It takes more than just technical expertise to be a remote engineer. In order to stay on top of your tasks, avoid burnout, and collaborate effectively with your team across time zones and borders, you’ll need to develop a series of soft skills to help you cope with the unique demands of working remotely.
As more and more offices make the shift to remote work, these skills will become increasingly essential to your success – not just in your current role, but in future roles as well. Upskilling in these key areas can help you stay relevant, build relationships, and get ahead.
A traditional office sets clear boundaries for when you’re at work and when you’re at rest. But those lines can get blurry quickly when you’re working from home. With no commute and fewer concrete reasons to step away from your computer, it’s easy to have your workday creep further and further into the time you should be spending on other aspects of your life. Remote work requires a strict hold on your time management to keep you from overworking and burning out. Build a schedule as if you were going into an office and set your priorities accordingly. Make a realistic to-do list and cross items off as you go to maintain momentum and show progress. When your day is over, put your work away and avoid checking your messages until you’re back at work the following day.
The remote work environment is constantly changing, and engineers will need to be flexible in order to thrive. You’ll need to collaborate with a geographically dispersed team, adapt to new technologies and tools, get into the habit of documenting your work processes, and have a backup plan in place in case the internet goes down or your computer stops working. You also might need to occasionally modify your style and schedule to fit with how other team members operate. Remember that adaptability isn’t just an innate trait that some people have and others don’t; it’s a skill that can be honed over time as you learn to anticipate the needs of your remote teammates and adjust to the needs of your role.
Staying organized in a remote environment goes far beyond keeping your desk tidy. Your boss won’t be looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re staying on task, so it’s up to you to keep yourself on track. You have to maintain discipline through constant organizing, planning, and scheduling, and keep yourself motivated to complete all of your tasks. Organization will also go a long way if a manager or colleague asks about the status of a project, since you’ll be able to quickly find an answer for them. In fact, this skill goes hand in hand with communication and time management: Regimented work processes will make it a lot easier to tell people about what you’re working and to ultimately step away from work for the day.
Overcommunication is the foundation of a successful remote team. While instant messaging and video meetings are common, most remote teams rely on asynchronous communication. Async communication doesn’t require a real-time response, which means it allows everyone to contribute to discussions according to their own availability. But because you might not be around to answer follow-up questions, you’ll need to be clear and succinct with the information you provide. You also shouldn’t underestimate the amount of documentation you’ll need to do with remote work. The most successful remote teams document everything: Every process, every meeting, and every project has a (digital) paper trail in a centralized, easily accessible repository, usually hosted in the cloud.
Remote work is the future: Even if you’re an engineer who is still commuting to an office, chances are that more and more of your colleagues will be remote in the coming months. Whether a team is fully remote or only partially remote, a growing number of companies will be adopting a remote-first mindset, and engineers will have to approach work with new processes and flexible mindsets. Take some time to practice these soft skills so you can demonstrate that you’re an ideal remote employee who can effectively collaborate and communicate with your teammates no matter where they’re located.
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