How do I overcome the challenges of working remotely? (The first in a series)

This cat has learned to overcome the challenges of working remotely.
This cat has learned to overcome the challenges of working remotely.

"I could never work from home. I don't know how you do it!"

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that… well, I probably wouldn't need this job, now would I?

In all honesty, I probably thought the same thing back before I started working remotely, and the naysayers have a point—there are certainly some unique challenges to working as part of a distributed team, but they're all easily surmountable.

Not to mention, they pale in comparison to the non-existent dress code and bed-to-desk proximity!

Over the course of a few blog posts, I'll be tackling a few issues that I've experienced—and explain how I manage to overcome the challenges of working remotely. Here's the first:

Working as part of a distributed team can make communicating with team members more difficult.

Working remotely, I don't have the option of popping by a coworker's desk to ask for input or get a quick answer and, try as I might, my cat is very reticent when it comes to matters unrelated to treats. This means when I need help I need to be patient and I need to be willing to use a variety of communication methods.

To deal with this effectively, I've found that it is very helpful to schedule (send an invite!) time to talk about projects and get needed help. It may mean that I have to wait till the next day, but it assures me that I will get the undivided attention I need and that I'm not interrupting my co-worker at a bad time. (When you can't see who you work with it's very hard to know what is going on at their "office".)

I've also found that it is very important to be open to multiple ways of communicating. At Beutler Ink we primarily use Skype, IM, email and project management software to keep us all on the same page. Though I prefer hashing out larger issues "in person", that isn't always an option because by the time I realize I need to ask a question my coworker might be on a conference call or off enjoying their evening.

This means that having, or developing, strong written skills is a must. IM and email are a great way to get quick help if you can be clear and direct in what you are asking.

Do you face some of these same issues? Have a different solution for overcoming the challenges of working remotely? Feel free to share, and next up: getting to know your co-workers better when you aren't working face-to-face.