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My colleagues often post jobs for available positions in their immediate and extended team, and whether on LinkedIn or Twitter the most popular question is usually "Is this position available for remote?". In fact this was exactly how I became aware of the position I now hold at Microsoft.

The response to the response, in general, fall into two camps, "absolutely not" or "for the right candidate". This might sound evasive but there are a few things to consider.

One important thing to understand about Microsoft is that the center of its engineering universe is Redmond (Washington). There are clearly exceptions to this, but they are exceptions. In contrast my previous employer had engineering offices in every US time zone which necessitated a default attitude to meetings and data gathering that always transcended location. For most engineering teams at Microsoft their entire charter could be successfully executed without having to talk to teams outside of Redmond.

Is that team you want to join remote friendly?

The truth is this just depends. To avoid inadvertent traps set by best of intentions you have to ask lots and lots of questions.

Let us, at least for now, assume all managers are appropriately considerate and competent, I would start with the following questions:

  • How many members of the current team are remote?
    • If this is zero it may indicate a lack of experience with the needs of remote employees.
    • If this number is above 50% it is likely that many of the concerns around remote teams have been encountered and mitigated.
  • Has anyone on the team worked remotely in the past or even worked with remote employees?
    • Fall back for the above question.
  • Are team members permitted to work from home?
    • Fall back for both questions.
    • If none of the team members work from home, as in ever, this might reveal an inability to organize meetings and communication beyond the physical walls of the office.
  • Is there a budget for office visits?
    • Being in physical proximity to your team is great for team building and comradery and building community. Find out if there is a budget, you will need it.
  • How often does the hiring manager schedule 1-on-1 meetings with the team?
    • Once a week should be standard across the board in my humble opinion.
    • Once a week is absolutely necessary for remote employees (more to begin with).

Make no mistake a manager who has signed up to guide a new remote employee has more work to do. They have a responsibility to help you get integrated with a broad  organization and equip you with the right contacts to help you get your job done. This is non-trivial and I imagine that there is a value proposition calculation that will help them determine if this is feasible. Trust me, for the *right* candidate it will be!

Are *you* prepared to work remotely?

Prior to working at Microsoft I worked remotely for about 12 years so the day to day friction of working remotely is second nature to me. However, the real challenge is developing a network of people that effectively become your support and your tribe. When I started working remotely for Fiserv I spent six weeks at the corporate office, ostensibly for training, but the real value was in making connections that would ensure I had a healthy network to draw on once I returned to Ohio.

Connection building is an important strategy for success (I cannot overstate this).

Talking to people who have had success and looking at the ways they gained that success is critical. One of the fantastic things about Microsoft is that people are always happy to talk about their work and their success, and I would say many are happy to lend you access to their networks as way to build your own.

Demonstrating you are a good remote candidate

Ultimately every employer is looking to hire good candidates that will hang around long enough to be helpful. Assuring an employer that you are that candidate is a challenge for everybody. For remote employees this may require you to be able demonstrate effective community, team and network building.

In my humble opinion these are the same kind of skills on display when, for example, you are a Microsoft MVP or open source contributor and leader. In both of these scenarios your work is your network and your community.

So when I got the chance to talk to the hiring manager this is what I spoke about in order:-

  • My long career using Microsoft platforms
  • My career specifically around production diagnostics (the group I was joining)
  • My community work in open source (DasBlog, DasBlog Core, Open Live Writer)
  • My years and years of blogging about Microsoft technologies

One of the most valuable things I have is a network of managers and engineers who I can turn to discuss and review features I am working on. I can get opinions directly from my community and they can help me determine the direction or priority of items in my backlog. These type of connections and networks are an incredibly valuable at a company like Microsoft!

As  always these are just my humble opinions, your mileage may vary.