Build Tip

How to Succeed in Your First Remote Working Position


I don’t know about you, but I cringe at the thought of having to commute. The traffic, road rage, not to mention having to find parking—it was enough to make me throw in the towel seven years ago!

Since then I have been managing remote teams around the world, and as I continue to scale my team, I learn best practices from companies who have been doing it for longer than I have, like Olark.

But I know there are a lot of people out there who just don’t know if they can do it. Maybe you’re one of them. You worry if you’ll be productive, able to communicate effectively, and fit into the company culture.

One of my employees, Meghan Burgain, felt the same way about a year ago. She had a number of reservations having never worked remotely before.

In today’s Build episode, Meghan and I are going to dive into some of these reservations, how you can get over them, and of course the wonderful benefits—aside from working in your jammies. 😀

Here’s what you’ll learn in this episode:

  • the tools and processes to use to stay productive and on top of your projects and tasks;
  • how to handle working across multiple time zones;
  • how to communicate more effectively with your teammates across a number of channels;
  • how to train new hires when you can’t sit right next to them;
  • how you can cultivate a great company culture across continents;

Here’s another great source on how to manage your day-to-day while working remotely, from our friends at Skillcrush.

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

How to Succeed in Your First Remote Working Position Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: Hey, guys. I’m hanging out here in beautiful Bordeaux, France, and taking you behind the scenes this week to show you what remote working is like at Femgineer. If you’ve been on the fence about taking a remote position, stay tuned for a number of tips in today’s Build episode.

Welcome to Build, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. For the past seven years, I have been managing remote teams around the world for my startup as well as other companies. Today, I’m joined by Meghan Burgain, who is the mother of twins and expat who lives here in Bordeaux, France, and is Femgineer’s community manager. For the last year, Meghan has been working remotely and she’s going to share some of her favorite tips to help you get over any reservations that you might have when it comes to taking on a remote position. Thanks for joining us, Meghan.

Meghan Burgain: Thanks for being in France, Poornima.

Remote working reservations

Poornima Vijayashanker: I know a year ago when I approached you about remote working, you were on the fence. Let’s talk about what some of your reservations were.

Meghan Burgain: Yeah. My education and a lot of my experiences are in education. I was actually a teacher before I moved here. I was a little concerned about getting up to speed, getting trained at Femgineer. That was one of my concerns was getting trained.

The other one of course was that Bordeaux is nine hours ahead of San Francisco. I knew that there was going to be some difficulty there. Would I have to stay awake at night to get all of the work done or not? Those are my two concerns.

How to handle time zones when remote working

Poornima Vijayashanker: While you got over the hurdle and joined the team, I know there was that first hiccup that you had where you missed a meeting due to the time zone. What did you learn from that experience?

Meghan Burgain: Time zones are really tricky. I learned that basically communication is paramount, especially when you’re working remotely. You need to be explicit, very clear, search for the clarification, ask the questions that you need and really just be polite when you’re dealing with people through email. With chat, it can be difficult to maybe misread something so just to be polite and that avoids 90% of the issues.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Then you eventually got over that and learned a number of things over the last year. Let’s start with the first thing that you learned.

Meghan Burgain: Right. The first thing I learned basically was the importance of the tools that we use. Being that we’re not in proximity, we use the tools like Trello and Slack. Trello is great because obviously for communication you can see who’s doing what, if it’s done or not, but also allows for transparency. You can see the bigger picture: what we’re focusing on at Femgineer, what the priorities are, and how that should affect how I prioritize my own tasks as well.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, I know another thing you’ve learned that is even though we’re a remote team we still do weekly check-ins where we sync up. Walk us through how weekly check-ins have benefited you.

Meghan Burgain: Weekly check-ins are really important. In startup plans, especially, products change, priorities change, and the weekly check-ins really help me, us both I feel, to stay focused and to stay in the same page working towards the same goal.

Training new remote hires

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now, I know the third thing is that you were concerned about training, getting trained, training other people. I know as we’ve scaled the team, you had to train others. How have you gotten over that hurdle?

Meghan Burgain: It’s funny that that was one of my reservations and that’s actually something that I’ve been doing at Femgineer. Well, I’ve realized that training someone via Zoom or Slack, it’s not that much different than training someone in person and, in some cases, can actually be better because we can record the training and use it in the future which is what we’ve done a lot. I’ve also been relying a lot on our handbook.

Poornima Vijayashanker: What’s our handbook?

Meghan Burgain: Our handbook is basically a recipe book for anything that’s recurring at Femgineer so whether it’s daily or just a certain time of the year, if it happens more than once, it’s in the handbook. It’s outlined. There’s helpful tips and there are links to any outside resources that we might need.

Remote working benefits

Poornima Vijayashanker: Great. Walk us through what a typical day is like for you.

Meghan Burgain: A typical day I wake up. We get the girls ready. Send them off to daycare. Then I have the majority my day to do the daily tasks that I need to get done, answer emails that came through to do all of my tasks. Towards the end of the day, when the States wakes up, I’m able to schedule phone calls, have meetings and that sort of thing. It’s where I base the first part of my day, I didn’t have any of those interruptions. I was able to just do whatever I wanted at my own pace. At the end of the day, I have all the things that I need to interact with people. Then I do my to-do list for the next day and it’s off to get the kids.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. It sounds like you have a lot of flexible hours.

Meghan Burgain: Oh, yeah. Well, for sure. I have deadlines just like anyone else, but I do have a lot more flexibility with how I get those things done.

Poornima Vijayashanker: What do you think are the key benefits that you’ve experienced by remote working?

Meghan Burgain: You mean besides being able to work anywhere in the world and in my own kitchen and in my own sweatpants?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yes. Those are great benefits, by the way.

Meghan Burgain: I would say that the biggest benefit of working remotely is that I’ve really been able to find a work-life balance that works well for me. I’m able to not only be there for my kids and my family but to provide for them as well. I think that that’s just an invaluable thing. It’s a win-win.

Remote company culture

Poornima Vijayashanker: I know for some folks out there they might be on the fence about remote working because of the culture. They might feel like, oh, it’s isolated or distant. How have you managed to manage that?

Meghan Burgain: I could see how it could be lonely. You don’t have someone just next to you to talk to or whatever but I haven’t felt that way and I think to go back to the weekly check-ins, that that’s really one of the reasons is that we do get that face time. Also we have Slack which we can talk to all of our team members. I would say when it comes to the culture and the team feeling, you get what you give. It can be tempting in any working relationships, especially in remote working, whenever you find someone that’s available within your timezone to just ping them with the 20 questions that you have or to ask a hundred things of them. But, I would suggest to all of you that the first thing that you do to someone should really be to ask them how they’re doing, to find out what their interests are. It goes a long way towards creating the spirit and creating a team.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Building a rapport maybe through a water cooler channel on Slack.

Meghan Burgain: Yes. Yes. That’s what we have.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Meghan. This has been really helpful. I know our audience out there is going to benefit from these tips.

Meghan Burgain: It’s been my pleasure.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Wonderful. Well, that’s it for today’s episode of Build. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next episode where you’ll get more helpful tips like this.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.