We originally came up with this document because once every few months someone would say, "Hey, I've got this [reunion|wedding|dealie] that's built around a four-day weekend and is going to take a lot of travel time to get to. I'd like to figure out how to spend some more time with my family. Can I work remotely from my dad's house for a few days?"
Saying "no" seems hard-hearted, but saying "yes" was somewhat problematic. A few people were not as productive as they could've been, usually due to unforeseen circumstances that seemed obvious after the fact. We learned some things about getting productive fast and we'd like to share them with you.
So, it turns out that almost everything we'd recommend to the reunion people applies to people working remotely permanently or for extended stints. I think this is because the reunion folks were showing high relative fixed costs around getting productive. Regular remote folks have a lot of the same fixed costs, but the ratio was not high enough to be problematic.
So, this document is intended to give you the guidelines for an appropriate remote work environment, whether that environment be your uncle's study or your own. If you learn something while setting up your environment, or while working remotely, that you wish you'd known earlier, please let us know.
Please note: The point of these goals is not for you to figure out how to go work in exotic places. If you do want to become a vagabond remote worker and go around the world setting up 4G LTE connections in Borneo and Jackson Hole, that's a different thing. We're not against Borneo, per se. It's just not the topic of discussion. If you want to go to Borneo, talk to your manager. If enough people want to go to Borneo, we'll come up with a Borneo policy.
By the same token, we shouldn't assume that just because someone is working from a place that sounds exotic to us (e.g., Hawaii, Cape Cod, Hilton Head), that they are somehow trying to game the system. People work in these places, too.
An internet connection capable of easily handling a Google Hangout. Downstream is usually not the issue. Most basic internet plans are at least 15mbps down, which is no problem. Being able to participate in a video conference usually means at least 5mbps up. A lot of cheap internet service only offers 1mbps up. How do you know if Google Hangouts will work where you’re going? Do a test Google Hangout with a person at the place you are going to be! (Hint: If there’s no one on the other end to do this with, the place you’re going is a vacation. Enjoy!)
Access to the resources you need to work. You will also need to be sure that you can, A.) log in to your machine as a local administrator without connecting to the network (this is especially true for Mac users, as Macs do not cache your credentials) and, B.) that you can connect to the VPN from your new location. Not all Internet connections, or routers, are created equal and not all will all you to get on the standard VPN. The Sysadmins have other mechanisms, so talk to them before you discover you can't work remotely. If you discover you can't work remotely, you are on an unplanned vacation.
A headset.The built-in camera and microphone on your laptop / monitor suck. The added friction of talking to someone without a headset makes your team members not want to invite you to a hangout, which means you miss communication that you would normally have received.
A dedicated room with a door that closes. You need a place that is as distraction-free as your normal work environment. Again, if you don’t know whether this will exist where you’re going, it’s vacation. The kitchen table of an occupied house is not okay. A guest bedroom is okay. A dedicated basement is better. Going to another address entirely is best.
No child care responsibilities during working hours. You can't take care of kids and work at the same time. Other domestic responsibilities like pet care or meal preparation should fall under the next heading.
Known availability and overlap with your team. Set standard hours and make sure people know them. If you're not going to be working the hours you normally work, overcommunicate this to your team by posting in chat (ex: "Going to the gym for an hour"). Nothing makes your WFH look like vacation more than chat messages like "Has anyone seen X?" "When is X getting online?" "Can someone else take this bug? X isn't responding." Try not to pop in and out. Work sustained sessions with only a few extended interruptions (e.g., lunch, dog walking, gym, light-saber fight with your nephew).
A dedicated phone that fits into your position’s workflow, where applicable. If you are an employee who spends a reasonable amount of time on the phone, it should be relatively easy for people to get you on the phone and for you to call them. This might require you to contact the sysadmins for phone forwarding.
Suggestions for Short Stint Remote
Have a deliverable. This frees you from having to assert your productivity while away. If you have something you can point to as a product of your time away, it answers the very basic question of whether this was beneficial/productive time for you and the company.
Boundaries The people you’re going to be around might not understand that the requirements for productivity during this time are actually higher (see below). Don’t worry. Your in-laws/parents will be impressed by your work ethic!
Team Awareness. You don't have to advertise your absence to the entire company, but we do want the people who are looking for you to know where you are. Theoretically, there are standard places we post this, but that's different from making people aware. Make sure your team and the people you work with regularly know where you are.
Check in.When you return, check in with your team lead about your time working remotely.
Overcommunicate and Overdeliver. At our company it’s sort of assumed that everyone’s working steadily and diligently. In the absence of new information, the assumption is that you’re producing. When you step outside the HQ work environment, you should flip that burden of proof. The burden is on you to show that you’re being productive. Is that because we don’t trust you? No. It’s because a few normal ways of staying involved (face time, informal chats, lunch) have been removed. You still have stuff like chat, commit messages, code reviews, cases, Trello boards, etc. Be a little paranoid for this time about showing your work. It will help you feel good about your time, and we feel good about granting it.
For now, email a manager to notify the company of an arranged ad hoc remote stint.