The Etiquette of Working Remotely

In this day and age the practice of working remotely is a common one. It has its pros and it has its cons but when done right there is no reason that remote working can’t make for a team that’s just as cohesive as one that’s holed up in the same office. When done wrong however it can be a frustrating and isolating experience leading to intense murderous urges.


Since going freelance the manner in which people deal with remote working has become a matter quite close to my heart. These are my top 4 pointers on how to deal with remote liaisons professionally and considerately:

1. Don’t doctor your IM status

When liaising with people who are not in your direct vicinity your IM status is all they have to go on as to your whereabouts so you need to be transparent about it. If you’re not at your desk for the love of god let your status reflect that, after all THAT’S WHAT IT’S THERE FOR!! Don’t let some poor bastard rattle off a 10 minute monologue all the while wondering why the conversation is so one-sided only to later discover that you had just popped out for a 2 hour catch-up with an old flame.

Alternately if you ARE at your desk let it be known. If you’re playing hide and seek with a pesky chatterbox or a demanding client by setting your IM status to permanently display as away then perhaps you need to consider blocking them altogether.

But if you are at your computer and genuinely not available then that’s what the “Do not disturb” / unavailable status is for.

2. Let it be known when you’re going off the grid

No, a visit to the water closet does not constitute going off the grid but if you’re going to lunch or to a meeting or you’re leaving your seat for an extended period the least you can do is mention it to those who will quite possibly need to converse with you in that time. If they have no prior warning to your disappearance how can they be expected to plan ahead?

A simple, “I’m gonna be away from my computer for the next hour is there anything you need me for?” would suffice.

Out here not even the internet can hear you scream...
Out here not even the internet can hear you scream…

3. Respond in a timely fashion

You wouldn’t answer your phone only to put it in your pocket mid-conversation so don’t do the same with your IM chats. Expecting someone on the other end of your neglected IM conversation to wait for a response to a work-related matter longer than they would wait to get through to Telkom’s technical support is just not on.

"Any second now..."
“Any second now…”

Remember there is no way for a person bound by the confines of your IM chat window to come over to your desk and shout, “Hey buddy! I really need a response on this so please can you tear yourself away from your Facebook feed for one second and give me your undivided attention so I can extract some answers from you!”

For that reason you need to rise to the occasion and make yourself available to them when they need you. And if you are genuinely unable to do that at a given point in time then see point 1.

4. Reply to every email

Every single one of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a one word acknowledgment of receipt because ignoring an email leaves the sender in the dark about whether or not you actually received and processed the information. Who’s to say you didn’t miss a vital piece of correspondence that was just taken for granted you had received?

If you set a standard you negate this risk – if it wasn’t acknowledged, it wasn’t received.

Essentially the key to a successful remote working relationship is the same as any relationship – communication. So get over the idea of remote co-workers not being worthy of the same professional courtesies you would give any other person sharing the same physical edifice, and have enough consideration to let each other know what’s cracking on your side of the screen.

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