Remote Work: Exploring the Unwritten Rules for Employees

Every workplace has unwritten rules. You know, the unspoken or assumed rules of etiquette regarding communication, or expected behaviors that can only be learned through experience and observation.
Becoming familiar with a company’s “understood” rules and practices can be especially challenging for newly hired tech pros who work remotely, as they may never actually enter their company’s bricks-and-mortar office. That makes it hard to learn the rules—and considering the number of tech pros who work from home or a coffee shop, it’s not an insignificant issue. Some 57 percent of employees working in computer/information systems spend some of their time working remotely, according to a report by Gallup.
To keep you from committing a career-limiting mistake, here are the unwritten rules and standards that generally apply to off-site tech employees.

Don’t Multitask During Meetings

It can prove tempting (perhaps too tempting) to crunch code or respond to emails when you are stuck in a multi-party video conference that seems to go on forever. This is especially true if you already feel disconnected from your teammates. But losing focus (and eye contact) can give others the impression that you are disinterested or even conceited.
To create a good impression and resist the urge to multitask, move the equivalent of half a step back from your computer so you are visible from the waist up, advised Michael Affronti, who leads a 30-person team dispersed across six countries as SVP of Product & Design for Fuze.
“Let your teammates see your hands,” he said. “And always look directly into the camera, because if you are looking down at your keyboard or phone, your eyes will give you away.”

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Stay Tuned for the Meeting “Spillover”

Don’t jump off the conference bridge the minute the “official” meeting ends, or else you might miss important changes to deliverables, designs and functions if a topic is revisited during spillover discussions.
Ask the organizer to leave the bridge open, and always check your team’s chat page or channel to make sure you didn’t miss anything that was decided after the formal meeting ended.

With Remote Work, Trust Isn’t Automatic

Why are managers sometimes afraid to hire remote tech employees? Because they assume that workers who aren’t visible are slacking off. While nothing could be further from the truth (in fact, remote workers can easily end up working longer hours, because the lack of an office makes the division between work and not-work that much blurrier), the onus is on the remote worker to quell those fears. How?
“Set a specific work schedule and stick to it,” advised Joseph Talamantez, regional director for Advance2000, a desktop-as-a-service provider where 40 percent of the workforce works remotely. “Be disciplined about starting work at a specific time and set clear expectations for what you will accomplish and when.”
Also, be mindful of your environment and appearance. Work from a private space or office where you won’t be interrupted by barking dogs. Consider displaying an image or green screen as your background during video meetings.

Be Deliberate About Communicating

Having an impromptu meeting or project update with a teammate is sometimes difficult when you’re a remote worker; depending on your setup, you might not be instantly available, even if you’re using a communications app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.
To avoid problems, find out from your boss and co-workers how and when they would prefer you communicate with them (hopefully, your company or PM has created a communication plan). For instance, find out the best way to book a one-on-one with your boss or the best time to chat (or instant-message) with teammates across different time zones.
Generally speaking, you should make a conscious effort to over-communicate everything, especially when you’re new. Don’t be that remote worker who sort of fades into the background as soon as they start.

Face-to-Face Relationships Can’t Be Replaced

Forming meaningful working relationships with virtual strangers doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s even harder when you’re not working side-by-side every day. No matter how often you video chat, text or email, you need actual face-time to build productive relationships with your boss and teammates. And the sooner you spend time together, the better.
“Try to spend the first month on-site, so you can bond with your colleagues up and down the chain of command,” Talamantez said. “After that, meet in person at least once or twice per year to continue strengthening your relationships.”