplace, if you have the right skills (e.g. web development), you have the potential to be a remote worker.
When you work remotely, you have the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want as long as you meet your deadlines. It sounds like the perfect setup for a job. Too perfect. There are a few things you have to be aware of and ready to handle if you want to work completely remote.
Time zone differences
It's incredible to work on a team with people in different countries. You can collaborate on a project with people from New York, Hyderabad, and Munich and learn a lot from all of them. The hardest thing is finding the core working hours that work for everyone because time zones are crazy. Someone could be 12 hours ahead of your time and that makes it incredibly hard to collaborate in situations when you need their instant feedback.
There are a few ways you can work around this. One of my favorites is to set up meetings 1-2 times a week to talk. It's not going to be the optimal time for everyone, but all of you can decide what time the meeting will be. Using UTC also helps avoid the issues of converting to your local time zone and accounting for daylight savings time.
Another thing you can try to do to make up for the time zone differences is to plan your emails and messages around the time that your co-workers will see them. You can always schedule emails to go out at certain times so that your co-workers see them just in time when they start working.
Not all of your conversations have to happen in real time or in the "right" order. You can get answers from different teammates without waiting for others to respond. You can also learn how to handle those offline conversations. Eventually, you start to learn what times to expect responses from your teammates and you can adjust the times that you send your responses.
Learning about cultural differences
The time zone difference brings more than just… time differences. It brings you into entirely different cultural contexts. People from all over the world come from different backgrounds and that can make communications even more of a challenge. Imagine living in Chicago and working on a dating app in Rotterdam. There are a lot of cultural norms that just won't be there.
You might have to spend a little extra time researching what the culture is like in the city that your project is based on. Asking your co-workers what they know about a place is a great way to learn more and build relationships with them. Being on teams like these can be really eye-opening.
Remember to respect their views as well. When someone thinks differently than you or says something that might come across as offensive, take the time to understand what they really mean. Most of the time people are genuinely friendly, but because of cultural differences, they may say something the wrong way to you. That's ok. Don't try to change them to do things how you want them to. Work together to get the main goal accomplished instead.
Also, keep holidays in mind! Different people celebrate different major holidays. So if one of your teammates is away for one of their major religious holidays, be respectful of that. Don't start new conversations about the project until they return.
Knowing what the world is like through someone else's experiences helps you know how to talk to them, and communication is essential when you're in a remote team. Once you understand more about a person, you can start to understand why they code a certain way or why they try to do things with the project a certain way. You'll save yourself and your team from a lot of headaches if you take the time to understand your teammate's cultures.
One of the best things about working remotely is also one of the weirdest things about working remotely. You don't have to talk to anyone for days. At first this newfound peace can feel incredible. You don't have to wear real clothes or worry about your commute.
The other side that no one tells you about is how isolating that can become. You don't have to leave your house for days if you don't want to and you never have to see a co-worker or boss in real life. That can leave you in a weird place because you typically learn the most from talking to these people. It's hard to get people to understand where you're coming from when no one really gets what you do.
To combat this, join local developer or remote worker organizations. When you find a group of people working the same way as you are, it's easier to relate to them. You'll be able to get even more advice on how to make remote work better for you.
Image credit: Topshelf Records
Getting people to respond to your emails
This is something that has the potential to drive you crazy. As a remote worker, people know you exist (sometimes) but they might not know who you are when you send emails. That could lead to your emails getting sent to spam or just getting ignored.
That doesn't have to be you. An effective way to get people to respond to your emails is by CC'ing people on them. Try not to do this when you first start emailing people because it can come off as a bad thing. Start by emailing people directly. If they don't get back to you after a day or two, email them again and include your co-workers or managers in CC.
When you depend on people's replies to get your work done don't be bashful. CC'ing people on emails can potentially save you when something isn't going right. You'll have an email chain along with witnesses. Doing it this way will ensure that you have concrete evidence of what you say you've been doing.
Talking to other remote co-workers
There's usually a kind of comradery between co-workers. If someone needs help they can go ask one of the other developers for their input and show them the exact problem they are having. It's not that easy when you're remote because you can't just walk to the cubical across from you. You might even be working on different projects with different teams.
The first thing you have to do is keep your project groups separate so that you aren't sending questions to the wrong people. The most important thing you need to do is be able to communicate exactly what you need. When you run into an issue during setup, don't ask if anybody has had issues with setting up the project. Ask them if they have seen the error you have.
You'll get your answers a lot faster because people will know exactly what you need help with. Take the initiative in creating that kind of communication between your co-workers. If you are the one that creates it, you really get to make the rules for it and other people will follow them if they make sense. As soon as you start a project with other remote workers, let them know that you're there to help and you won't have a lot of problems with them.
Image credit: Buffer
Staying motivated to do work
It's not surprising that this can be something you have to face. You're at home with no one looking at you or checking when you leave your computer. There are other things you could be doing and it's more tempting to do them when you work remotely. Even though the temptation is strong, you have to fight it because you'll lose your job if you don't.
Every remote worker goes through this at some point. You could do those 3 tasks right now or you could go watch something on Netflix and do that stuff later. The best way to keep your motivation up is to have a separate space that you work in. It could be a different room or just a different place in a room. Make an area that puts you in the mindset of doing work.
Then train yourself to start using it. Propping up on the couch sounds great, but it's not for everyone. Working remotely takes discipline and that could take some time to develop. Give yourself a routine and stick with it. That's the smoothest way to transition from "being at home" to "being at work" while you are at home for both physically. Once you find your groove it won't be much different than if you did go to an office.
Talking to managers
Approaching a manager is already hard enough in person. Can you imagine having to tell them that a website has crashed through an email with no way to explain anything else until they reply? It's stressful because you don't see how they react. While that is possibly a good thing to miss out on, being there to talk to your manager in person is usually preferred.
Since that's not an easy option for a remote worker you really have to stay on top of your work. Document everything you do and when you do and who you talked to and all those other details. This will help you out tremendously if something happens to the project you're on. Managers still aren't completely sure how to handle remote workers so be prepared for that.
Do all of the basic things like submitting your work on time and replying to emails and you should be fine. If there is a larger issue or you really need to talk through something then see if you can get a call with your manager. Remember that you aren't restricted to email. You can call people, get on Skype, share desktops, and a bunch of other stuff.
Image credit: Captain Obvious
These are some of the joys and pains of being a remote worker but overall you can easily overcome these issues with a bit of discipline. You do save a lot of money on gas and can get a lot of time for your private life since you don't have to commute. You just have to be aware of the issues that go along with remote work and be prepared for them.
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Uh...had a slight UI malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How r u?
For what it's worth, I'm kinda hopeful for Hashnode as a alternative for what Twitter used to be: a friendly industry water-cooler (especially nice for someone working remote).
Professional Freelance Developer (React | React Native | Node | Firebase)
Being a remote worker is difficult -- especially in a country like India. Just managing compliance and taxation is a big headache. Loneliness is not much of a problem because there are people all around.