An update to my tips for working remotely

Dec. 20, 2021

Almost two years passed since I published my tips for working remotely. Now that remote work has become almost standard in the software industry, I felt like revisiting that list to add a few items. Enjoy!

Document everything

Slack, Teams, and other messaging tools are a decent container of knowledge if you know how to search them for stuff, but nothing beats good old internal documentation. Be generous with your knowledge and curate your personal documentation in Confluence, Notion, or Google Drive with procedures, tips, project notes, and so on. You can even record videos if that’s simpler for you. Documenting everything not only makes it easier for you to find that information later, but it also enables other people in your team to assist you and learn. Plus, nothing beats the feeling of having links at hand for everything.

Own the issues you discover

If you spot an issue in documentation or a bug and you have the bandwidth for solving it, fix it yourself, unless you lack domain knowledge or need to involve someone else. If you can’t fix the issue on your own, investigate it as much as possible and log it in the issue tracker (for example, Jira). Just don’t drop findings in the chat and leave: issues with unclear ownership are unlikely to be addressed. If you notice someone else doing that, ask for that issue to be logged somewhere. Always capture potential work in tickets.

Embrace scheduled messages

Slack and other tools allow to schedule messages so that they’re sent at a later time. This can be hugely convenient when you want some key questions or announcements to be published when colleagues from a different time zone are more likely to be alert. You can also use this to push less urgent stuff beyond the end of your working hours, so that responses don’t happen when you’re about to get up and leave.

Create your own README file

Have a page that explains who you are in the company, what you do, how to reach out to you in case of an emergency, what stuff you’re working on, who to reach out to if you’re not available, and more. If the company you work for has its own URL shortener, create a vanity shortcut for that page so that anyone can remember the link easily. Having your own README file greatly facilitates reaching out to you when you’re not around. Think of it as a cross between a permanent out-of-office reply and an “About me” website.

Seek casual face-to-face conversations

No matter how well you communicate over instant messaging, casual face-to-face communication is essential for strengthening ties with teammates. It’s also great for preserving your sanity during long bouts of remote work, with or without lockdowns. You don’t need an excuse for that: just add a brief appointment in your calendar and invite one or more teammates to the call. Rinse and repeat (I always wanted to say that).

Take time to learn and experiment

When working remotely, falling into the temptation of spending all your time on work-related items can be incredibly easy (I fall into it all the time). Resist the urge of becoming a ticket-closing machine and set aside some time to learn new stuff, be it a brand new technique, some new programming language, how to automate chores, and so on. Follow the first advice in this list and document it all for the benefit of your team.

Write well, everywhere

This is my favorite tip, perhaps because I love role-playing games and interactive fiction. In remote jobs, writing well shows respect for the people you interact with, and facilitates work, as clear messages are easier to understand and lead to less questioning. You don’t need to sound like a book, but you shouldn’t write as if you were texting someone before going to sleep. Remember: You write, therefore you exist.