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I realize this question is broad, but does Lobsters community want to share their experiences or helpful insights regarding working remotely?

Our company has couple of satellite workers (myself included), meaning that some work from home and others are a small team in another city.

We being a new company and new to remote environments have a lot to work on our processes. The problem I often face is that others are more likely to share relevant info in face to face meetings, as it’s cozier to grab a coffee with another person rather than Google Hangouts meetings or writing on Slack.

How do you deal with all this?


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    Don’t be the only remote worker. If the company doesn’t put remote working first, the remote workers are always going to be out of the loop, professionally and socially.

    You have to spend time together in person, both for onboarding and regular get-togethers, so you can hear each others' voices when you read dry text. Humans just plain need this to bond.

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      This. This. This.

      Also, from day one, everyone needs to understand and accept that they are remote, even if they are “on site” in an office. Everyone is remote in a remote company.

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      Daily 15 minute standup over video conf.

      Get dressed and do the usual routine before sitting at your desk.

      Keep a separate work desk/work area that you get away from after work is done.

      Stop work at a regular time as often as possible.

      Pet my dogs.

      Eat real food for lunch.

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        My company (Elastic) is almost entirely remote on the engineering side of the house, so this may not necessarily apply.

        We’ve worked hard to have a strong culture of async communication to deal with timezones. Primary communication should go through hipchat/Slack, email, github tickets. Inside Slack, we encourage public channels over private communication, so more people can see the discussion and learn from it. If you need to talk to someone face-to-face, we hop on a zoom conference call. And if it is important or pertains to a lot of people, we always record these meetings and try to write up an email with notes afterwards.

        Once you’ve spread over all the timezones, someone is missing something at all times… so it’s important to try and record/take notes as much as possible.

        We have weekly engineering meetings, and smaller team meetings, over Zoom. These help keep everyone feeling connected to real humans. If you happen to work in one of our offices (we have a few, mainly for sales/marketing but some devs like to work from an office) we try to have everyone join the calls, rather than sitting in a conference room sharing one screen. Conference rooms inevitably leads to side discussions that are impossible for remote workers to hear, let alone join. So even if there are 10 people in one office, they all join from their personal laptop, sitting at their desk.

        We have an always-on video call that you can join to just hang out. Some people use it for impromptu discussions, others just like the background noise. Many don’t use it at all.

        It takes a lot of work to keep a remote company running smoothly. You have to be conscious about communication and recording/sharing for timezones that aren’t around.

        With all that said, we’re lucky that the main body of employees are remote, and only a few work from offices. I don’t think the other way around would work: you really need the majority of people remote so that the communication lanes stay open. If the remote workers are in the minority, you’ll have an uphill battle trying to stay included. It’s just human nature to drift towards in-person communication.

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          The entire team has to be invested in it, otherwise it won’t work. If people in the office are anti-remote, they’ll do things (subconciously or not) that will undermine the processes for remote workers. Just not being invested in the appropriate process is enough for them to say “well this is too difficult, it will never work!”

          We have a split up team that’s sort of weird. Most people are in the office in New York. The software, hardware, and sales teams are split up to some extent.

          For software: our CIO is remote except for one or more times per week (depending on his mood); I am in Richmond, Virginia and go up to the office maybe three days per year; our other software guy is in Oakland, CA and has been to NY I think twice (for 1 week visits) in the year he’s been here.

          For hardware: both guys are in Boston. They’ll each work from home whenever they feel like it, though.

          For sales: VP is in NY, the others are remote (one in NJ, I think, and one in UT). The sales team is expanding, though, with more remote people I believe.

          The core in NYC is pretty large, but everyone is free to work from home when they want/need.

          Initially, they wanted to have an all in-office team, all in NYC. Investors/board members insisted that the company just get the best people for the job, regardless of location. Our CIO was very familiar with remote work (I had worked with him previously, a mix of in-office and remote), so he had set everything up to work with remote folks in mind. Basically treating the office like another remote office. A totally decentralized approach.

          We use clubhouse for tracking work (although we used to use Trello– it just got a bit messy). If anyone has something that need to be done, they have to make a ticket. No exceptions. It prevents a lot of the one-on-one “hey we should do X” stuff that snowballs into an exlusionary project. All team meetings are done on Zoom. If you need to do a one-on-one, hop on zoom to do it (unless you’re both in the same location, obviously). Since everything is face-to-face via internet, you don’t really feel like you don’t know who the people are. I just ‘met’ a lot of my coworkers last time I was in NYC, but it never seemed like I was meeting somebody new because of how many times I’ve seen and talked with them on zoom.

          All other chatting is done via slack. We have some random joking over the #random channel, and we have a bunch of focused channels for support, sales, etc. I don’t really do much private chatting, although I suppose some folks may. Almost everything comes out in channels or meetings for me, though.

          I honestly think being in the office now is more distracting and less productive than being remote at this point. Every time I’m in the office, it devolves into little side conversations or jokes and very little work gets done. When we all separate again, a ton gets done.

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            I’ve never been a fan of keeping actual written records (because they always end up too bothersome to read) but in the past we have used a continually running videoconference at the coffee place of the office (running on a laptop with a fisheye lens over the webcam and with the sound on).

            Remote workers could keep it in a corner of their screen or just run the audio as a background at their place and intervene if they had something to say. Or not run it at all if they didn’t want to.

            I really liked it, it’s not intrusive, easy and prevents you from feeling cut off from the office.

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              interesting, if a bit bandwidth intensive for some situations.

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                You say this was in the past - I’m curious why didn’t it continue?

                I wanted to do something like this at a past job, where we had four satellite offices and I wished I could’ve stopped by the break room at the other three occasionally. At the current place, everyone’s remote so I’m not sure it’d work as well.

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                  I left the company and since that was a few years ago I can’t really be sure they still do the same, that’s why I said “in the past”.

                  I don’t remember any drawbacks, really.

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                I have worked a better part of my career remotely doing dev work. Although I am consulting now I still remotely attend all standups and all-hands meetings via hangouts. Video software has come a long way over the years, and although hangouts still can get wonky on long calls I think it is more or less the best option between accessibility and ease of use. For all other comms it is basically Slack.

                I disagree with the idea that someone is more likely to share relevant info face to face, I think that depends on the person and how much previous experience they have. Also the size of the meeting, a one on one in hangouts can be pretty good. One thing to help with the candidness is telling the other person what the setting is and who is around. Not that you need to tell secrets it just helps both sides feel more comfortable. Also I would always encourage everyone to attend the remote meetings with video, it feels a lot better in my opinion.

                The reality is that remote will never be on par with in-person in terms of that in-person close feeling. I don’t think any of the gimmicks make it feel that way either.

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                  I disagree with the idea that someone is more likely to share relevant info face to face

                  Can you have a chat with my bosses? </humor> I’m trying real hard to fight for more remote time, especially because when you’re working remotely, people are more mindful of whether or not they’re disturbing you. I find it implicitly more respectful. Also, I like my things in writing preferably. Something about the faintest of ink vs memory.

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                    Why doesn’t your boss want you to work remotely? Just curious.

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                      Why doesn’t your boss want you to work remotely? Just curious.

                      I moved across country and requested to continue working remotely in my previous job, but my boss said it was impossible because I would “miss our stand-up”. I suggested doing a video one, but he wasn’t interested. So I left.

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                        <parody>Using faces to communicate information is the best and only way to communicate information, therefore, while it’s tolerated to work from home, doing it is frowned upon</parody>

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                      I disagree with the idea that someone is more likely to share relevant info face to face

                      I don’t think this was intended as a broad generalization, but rather a problem he noticed in his own situation.

                      That said, I’ve been on fully-distributed teams and teams with mixed remote/local, and I’ve never really felt like the mixed style worked at all as a team. Even if other in-office teammates are on board with having a remote member, if they’re not remote themselves, they’re not going to help take the necessary steps to run a distributed team, because it is more work.

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                        I don’t think this was intended as a broad generalization, but rather a problem he noticed in his own situation.

                        Good point, I this is true for my response as well.

                        That said, I’ve been on fully-distributed teams and teams with mixed remote/local, and I’ve never really felt like the mixed style worked at all as a team.

                        I have also experienced mixed vs all local vs all remote. I definitely agree with when it is mixed you sort of feel left out. I almost feel like the decision needs to be made if the company is going to be all local or distributed, and when it is accepted as a distributed team that culture is created, even the locals should have the option to work remotely as they please.

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                      How do you deal with all this?

                      I don’t think everyone can. If you have involved yourself in FOSS communities, and enjoy the interaction, you can probably predict whether or not you yourself will be successful. However, that doesn’t mean that you will be successful, generally, and it may not be your fault. As many others have mentioned, you need the support of everyone at your company to create a remote culture. Investments in good quality cameras and microphones for conference rooms make a huge difference, but making sure that policy dictates that every meeting is scheduled with a video call is even more important.

                      My tips:

                      1. Separate work / life if you can. My desk is only used for “work.”
                      2. Set hours and stick with them.
                      3. Go somewhere in the morning, and after work if possible. It doesn’t have to be anywhere but the store, or to drop your kid off at school, but seeing other people is really important.
                      4. Greet your team in the morning, and say good bye at the end of the day. Don’t just appear and disappear.
                      5. Actively interact in discussion that is “water cooler talk.”
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                        These are good tips. I rent an office for work, so I have a short commute, but it does wonders for the work/life balance. It also means I get to talk to some of the other people renting at the same place, and the staff. I really like it.

                        I struggle with your second tip: set hours. Hopefully this should improve when my son starts school in September, since he will then start at the same time every day.

                        I tried saving money by taking packed lunch for a while, but gave that up in favour of supporting the local cafes & seeing other people. This is a small town, so I know the staff (and proprietors).

                        Echoing others in this thread, communication really is key. I am lucky that my team is fully remote. Slack is our (virtual) office, and we have a well established practice of saying good morning[1]/bye when starting and leaving work. Usually there’s a bit of public banter on the main channel in the morning, and some water cooler chats on the more focused channels (or in private messaging) throughout the day.

                        [1] “Good morning” is always an acceptable greeting, even if it’s the afternoon for the people you’re greeting.

                        I use Skype for 1-2-1 with my boss, and we occasionally use Hangouts for company-wide communication. (These are rare. Once a month or less.) For less ephemeral stuff we have an internal sphinx site with lots of documentation that everyone contributes to (via PRs). We use JIRA to discuss specific features / bugs, and we have a private git repo for dumping longer reports such as analysis / retrospectives etc.

                        We have email, but mostly it’s used for automated notifications or communications with vendors. I don’t remember last time I got an email from one of my (human) colleagues.

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                        I’ve worked at a couple of fully remote small companies, and a larger (than them) company which is 75/25 split office/remote workers (I’m one of the remotes.)

                        The main answer I think is Culture. If you don’t have a culture of including remote people then it’s very difficult for them to be as empowered as being in the office. Default to having conversations in chat rooms (public channels preferred to private PMs), making sure video calling is available for realtime meetings (Skype or hangouts are decent enough for this).

                        Like everything though, it’s a tradeoff. Being remote means you don’t get to overhear the odd conversation that happens around the lunch table, or at the drinks fridge. With the right culture the people who are having that conversation in the physical world decide it needs discussing or moving to a wider group who would be interested, can do so and then the remote staff aren’t left out.

                        On the other hand, giving up a little convenience of being around my colleagues means I can control my office temperature absolutely to what I want, work from wherever I want and waste less of my life commuting.

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                          I’m at my third consecutive remote job. It does require buy-in from the office-bound people. Things that help:

                          • meetings that happen over Zoom or Hangouts should always have each individual logged in separately, even when several people are co-located. When a group of people are on a Zoom sitting at a table together the crosstalk is almost impenetrable for remote people, and the higher latency of the remote connection makes it very hard to get a word in.
                          • on-sites a couple times a year are nice
                          • people who work in the same city as the office should be free to work from home too; this will give them more empathy for the experience of the remote workers (and, really, it is only fair)

                          At my current job the company went from all on-site to mixed on-site and remote when I joined and while the transition was a bit bumpy in the beginning, I think it was a successful one. We now have more remote folks on the engineering team than local ones, and the local engineers tend to work from home most of the time as well.

                          Two of my three remote jobs have involved heavy remote pairing with frequent pair rotation and I think this really helps keep everyone in the loop in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen automatically with a distributed team. Our pairing setup is usually Zoom plus a shared tmux session, or Screenhero for the folks who use GUI IDEs.

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                            I’ve worked 100% remote for the last 2 years, and I can say I definitely like it. Prior to that I’ve spent lots of times integrating teams in satellite offices. My experience has been that the culture of the company has to be remote first. If the company can pull that off, then they get the huge benefit of hiring people who live more than 30 miles away from the office. The way this works in practice is that most conversation happens over chat (irc, slack, hipchat). Communicating this way has several advantages beyond being helpful for remote people. You get logging/history, ability to include links, time to formulate thoughtful replies, etc. I now work at a pretty huge company which makes being remote even easier. Any meeting I schedule generally needs to have people who work in different buildings or even different countries. Nobody knows or cares that I’m dialing in from an “office of one”. We generally do weekly google hangouts, and calls/ad-hoc hangouts as needed.

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                              My new gig is with Sonatype, and Sonatype has a fully distributed structure. There are a few people at the head office, but almost everybody else works remotely. Some of us use co-working spaces, and some of us work from home, but everybody is on chat pretty much all the time during working hours. We use Hangouts and other systems extensively.

                              At my last two gigs (Samsung Research, and Apple Maps), I was the only remote worker, which makes for a monstrous disadvantage in communication and socialization. It was do-able, but my relationship with those jobs was very much “grinding through problems that are pushed down a tube to me”, rather than being fully integrated. With the best will in the world, it is extremely difficult to replicate the informal communication that face-to-face working fosters over a low-bandwidth channel like chat/email/video calling.

                              Sonatype is different; there’s no face-to-face channel to rebuild; everybody is subject to the same attenuated media. This means that everybody uses the same tools communicate; it’s analogous to everybody sitting in the same room. In addition, because the company is fully distributed, the historical culture isn’t strongly biased towards in-person work. I find it an enormous breath of fresh air.

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                                my relationship with those jobs was very much “grinding through problems that are pushed down a tube to me”

                                Wow, that’s the best description of being the only remote on a team that I’ve read yet. Really resonates with my experiences.

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                                  This is how my current (non remote) job often feels, so it’s definitely not limited to remote work. I think it’s more to do with how (un) collaborative the environment is, and working remotely tends to magnify that.

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                                I think the key is communication. My team uses mattermost (a slack clone) to do comms. Once a week we have a short meeting to discuss what we have been up to and what we will do next aswell as any problems. Works for us.

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                                  I work for a company where the majority of the devs (myself included) are based in a London office, but we’ve slowly grown a group of remoters. As it happens, I will be moving across the world in a few months, so will be becoming remote, and have been reading this thread with interest.

                                  A point I definitely suspect is true, is that it’s harder when (like us) there is a largish group of you who do work in the same place. It’s inevitable that you will miss out on ambient conversations etc. It was also definitely the case for us that we didn’t do a good enough job of including the remote members from the get-go. Now we do a much better job of keeping as much discussion as possible in public slack channels.

                                  One recent change I made, which has got good feedback from all, is that for our standups and meetings, as much as possible, everyone dials in separately, even if we are in the same office. We got some weird looks from other depts in our (depressingly) open plan office when we started speaking to each other over headphones, but it prevents the larger group from dominating the discussion, and tailing off to sub-conversations that the others are left out of.

                                  The only other morsel I have, is that one of my (remote) colleagues took it upon himself to setup 1-1 time with all the other members of the team once a week. We usually chat for 20mins or so, and often just end up chatting about books we’ve read, or games etc. but I think it’s had a positive impact.

                                  Good luck!

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                                    I was a remote worker for several years and I am one again. The first time was by default when a office move coincided with my son being born and the admins forgot to allocate a desk while I was remote. I had been working from home (local) occasionally and sharing the desk for the year prior and my colleagues were all over the world but largely office-based. It started as a pilot with a couple of other people and then they forgot about me when the “official” telecommuting plan rolled-out. Here’s what I found useful:

                                    • Follow the same professional routine as if you were going to the office. Wake, shower, shave, dress like you were going to the office.
                                    • Let your family/cohabitors/room-mates know your work schedule.
                                    • Set aside a place to work and use it only to work. Don’t work from the couch if you can avoid it.
                                    • Keep a “normal” work schedule. Don’t work all and any hours to the exclusion of the rest of your life.
                                    • Structure your day and week and have conference calls, etc. to keep in sync with colleagues.
                                    • Separate work and personal systems (this is also important for legal reasons). I used a KVM but eventually stopped and used just different virtual desktops because all my work was via remote desktop and ssh.
                                    • Use a VoIP phone and/or forward the office number.
                                    • Keep the personal distractions off the work computer. Make it a context switch and effort to check social media, reddit, etc.
                                    • Meet your colleagues face to face whenever possible. Show up for office drinks, celebrations, etc.
                                    • Schedule your local interruptions. Keep the distractions to a minimum (ex. it’s a bad idea to take a random 15 minute Xbox break just because you feel disengaged, do that at lunch).
                                    • Get out and meet local people. Don’t hole up for weeks at a time. Go to the gym daily. Attend local meetups.

                                    What really makes this work is having colleagues are already used to non-local people. If you’re the only person who isn’t around, it’s going to be difficult. If the organization isn’t behind it, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult.

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                                      My company has two primary office locations (Cincinnati and Arlington) where most developers work, but there are also a small number (including myself) who work remotely. Most cross-functional teams contain a mix of employees from both offices and remote.

                                      Because (usually) there isn’t a preponderance of team members in one location, HipChat, Jira, Hangouts & WebEx are the default modes of communication. If some people do “grab a coffee” in-person communication that others need to know about, they will later summarize it in a remote-friendly form.

                                      Not sure exactly how helpful that is to your situation.

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                                        This is an interesting thread, thanks for posting it.

                                        At Canonical, we are almost fully remote, and very geographically distributed. We all use IRC and Google Hangouts heavily - we tend to sit in channels organized by project/group, and most internal discussions happen over IRC or hangouts. For communication about our more public open source projects, it’s old-fashioned email lists.

                                        We do regular sprint/planning meetings where everyone gets together to do things that are best done in person, and while this is important to plan and make decisions quickly, it does also have the effect that people who aren’t at the sprint are left out, especially if they’re in a different time zone than the sprint.

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                                          At rented., the entire dev team (4 of us including the CTO) is 100% remote. I think it’s impossible to have an effective remote team unless your entire team is remote. My previous job we were spilt about 50/50 and it was very difficult.

                                          There are 2 general things I think about in terms of the challenges of remote work: technical/organizational stuff, and personal stuff.

                                          The personal stuff first. It can be hard to be motivated, and it can be easy to be overmotivated. When I started working fully remote, I set aside a room in my house as an office, and went in there during normal business hours. When I went in there, it was just like being at an office. When I left, I stopped doing work. After a few months I loosened the rule, and now I don’t do any such thing, but it was instrumental in forming healthy work habits at home. During work time, you do get to enjoy the benefits of having your own kitchen etc., but you can’t be setting aside work time for housework, chores, etc. which can be difficult, particularly if you live with a spouse who does not work remotely. Similarly, you can’t be using your evening leisure computer time finishing up work tasks or keeping up with non-urgent issues - quality of life and work/life balance can be tricky to get right at first. Recognizing it as an issue and addressing it specifically up front helped me greatly.

                                          Professionally: we have a weekly dev huddle (about an hour), we have a relatively informal trello board with brief descriptions of work to be done that we pull from throughout the week (not scums or estimation or iterations or any of that stuff though), and we use slack to communicate (although you can probably use many things).

                                          We have 5 dev-related slack channels (with only 4 devs!) - 2 of them for regular dev conversation (dev-chat and dev-chat-overflow, in case multiple conversations are happening concurrently), 1 for production errors to come in via airbrake, 1 for normal workflow notifications (heroku deploys, etc), and 1 called dev-null that we use for either vaguely technical but non-work-related stuff or just socializing. Importantly, this lets you customize your notifications both on your computer and your phone per-channel. I always want to get production errors buzzing my pocket. I prefer to read the casual stuff when I have a moment. Company-wide, there is also a watercooler channel that is a full-company social channel, where I will sometimes post pictures of hikes or ski trips I’ve taken, for example. I detail all the slack channels only to emphasize that small things like that make a big impact in the absence of normal social cues. I found the idea of a “chit-chat” channel sort of silly at first, but casual conversation with your coworkers is a big part of feeling like a team. We also iterated on the names/numbers of our slack channels until we found something we were all happy with - and we continue to discuss it, it isn’t set in stone. We also try to proactively jump into video meetings (google hangouts) if any discussion seems to carry on too long, or become too ambiguous. Often when you are busy concentrating, discussions can become frustrating when the point you’re trying to make isn’t immediately understood. Usually this frustration would be completely avoided by simply talking face to face with your coworker - you’ll understand each other better AND pick up on the normal social cues (smiling, laughter, tone of voice, etc.) that help you feel like this is normal and not an “argument” or something.

                                          Additionally we have one dev (me) in a different time zone, 2 hours behind the rest of the team. Consequently I’m in about 2 hours later and stay about 2 hours later than everyone else. It hasn’t been an issue so far, but could be potentially something to watch if you had a poor performer on an outlying timezone. I know some remote shops work a standardized set of hours… while there is some appeal to that, I’m not really sure what all the pros and cons of doing that might be.

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                                            I’ve been a remote worker for two years now. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:

                                            • You have to work harder at maintaining contact with your peers. Be the initiator.

                                            Ping people individually on chat and ask how their day is going. Showing a personal interest in the other team members is crucial to not being a faceless robot as a remote worker.

                                            Make sure there is a public hangout chat that everyone is expected to be in. No work discussion here it’s for cracking jokes, BSing and just general conversation.

                                            Make sure there are also public team/work centric chats that people are expected to be in and monitor.

                                            • You still need face-time so traveling to the office is necessary.

                                            The frequency and length of the trips will vary per team but you can’t avoid it so just embrace it. Bring an office gift with you occasionally. I personally love coffee so I bring fresh beans and coffee making equipment so I can be a personal barista for team members on some of my trips. It adds an extra dimension so that people see the sides of you that aren’t specific to the work you do.

                                            • Always, Always, Always over-communicate as a remote worker. Make sure people know what you are working on and how much progress there has been.

                                            You maintain presence though chat, email, and VC. If an entire day goes by without them hearing from you more than once then you aren’t communicating enough.

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                                              When there are satellite workers to an office (I work exactly like that), there will always be informal meetings over coffee that aren’t recorded on Slack or email etc - trying to fight that will inevitably be counterproductive for everyone. I don’t have any silver bullets but for me, proactively seeking out contact (over whatever means are available in the company) and leading by example with using mailinglist etc works pretty well.

                                              Changing culture is hard and is usually made infinitely harder by any attempts to formalize how to change said culture.

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                                                Basecamp (formerly 37Signals) and GitHub are the two places that have talked most about remote working. I recommend you look up their articles and presentations.