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The most important skill for remote work

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I’ve been working in Software Development for more than 14 years. I’ve been hired many times and hired people myself. One thing which makes remote collaboration especially hard is the lack of predictability and here is why…

The first story happened a few years ago when I worked on a web project for one of my good old clients. The team realized that we needed an additional developer to speed up the development. I had an acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Ben. Ben was an experienced developer who worked for a couple of companies on the same kind of projects. I thought he would be a good fit and invited him. The pay rate our company offered was quite good. And I agreed to work as a communication bridge between stakeholders and Ben because his level of spoken English was not ideal.

I onboarded Ben and gave him time for learning the project. When it was time to choose the first task for Ben, we selected a relatively small and easy one. Ben confirmed that the task requirements were clear and started working.

In a day or so, I checked if Ben needed any assistance. Ben answered that he was Okay and was working on the task.

In a week or so, I tried to contact Ben to check the task status because Ben did not report any progress. To my surprise, I didn’t receive any response. Ben disappeared. I had to inform our boss. The boss tried to contact Ben through other available channels but with no luck.

In one more week, the team agreed to say goodbye to Ben because we couldn't rely on him.

If you want to succeed in your remote job, please inform your supervisor about an issue straight away. Don’t be afraid to accept that you can’t solve a problem. It’s Okay. We are all people. We all have hard times and make mistakes.

Your computer broke? You got an overly complex task? Need some more time to learn the project? Personal issues (breaking up, etc.)? Please drop a short notice to your supervisor.

Your team is your second family. They deserve to know that something goes unplanned to be able to find a workaround.

A good remote worker reports proactively. During your early days at a new company, you may want to send daily reports to your manager even if not requested. Just list what you did during the day and that’s it.

Always update the task tracker with what’s been done. Help your manager and the team to keep track on the situation and plan further actions.

The second story happened when I solely worked through a freelancing platform.

At that time, I loved long-term projects because I could focus on my work and forget about sales for a while. But someone should do short-term projects and I sometimes took them too.

Once I got a week-long project. The project looked straightforward and I hoped to kill it quickly to switch to another client. However, it took me about a month. Why?

Whether I needed images for the front page, server access or had some questions about the UI, I had to wait for a couple of days for the answer (sometimes even longer). The worst thing was that I couldn’t even know if the client read my messages. The client was unpredictable. After that short project, I decided not to work with them again.

Despite what your role is, employer or employee, if someone sends you a message, please inform them that you’ve received the message and will respond later when you have time.

To sum up, the most important skill in remote work for me is predictability, so some of my personal rules are:

  1. Be a predictable colleague.
  2. Only work with or for predictable people.