Are you training your remote teammates to get in the way of your productivity? Of all the discussions we have in our classes with long-distance workers, one of the most fruitful is when we talk about how we teach our coworkers and manager to work with us and help us succeed. Sometimes, however, they learn behaviors that are counterproductive.  It sounds crazy but stick with me.

When we work together, we want to be seen as great teammates. That means we may respond to emails the moment they come in, drop everything to answer a Slack message from a friend, or sacrifice our productivity to do a favor for someone else. In the moment it feels great and people appreciate our efforts. There’s a problem, though.

Over time, that “favor” becomes an expectation. We feel guilty for not answering an email right away even if it negatively impacts the more important task we’re on at the moment. Responding like Pavlov’s dog to every incoming chat message can leave us stressed and behind on our deadlines.

The more we work with someone, the more we develop habits and routines. The trick is to be mindful of what messages we send about how we will work together over time. Here are some ways to teach others (and ourselves) how best to be productive teammates:

Clarify expectations when making a request

Does that question need an immediate answer, or can it wait til the end of the day? When teammates let their colleagues know when an answer is expected, it reduces the stress of feeling like you need to drop everything. Teams that regularly include messages like, “need it by Tuesday,” help each other manage their time more effectively.

Read the request carefully

Do you need to drop everything? Is this request from your boss a cry for help or something you can “get around to when you get a chance?”

Respond with an explanation

Sometimes what you’re doing is important to the team or you’re on a customer deadline. Ignoring a question or request can cause tension on a team, but sometimes a quick reply like, “ I’m on a deadline, can I get it to you tomorrow?” helps eliminate sore feelings.

Use status updates to set realistic expectations

If I know from your status update on Teams or Slack that you are in a meeting, I won’t take it personally if you don’t answer me right away. If you’re “green,” I might think you’re ignoring me. Be mindful of using status updates to help others set their expectations. If you step away from your desk for lunch, tell them so they aren’t waiting for an answer that isn’t coming for an hour.

Share you calendar, and manage it

Teams that use shared calendars to keep their teammates apprised of what they are working on have less stress. “Bob’s busy? Okay let me ask Alice,” is sometimes easier and keeps teammates in touch with each other. Be sure to block time other than meetings…. If you are on a deadline, block an hour of time you can’t be disturbed so people aren’t interrupting you (or at least expecting an immediate response).

Respect the time you block out:

If you tell people you are in a meeting, but answer IMs anyway, you’ve basically taught them that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’re available. You can’t be too upset when they constantly interrupt—you’ve told them it’s okay.

Modeling how you want to work with others is the best way to teach others how to work with you.

This is just one piece of practical advice that will help you succeed as a remote worker that you can find in The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere. Get your copy today!


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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  1. Great piece, Wayne. I frequently leverage the “use status updates” recommendation and encourage my colleagues to do the same.. My “rule of thumb” is to use 70 characters or fewer to convey status and timeline if appropriate.

    “Stepping out until 1 PM, will have phone, messages may be delayed.” Short, sweet, and to the point.

    I’ve also found that adding a unique emoji (a car, for example) to accompany my status update (Slack allows this) gives it extra effect and allows anyone quickly scanning names to see that I have something going on.

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