Shifting to a remote mindset

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Thinking remote means being able to distill our interactions and reflect on what we value

The challenges that come with remote work can be deceptive: If you’ve transitioned from an in-office role, it might seem like the best thing to do is to try and recreate all of the experiences that come with an office environment. But being remote is not the same as sharing a physical space. Instead of trying to replicate the in-office atmosphere, we must adapt—or even wholly reconsider—those experiences for the distributed context.

Thinking remote means being able to distill our interactions and reflect on what we value. What aspects of being in an office do we care about the most? How can we extract these parts and repurpose them to work on distributed teams? Once we identify the most valuable outcomes of the in-office experience, we can begin to recreate them in a remote context.

Ask good questions, provide good answers

The remote work paradigm demands that we’re thoughtful and precise. Imagine asking a colleague a question about a part of the codebase that you’re unfamiliar with while they’re sitting across from you. This setup allows you to exchange questions and answers, and explain your thinking in real time. The conversation might end with them linking to some documentation. This rapid-fire, synchronous exchange of knowledge doesn’t work nearly as well if, for instance, your coworker is 10 hours ahead of you. While potential differences in time zones are only one aspect of the remote experience, if each of you responds during your working hours, that exchange could take a week.

In the absence of instant feedback from our peers by default, it’s up to us to think critically about what questions we ask, and how we ask them. A carefully considered, well thought-out question that provides context and information about what you know, what you don’t, and what solutions you’ve already explored will result in a more useful answer than a question that requires additional follow-up. Learning how to ask one good question rather than a series of less effective ones can help bridge gaps between time zones, recreating the experience of having someone immediately available to provide context and help you get unstuck.

The same rules apply to giving a well-formed and carefully considered answer. Just as a good question provides as much context as possible up front, a good answer explicitly states any assumptions that you might be making about how someone is approaching a problem from the get-go. Answering a question is just as much about explaining why something is happening as it is about how to fix it. A good answer also makes use of things that have already been written down, like internal and external documentation, code snippets, and old pull requests to help provide context.