How to Work Remotely: 6 Tips to Help You Tackle the Challenge Head-On
About 6 months ago, I moved from Israel back to my native New York. I had been working as a content writer at Wix’s Tel Aviv headquarters for 4 years and thankfully was able to continue in that position from our New York City office. However, since my product team is based in Tel Aviv, I found myself now facing one particular challenge: how to work with a team halfway across the world.
I’m no stranger to collaborating with colleagues who are based in other locations, but working virtually with an entire team is a different type of beast. Wix is a dynamic environment, where face-to-face interactions play an instrumental role in moving projects along, and impromptu “hallway conversations” often result in tangible decisions. That said, we’re also a global organization with teams spread across continents. Remote work is a normalized part of our company culture.
Sitting at my new desk in New York, I pondered how to tackle this different reality. I quickly realized it was up to me to optimize my game plan. I’m now half a year in and I’ve learned a lot.
Here are my top 6 tips on how to work from home:
Set up your communication tools Make a list of the software you need to properly stay in touch with your team. There are so many powerful collaboration tools available—all you have to do is choose the right one for each type of interaction. For example, I’ll have a Hangouts chat when I have a short question or want to share a file, schedule a video call on BlueJeans when I want to share my screen or have a more involved discussion, and use good, ol’ email when I want to connect about a less urgent matter, share information or summarize a meeting. Depending on who I’m working with, I might also collaborate on Trello, Jira, Zeplin or Google Slides. Whatever your needs are, set up your communication systems early on.
Sync often When you’re not interacting face-to-face with your team, it can be easy to fall into an 'out of sight, out of mind' slump. They might forget to update you on something and you may forget to fill everyone in on a recent development. To prevent this, be proactive and touch base with your colleagues on a daily basis—same as you would in person, but virtually. Even if you think a matter isn’t urgent, it can’t hurt to connect and move it forward. Build up trust by showing them they can rely on you and that your projects are always top of mind.
Schedule dedicated catch-ups Set weekly or biweekly video calls with key members of your team. This gives you a regular time in your calendar to sync on open projects. I prepare for meetings by making a list of all the topics I want to cover. (I actually keep an ongoing list that I add to throughout the week as things come up.) Bonus Tip: After you review the status of all your current projects, ask what’s coming next. This will help you prioritize properly and stay connected to the team’s long-term goals.
Be on time Time zones can be tricky when it comes to coordinating calls and meeting deadlines. On the one hand, you’ll always have quiet times of the day to focus because your colleagues aren’t at the office yet, or have already left. On the other hand, you’ll struggle to catch up to everyone else who’s working when it’s early morning, evening or nighttime for you. Consider these rhythms when planning your daily schedule. My team is 7 hours ahead of me, so I set aside my mornings to connect with them. If I need to discuss something that doesn’t require a computer, I’ll save time by chatting on the phone during my morning commute. And when it comes to projects that you’re working on together, don’t wait until the last minute to reach out for feedback and move things forward. My team and I have different weekend and holiday schedules, so we keep that in mind when thinking about deadlines. Bonus Tip: When you’re done reading this article, do yourself a favor: Change your Google Calendar settings to display specific time zones. When you have to schedule meetings across oceans, this will help you instantly see what time it will be in any location.
Set clear expectations Make sure you, your manager and your colleagues are aligned on what your tasks are. In addition, build solid work processes that take into account the fact that you can’t sit together to quickly brainstorm on an on-boarding flow, review wireframes, or troubleshoot bugs. I’m a big fan of writing down my processes (no surprise there) and sharing them with the relevant stakeholders. For example, when I joined the team I revisited the way we localize our products and wrote a step-by-step outline of exactly who is responsible for what and at what point. That clarifies the timeline and the expectations. Bonus Tip: After calls, I’ll either write a summary email to the team or a short note for myself. This helps us all keep track of what was agreed upon and know what tasks need to be completed, by when.
Build personal relationships While you may communicate with your team virtually, remember that you’re working with humans—and personal interactions are an important part of any effective collaboration. When you work remotely, you need to make an extra effort to boost your soft skills. As a social introvert who finds it difficult to bond face-to-face, let alone over a phone line, this was a special challenge. My advice? Start off your calls with a bit of non-work chitchat. Ask them how their weekends were, bond over the final season of Game of Thrones or even compare your weather. (Trite as it may sound, my team always gets a kick out of seeing the snow falling outside my midtown Manhattan office in the dead of winter—and by that I mean they gloat while sunning themselves on the Mediterranean shore.) Try to chat about light topics that will help you get to know the people you work so closely with.
Remote work isn’t easy, even at an international company like Wix where we have access to more than our share of technology. At times, it can feel isolating and unpredictable. That’s why establishing best practices for prioritizing, communicating and completing tasks is essential. It can help you maintain a consistent, transparent connection with your team, and allows you to stay focused on the big picture.
Love this article? Check out Shoshanna's piece about How to Write Content for a New Product.
Shoshanna Silberman, UX Writer at Wix