Fwd: telecommuting - advice needed

Subject: Fwd: telecommuting - advice needed
From: Lev Abramov <lev -dot- abramov -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2009 16:02:20 +0200

Dear all -
first of all, a big thank you to all those who shared their insights
regarding the online teamwork that I had requested. It looks like there are
two main things to worry about: getting well-organized so as not to miss
anything important (e.g., data loss) - and making sure not to tread on
anyone's toes.

The latest message in this thread was by chance sent to me only, not to the
list, so I am reposting it to share with the list (and to encourage further
discussion - I'm sure the topic has not been exhausted yet; at least I am
totally fascinated by the wealth of ideas I've been getting).

Needless to say I will share my initial reaction after the first working
week with the list. My gut feeling is this new job is going to be quite an
exciting experience.

Best -


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
Date: Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 2:41 PM
Subject: Re: telecommuting - advice needed
To: Lev Abramov <lev -dot- abramov -at- gmail -dot- com>

Lev Abramov wondered: <<I have just been offered a three-month
work-from-home contract (with a chance of becoming permanent). Decent pay
and benefits. I will be collaborating with two teams in two totally
different time zones (the Philippines and the US). Set hours (8 + 2 with a
two-hour break in between).>>

Congrats! I've been working virtually (as a freelance science editor with
most of my clients in Japan and China) for the past 5 years, and love it.
The first bit of advice I can give you is to invest several hours learning
about the culture of your colleagues in the Philippines. Everywhere I've
traveled in the world, I've found that locals greatly appreciated my efforts
to learn a bit of their language and customs.

Without doing so, there are some (in)obvious traps, such as referring to
everyone as "Filipinos"; if I've understood things correctly (check this
carefully!), that is only one of several ethnic groups in the country. Your
colleagues in the Philippines will probably all speak good English as part
of the job requirements, but (as in India), some will have stronger accents
than others, and they won't have a single monolithic language or culture.
Learning which part of the Philippines culture each one belongs to will let
you learn at least basic greetings in their language, what holidays they
celebrate (some of which overlap with North American ones and some of which
don't), and so on. Use this to establish relationships.

<<what should I take into account? How should I brace myself for this new

A useful reference: "Managing virtual teams" by M. Katherine Brown, Brenda
Huettner, and Char James-Tanny (
http://books.google.com/books?id=CLBWhRcifsEC or search via books.google.com).
Haven't found time to read the book yet, but I know each of the authors
personally, have worked with each of them at least occasionally, and know
that each is eminently worth listening to. I've also chatted with each of
them at various times about the book while it was being written, and it
sounds like precisely the right book for you.

Finding a convenient time when everyone can talk in real-time instead of
e-mail is important. Negotiate this for all your teams, and block that time
on your calendar so you can't accidentally allocate it elsewhere. If the
time zones of the three teams really don't overlap, you may need to find two
or three times: one that is convenient for each team, so you can cycle
through those times and ensure that everyone gets one or more weeks that are
most convenient for them, and one or more weeks that aren't convenient but
are feasible.

Make an even greater effort than usual to keep in touch with your manager
and keep them informed about your status, without being annoying about it.
One of the big problems is the proverbial "out of sight, out of mind". The
manager needs to think of you as "the ghost in the machine", not something
invisible and easy to forget about. Make sure the manager keeps you informed
(at least quarterly) of the things they like about how you're working and
the things they don't like; that avoids surprises at the annual performance
appraisal. (This is also good advice for in-office wage slaves. <g>)

Two big things to keep in mind. First and most important, most of your
contacts will be via telephone (which lacks all the body language clues of a
face-to-face conversation) or e-mail (which also lacks vocal clues). This
inevitably leads to misunderstandings, and it's easy to let those grow out
of proportion. This is why emoticons and the like are so ubiquitous in
e-mail: they provide some of that missing context. Never assume someone
understood you or that they took your message the way you intended it to be
taken; invest a bit more time error-proofing the communication and doing the
active listening (paraphrasing) thing to ensure that the correct message is
received. Always attribute errors first to cultural differences or
miscommunication, not malice or stupidity.

Second, make a conscious effort to develop and maintain relationships. In a
physical workplace, people drop by your office or you meet them at lunch and
social events, so much of the relationship is provided automatically by the
environment. In the absence of in-person communication, you need to do the
work yourself. For example, learn about birthdays, vacations, etc., and keep
in contact (at a minimum) around those times. Share (work-appropriate and
culturally appropriate) jokes once you get to know the people, but not
before you get to know them; pass along useful Web resources; etc.

Geoff Hart (www.geoff-hart.com)
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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telecommuting - advice needed: From: Lev Abramov

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