Archive for the ‘Working Remote’ Category

Success as a remote employee part 2

In Part 1 of the post we covered How did I end up working remote? When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate? Why is working remote such an issue?

In Part 2 I’d like to cover why are managers hesitant to hire a remote employee and some of the ways to address those concerns

Initially managers can be reluctant to hire someone remote. Their usual fears include

  • not being able to track progress on your work
  • not knowing when you are stuck and need help
  • concerns you won’t be able to gel with the team and network
  • lack of visibility

If you want to work remotely for a manager you have to alleviate those concerns

Tracking your progress

Agree on a regular rhythm and format for status reporting to keep your manager informed. When composing a status report state what is completed and what remains to be done, instead of reporting on what will be done by a specific date.

For example writing: “I have completed the first round of unit testing but still need to complete stress and regression testing.”  is more helpful than “testing will be done by end of day Friday.”  You may know that the testing will be completed by Friday, but you haven’t built up enough trust with your manager for him/her to know you are good at estimating work completion dates. By reporting what is done instead of what will be done, you are telling your manager exactly what is done so they know you are being productive even though they can’t pop into the office to see how things are going.dilbert-status-report

Not knowing when you are stuck and need help

thRQZIU0OQAs part of your status reporting make sure you include a section such as “How can my manager help me”. But don’t wait until a status meeting to bring up issues when you need your manager’s help. It’s a good idea to talk to your manager and decide what is the best way to virtually ‘pop into their office with a question”,  Should you ping them on a messenger system? send an email? make a phone call? Having an agreed upon method for reaching out for help as needed will give both of you confidence that issues that come up can be identified and dealt with quickly if needed. Small issues can become big issues if they are ignored for too long.

Concerns you wont be able to gel with the team and network.

CloudNinjaWannabesThis is a tougher one to solve.  It is tougher to do this remotely. Your only interactions with co-workers are likely going to be in meetings. There may be a minute or two of chit chat at the start of the meeting, but you aren’t going to find your work buddy in the 30 second ‘how was your weekend’ conversation while waiting for someone else to join the conference call.

Some tactics you can try include setting up “water cooler meetings” these are occasional meetings with co-workers where there is nothing on the agenda, it’s just a chance to say hi what’s going on in your life? You can complain about the workload, talk about your cats, or discuss what you watched on Netflix. It’s just a way to give you a chance to get to know your coworkers. These meetings can be with one co-worker or with a bigger group.

Another tactic is to try to plan trips to the office around team building or team training events. It won’t always work out, but being at these events is a great way to get to know the team.  If your team has 4 team building events or celebrations a year, agree with your manager how many you will travel to attend.  Accept the fact you won’t be able to attend all of them. Training events might work to attend remotely, but it depends on the format and content.

Lack of Visibility

look-at-meThis is another tricky one. You definitely have less visibility when you are not in the office.

Meetings with senior managers are a good opportunity to visit the office in person. This gives you a bit of visibility and is good for networking as well. If there is a meeting with senior managers, chances are there will be other people of influence in that same meeting. You might also have a chance to meet with your team in person to do dry runs or preparation for the meeting as well.  These meetings often have a significant impact on team direction and strategy, so it’s also really good to see reactions to proposals and announcements first hand.  Another interesting aspect to meetings with senior management is that because its the big boss, everyone makes a point of being in the office that day so they can attend in person. Chances are if you are not on site, you will be the only person joining remotely. When you have 10 people in a room with a big boss and you are the only one remote, you are not likely to get any chance to speak unless you have a presentation on the agenda.  in fact these are the meetings with the highest risk of forgetting to open the conference bridge completely. When the boss walks in the focus shifts. If you are listening in on a meeting like this remotely, identify an ally to get there early and get you connected on the conference bridge before the boss arrives.

HourofCode3Look for opportunities to work on side projects that have visibility. This may be something as simple as planning a trivia contest for a team meeting as part of the team social committee or something more demanding such as leading the team diversity and inclusion initiative. General meetings and all hands meeting are a good place to find these types of opportunities. You can also ask your manager to help you find the right opportunity.  Ideally you want to combine these opportunities with your personal passion. I love helping out at kids coding events, and have discovered I often got to meet senior leadership at high profile kids coding events. I also enjoy and have confidence on camera, so I look for opportunities to be included in videos that will be shared internally and externally.

Do you have a special skill? Each person arrives in their role with a different background. Maybe you are working in tech but started out with a degree in English literature and as part of your degree you learned how to write a great summary. Maybe you took a course on your last team about how to create a great LinkedIn profile or how to make a good PowerPoint presentation.  Is there a skill you have that you can teach your teammates? Offer to do a brown bag lunch, or training session, or just write a blog post and share it with the team. These are great ways for your manager to say to senior management… hey look at what this person has done.  You never know leadership may read your blog post or attend your session.

Next up…

  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • When all is said and done, is it worth it?

 

 

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Right job, wrong city– getting and keeping a remote job Part 1

map-of-north-americaI have accepted a new job at Microsoft. I work for a team in Redmond, but, I still live in Ottawa, Canada. I have spent the last 5 years working remotely for Microsoft Canada. I won’t say I’ve mastered the art of working remote but I’ve learned a few tricks to help manage a successful career remotely.

In Part 1 I will discuss:

  • How did I end up working remote?
  • When do you tell the hiring manager you won’t relocate?
  • Why is working remote such an issue?

Coming soon…

  • Why would a manager hire me as a remote employee?
  • How to thrive in the company as a remote employee?
  • Staying sane as a remote employee
  • Does working at home impact your career?
  • Is it worth it?

How did it start?

5 years ago I got a phone call from an employee at microsoft. At the time I was teaching programming, database and business analysis courses. I was a frequent speaker at Microsoft events. I figured the call was a request to present or help out at a local event. Instead the first words I heard after the usual greetings were “Have you considered your career”. To be honest I hadn’t given any serious consideration to working for Microsoft. Any jobs of interest were in Redmond, Washington (Microsoft head office).  I had two boys in school, and a husband with a good job in Ottawa. For me, moving simply wasn’t an option.

This call was a little different. It was for a job as a technical evangelist at Microsoft Canada. Canada! So no need to move to the US. The title alone was too intriguing to pass up. I submitted my resume and went through a gauntlet of interviews.  But once again location was an issue. They wanted me to move to Toronto. First things first, I convinced them we should go through the interviews and then discuss location. I never told them I would move to Toronto, I simply asked them to talk to me before deciding having me work from Ottawa was a deal-breaker.

When do you tell the manager you won’t relocate?

interviewRule number one: Don’t lie! I have never told a hiring manager I would move just to get to the interview.  I certainly don’t open the conversation with “by the way I won’t relocate”, but I never lie or mislead them just to get an interview.

When I find a position of interest, step one is always to find out more about the job. Set up a short call or informal meeting with the manager. In Microsoft we refer to this as an informational. It’s a chance for you to learn more about the job, and for the hiring manager to learn more about you. It’s a good idea regardless of whether you expect to work remotely or not!  It is hard to tell from a written job description what a job entails, and it’s also a chance to find out if you and the manager are likely to get along. I’d rather have a bad job with a good manager than a good job with a bad manager (of course what I really want is a good job with a good manager! but I’ve experienced all the possible combinations in my career). If the meeting is going well, i.e. I still want the job and the manager is encouraging me to apply, that’s when I break the news. I explain that I have some bad news, I am interested in the job, but relocation isn’t an option and would they consider hiring me as a remote employee..

More than half of the time, the opportunity ends there.

When the manager says remote is not an option, I always ask if they could wait until after the interview process before making a final decision. I encourage the manager to wait until I have deeper insights into the job, and the manager has deeper insights into my skills. During the interview process we can discuss the specific concerns around having a remote employee and strategies to alleviate those concerns. But, understand, that there are some jobs that do require an in person presence. If this is one of those roles, you are wasting your energy and the manager’s time pursuing the role. Accept it and move on. Finding a role you want remotely requires patience and persistance.

Why is working remote such an issue?

teleconferenceThere are a number of reasons a manager may not one someone working remotely. Understanding these concerns can help you determine if the working remotely is a deal breaker or simply an obstacle to be overcome.

 

The job

Some jobs are better suited for working remotely than others. Does the job require regular access to special equipment? Does the job require organizing in person events? If a job frequently requires your physical presrence in a particular location, then you are facing an uphill battle. In these situations you are unlikely to get the job without relocation.

Company culture

Does the company and the team already have remote workers?

Some companies are very open to working remotely, others actively discourage working from home. If the company has never had a remote worker you will run into all sorts of complications: How do you get IT support when you are having issues with your computer? What is the policy for expensing travel to and from the office? Does time spent in transit count as working hours? If there is an Annual General Meeting, a big in person announcement by the CEO, or a company holiday party will you travel to the office for those occasions?  Does the company understand the impact on your personal life when you have to travel to the office?  Are you expected to travel on weekends? What are the accepted methods of travel (plane? train? car? first class? economy?)

If the company does not have remote workers, do they have people in the office who regularly work from home?

Companies with a work at home policy are more likely to have a way for you to connect to the company network from home, an IT support team who can help you solve issues remotely

Does the company have customers they work with remotely?

Companies who work with remote customers are more likely to have tele-conferencing capabilities so you can easily present screens from your laptop and collaborate with co-workers remotely.  Office rooms as more likely to have cameras and microphones in meeting rooms so you can be a part of larger meetings as well.

Team culture

Just because the company has policies in place for remote workers, doesn’t mean the team you are applying to knows how to deal with it. If you join a team in the habit of walking down the hall for impromptu meetings, making decisions in elevators, and having all their meetings in person, you have a challenge ahead of you. Best case scenario you will often find out after the fact that decisions were made, because they simply forgot to start up the conference bridge, or just had a quick chat in the hallway and didn’t think it was necessary to bother you. It’s not malicious! It’s simply human nature. Everyone is trying to get things done, you get caught up in a good conversation you don’t always stop to think, wait there is someone who isn’t in the room we need to call in! The simple fact you are not physically present means there is a risk you end up out of the loop. Worst case scenario (and sadly this can happen) you have someone on the team who actively takes advantage of your absence to make themselves look good an make you look bad. So far as I know, that’s never happened to me! So assume best intentions!

Your work habits

Have you worked remotely before? It’s a different life waking up every day having breakfast and walking 10 steps to your office. No-one popping by your desk to ask if you saw the latest episode of Game of Thrones. No donuts in the kitchen (though you still get the email telling you there are donuts in the kitchen at the office). No-one to sit with at lunch. Instead you have your home with all its distractions: dirty dishes, laundry, house cleaning, weeding, tele marketers calling, odd jobs to be done, maybe kids coming home from school before you finish your work day? It’s not for everyone, and not everyone can thrive in that environment. It takes some discipline to get your work done and stay connected.

Networking

At many companies networking is key to a successful career. It can help you get things done. It can help you get credit and visibility for the things you do. It can help you find little projects that are ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ that get you the raise, the award, or the promotion.  It is also how you will your next job in the company. When you work remotely networking is more difficult.

Your success

I am very fortunate to have work at a company and to apply for jobs with managers who really want to see me succeed. Some of them have had remote employees in the past who were unfortunately unhappy and unsuccessful for one or more of the reasons outlined above. Some teams at microsoft are very dynamic: roles and responsibilities change frequently. The job I am applying for might work remotely, but what happens in 6 months when they re-org? What if my original job disappears? You want to be sure you join a team whose goals you can support in different ways. You don’t want to get caught in a position where there is only one thing you can do remotely. How will you grow? How will you get promoted? How will you keep yourself challenged and motivated?

Elevator meetings

Sometimes the most important conversations don’t happen in the meeting room, they happen immediately afterwards when you are walking out of the meeting and discuss the meeting in the elevator on the way back to your desk. Sometimes a chance encounter in an elevator gives you a rare opportunity to talk to a senior team member in person. Remote workers don’t have this opportunity.

Budget

If you work remotely how often are you going to visit the office?  Will you travel by plane, train automobile? Hotel, meals, and transportation costs add up fast! Spending money for you to visit the office may mean less money for doing business! 

Stay tuned for part 2…