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Discussion on: What are the necessary technical and soft skills to thrive as a remote worker?

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Donald Merand • Edited on

This is a great question, with a lot of facets that are worth considering! I've been working at my organization for 12 years, partially remote for much of that time, and exclusively remote for the last 2 years, so I've given this quite a bit of thought.

The first thing to consider before you get into the necessary skills is whether your organization is set up for remote work. This article by Thoughtbot, and the book Remote by Jason Fried + David Heinemeier Hansson offer many suggestions on that front. But the short version is, if most of your coworkers are not remote, you're in for an uphill journey.

I won't make a distinction between technical and "soft" skills, because that implies a hierarchy that doesn't exist. The most important skill you have as a remote worker is your ability to communicate clearly. If you are not a clear communicator, especially in written communication but also over phone or video chat, you should strongly reconsider working remotely. You will need to rely heavily on your choice of words when you're stripped of resources like body language, subtle facial expressions, or auditory tones.

That brings me to the second key skill: writing everything down. I'm a remote manager, one of only 4 remote workers in an org with ~45 full-time staff. Writing everything down is what keeps us all on track. I have my team (succinctly) write down what they plan to do today every morning, and then write down what they actually ended up doing at end-of-day. Every to-do, every promise they make, every system they design, all of it gets documentation. Folks who work in the same physical space rely on a lot of impromptu conversations to make decisions - you won't have this luxury. You need a paper trail.

To support your paper trail, you need good tools. I love BaseCamp for project management. I love HipChat, soon to be Stride for chat. I love Zoom for videochat + screen-share. Google Docs is handy if you've got it. Atom + Teletype and/or tmate and/or Glitch for code-pairing can be handy.

I hope that helps!

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John Forstmeier

TeleType is so insanely helpful when I get stuck on some weird development problem.

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Donald Merand

Definitely handy. I find it a bit wonky and very poorly-documented but when it works it's nice.

I prefer tmate but I'm the only one on my team who uses vim so we don't use it as much.