Working from home? Here's how to be a team player from any timezone

Three years ago, I moved to New York from the Midwest, where I grew up and went to school.

Why did I move? As a habitual collector of advice, one of the most consistent pieces I’ve always gotten is that living in a major media city and having upward mobility are two important factors in career advancement.

The open jobs in New York and San Francisco made that clear. But I knew that even though I could make it work in the big city for a few years, I didn’t want to live there for a long time.

Now that I’m preparing to move to a smaller city, I’m questioning the assumptions I originally had. Media startups and other companies are increasingly moving toward remote-friendly work, a positive step that affords opportunities to smart and talented people who can't or won't move to large cities.

As more companies adapt to family- and lifestyle-friendly remote work policies, there’s the matter of figuring out what working from home looks like. Here are some ways to start having those conversations:

Set up automatic work processes. Even if your team is small, it’s beneficial to establish processes as early as possible — otherwise a lot of time will be spent asking, “How do I do x or y?” That style of working requires all team members to be on the clock at exactly the same time and requires them to answer each other’s questions.

One of the best things I learned at Vox was from Lauren Rabaino, a product director who created a system of process documentation over time and implemented ongoing maintenance as part of those teams’ roadmaps. Each team got to set its own best practices, consult with each other to see if they worked and then put them into place.

Well-written documentation doesn’t require much explaining, and it’s easy to see processes after the first few times those questions have been asked. Standard questions like, “How can I get a new user set up on a list of these needed accounts?” can be documented for internal teams, readers and freelancers so they don't have to be answered multiple times.

Question the way our teams work. What times do you work best? For a long time, I started falling asleep at 3 p.m. and had to get a large coffee that would give me jitters the rest of the day. I still never felt like I’d gotten enough done by that time each day. By paying attention to my energy and creativity levels, I realized that I was was consistently starting my days with the things that sapped my ample time and energy.

I'm generally shy in large groups, so meetings with a lot of attendees drain my energy because of the additional preparation work required. For that, I began setting aside an additional thirty minutes before meetings for prep time and limited meeting requests to two a day in the afternoon.

Each teammate might benefit from paying attention to how they work for a few days — how many hours are they working, and what are they getting done? Are there certain times they’re context-switching the most? What can be done to smooth that out so people can focus on one thing at a time? Does everyone work well within the general work hours or is anyone having trouble getting work done during certain times of day? Talking through working processes is helpful, especially with remote folks who might have thought more about what works for them with their own work-from-home routines.

Find ways to connect and see each other. It’s hard to stay connected with people you may end up working asynchronously with, and there’s another balance to figure out with different timezones. But one of the advantages is that there will be things that will and won’t work for each team and it’s a matter of experimenting with workflows rather than adhering to outdated structures. Instead of scheduling conference calls, switch to Skype or Google Hangout video calls during meetings so it’s easier to pick up on social cues and talk with each other. Encourage people to talk out loud about their thoughts in chat so others can learn from their thought processes and making it easier for people to respond to their ideas.

As much as it seems like a cultural change, there are lots of informal things that other teams do to stay connected with each other in person, like weekly happy hours, professional development events, book clubs or group games. For most in-person bonding experiences, there’s usually a remote equivalent waiting to happen.

Recognize the real importance of different working styles. It’s exciting to see so many companies whose work is mainly online start to move towards remote-friendly work because it benefits people with different aptitudes and working styles. When we talk about the importance of diversity, we often don’t go past recruiting and employing immensely talented people from different personal and professional backgrounds, which is only the first step. It then becomes the responsibility of managers to help cultivate a supportive environment where people of diverse working styles and perspectives can succeed.

Being able to work slightly earlier hours and get off in the early afternoon to pick up kids from school is important. Being able to go to doctor’s appointments during the day is important. Having the option to work from home because an office may be too loud, far away, overwhelming, draining or unproductive is important. Being able to work from an office and see co-workers when you feel ready for it is also important. Being able to move away from a major media hub city and still have opportunities to advance in the company is a really good way to retain talented, happy people who can grow with their roles. Feeling like there are multiple ways to contribute to the conversation without physically being in the same room is important and worthwhile to figure out. It’s up to the team to make it a priority to support each other, no matter where everyone works from.


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